More and more women I know over 40 are letting their hair go gray naturally. They say they feel freer and more “authentic.” They’re setting an example for women everywhere that aging is nothing to be ashamed of, and we should kick the bottle and just let it go.
God help me, but I’m addicted to the bottle.
I’ve been a bottle blonde for about 10 years. I didn’t start off being a blonde. I was born with a full head of bushy, dark-brown hair befitting my southern Italian heritage and pretty much grew up looking like Annette Funicello.
Then it happened. Around age 30, the first sprig of gray appeared. I was like, WTF!!—gray at 30? Pluck! Out came that sucker. But you know what happens once you start plucking—suddenly a sprig turns into two sprigs, and the next thing you know you’ve got enough silver on your head to decorate the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree.
I was having none of that. As soon as the grays started coming in faster than I could pluck, I headed to the drug store and picked up a box of permanent haircolor.
If you’ve never used out-of-a-box haircolor, you can’t really appreciate the lengths women go to to maintain the illusion of youth. Between the mess, the staining everything in sight, the latex gloves and the godawful ammonia smell, it’s an experience somewhere between a root canal and childbirth. Given the alternative, though, I held my breath, donned the gloves and got used to it.
To me, the haircoloring routine beat my mother’s solution to midlife graying which was to pop on a wig. Sometime in my teens it showed up—a short, frosted blonde bob with its own Styrofoam head that sat on her dresser. To my brothers, this made a nifty movie prop for one of their homemade, 8mm horror flicks. My fascination was in turning myself into my favorite TV girl spy, Honey West. A little eyebrow pencil for the Anne Francis mole, and I was a starlet. But wear one to cover up my grays? Not a chance.
I kept touching up all the way through my thirties and almost halfway into my forties when it finally became apparent that the gray hairs were winning. I had two choices, both drastic at that point: either go gray all the way or go blonde. I chose blonde because, frankly, gray was never a good color for me, and I was fascinated with the age-old question: Did blondes really have more fun?
I didn’t tell anyone in advance I was converting. I was afraid of the inevitable incredulous stares and statements like: “Are you bleaching your eyebrows to match, because brown eyebrows and blonde hair would just be weird.” So I snuck into a local stylist recommended to me by my blonde sister-in-law and laid it on the line: “I need to walk out of here a blonde!”
Fortunately, I’d lucked out and found an excellent colorist, which is really, really important if you’re going to do something as irreversible as strip off all your haircolor. The stylist warned me not to look after that step … she said it usually freaked women out. Of course, I had to look … and freaked out. The last time I’d seen that color of burnt orange was on a Cheeto. So you have to imagine my reaction when the next thing that goes on my hair is some purple goop. Had Barney died and been cremated? "Trust me," the stylist said, "it’ll look great!" I sat and pondered this under a plastic hair bonnet for what seemed like hours. I’m sure it wasn’t, but I was having an anxiety attack and all there was to read were old Cosmos and hair design magazines. Finally, after rinsing out and blow drying, I looked in the mirror and there I was … a bottle blonde!
I loved it. Like, couldn’t-stop-looking-at-myself loved it. It was like being reincarnated with Christie Brinkley’s head. The biggest problem was that it took my brain about three weeks to adjust. Seems that big squishy blob in our craniums doesn’t relearn things it sees every day, like our faces. It just automatically fills in the blanks. But do something radical like change your haircolor and your brain goes, “Huh? Who the hell are you?” Every time I passed a mirror I jumped because I thought some strange woman was staring at me.
Of course, going blonde didn’t stop the gray roots from appearing; it just hid them much better. But, God bless America, we now have Clairol Root Touch Up so we can perform a gray roots exorcism in just 10 minutes.
I have the greatest respect for every woman who chooses the natural route, I really do. It’s just not for me. And I stopped seeing my coloring as disguising my age. Rather, I look at it as managing my age, sort of the way limiting myself to one Entenmann’s Chocolate Chip cookie bar a week is a way of appeasing my sweet tooth while keeping my butt from becoming a ginormous inner tube. And, yes, being blonde is fun—especially if you’re a brunette on the inside. I get to be flakey, sassy, smart and obsessively organized all at once. Kind of the complete SITC entourage in one body!
And to all my gone-natural friends: honestly, I will give up the bottle some day. An intervention isn’t necessary. Just give me another decade or two.