I am literally living 50 shades of grey — sadly, not in the same way as one Miss Anastasia Steel of E. L. James’ recent trilogy sensation. It’s a different kind of grey. The kind that says, “Hello…you have become your mother.” I am talking about the grey that slowly invades your hair follicles and causes millions of women to run screaming to their local salon every three to six weeks for a youthful burst of color.
Let me back track a bit. As a child, I recall accompanying my mother to Neiman Marcus. As we walked through the cosmetic department, I truly believed I had arrived. The women at the counters stood tall, dressed in their perfectly tailored navy blue dresses with strands of pearls and high heels. Although, the crowning jewel, in my opinion, was a smart, silver bob that many of these women sported. I had no idea that their hair was grey. I just thought they were the pinnacle of glamour. Now I walk through the cosmetic department and everyone looks like Kim Kardashian.
So what happened? You can’t get through an hour of Kathie Lee and Hoda without one mention of the great search for the secret of youth. (Side note: I saw Kathie Lee last month on the streets of New York City. She looks fantastic, but come on…she’s almost 60. Let’s face it: If she rocked a grey coif, there is no way NBC would have beckoned her back to host the coveted fourth hour of Today.)
At age 30, I started going grey — a family trait that greets the women of our family just when you are about to hit your stride in life. I chased the grey for over 10 years with regular visits to the salon, but never really liked the results. At 43, I had enough! Our family had just moved to the Bay Area, and I don’t know if it was the Zen energy of Marin County or the fact that I didn’t know anyone, but I decided that I was going to morph into the silver haired woman that I had once admired behind the cosmetic counter at Neiman Marcus.
I initially used the expertise of my beloved stylist to weave a little color in but kept the grey so it would not be an overwhelming, grow-out nightmare. About eight months into my transformation something happened. I not only loved it, but I started feeling more authentic in general. As grey became the predominant color, I felt more and more comfortable in my own skin. But then something even more bizarre started happening. Random people started approaching me. It got to the point where almost daily at least one person would comment about how much they loved my hair.
So why is it that the more I was pulling away from the youthful demands of society, the happier I felt and the more unsolicited attention I received from men and women? One day I was in Trader Joe’s (side note: best grocery store ever), and I noticed two women looking at me. A few minutes later they approached me with some hesitation and said, “We hate to bother you, but we just have to know: Are you the Chico’s Model?” Not being a Chico’s customer, I was unfamiliar with the woman they were speaking of, but said, “No, but thank you for the lovely compliment.” This was beginning to verge on insane. Could it really be the grey hair? I mean model? Really?
While the compliments flowed, there have been times when my hair has thrown people off. There was the unfortunate day when I took my daughter to a new doctor. I had my head down when the doctor entered the room so all she could see was grey. Without missing a beat she said, “Are you grandma?” I slowly looked up from my phone and looked at her in shock. She quickly did an about face, and said something about not “seeing my face.”
So I get it. The stigma is still there, and frankly, I am fairly certain that grey hair will never make a grand resurgence as the coveted color of youth. It’s okay, though, because I am okay with it. Don’t get me wrong. I had a few minutes after “grannygate” where I thought about why it was that I was so adamant about living a pro-age philosophy and rebelling against diving head first into the fountain of youth.
Truth is that I have always marched to the beat of my own drum, if you will. In fact, whenever a glossy fashion magazine tries to convince me that the newest fad will change my life forever and make me appear 10 years younger, it makes me bristle a bit. One Sunday morning I was reading the style section of The San Francisco Chronicle (Side note: The San Francisco Chronicle’s Sunday Style Section is like eating dessert), and there was a full-page article about a woman by the name of Cindy Joseph. Cindy Joseph was a makeup artist to the stars who became a super model. At the age of 49, and totally grey, she was discovered on the streets of New York City by a casting agent seeking a model for Dolce & Gabbana and the rest is history. The article went on to chronicle how, after years of modeling in her 40s and 50s, she developed a line of cosmetics for women, and was embarking on a pro-age revolution. (Side note: Boom! by Cindy Joseph is the name of the line, and while there are just four products in the entire collection, they all pack a punch, and I highly recommend giving them a whirl)
Cindy Joseph conveyed in one article what I had been trying to emulate blindly for more than 10 years. In a time when aging is practically shameful, this woman was bucking the system. You know — growing older, embracing the lines, accepting the greys, being as fit and healthy as you can, and not apologizing for the fact that you don’t look 20 anymore. Here’s the deal. I am cool enough for my age. My abs are passable in a bikini. I have a smattering of Tesla and Metallica on my iPod. Granted, they’re lodged somewhere between Barry Manilow and the Glee version of "Thriller." But it seems that the illusion of youth has become the goal, and we are all in a race to see who will succeed as the youngest old person. While I have no judgment about others enhancing with Botox or other procedures, I can’t help but think that it is being widely chosen because it’s seen as the only plausible option.
So let me pose this question: Why does Anderson Cooper have two national shows and a head of silver hair? I think we can all agree that there is not one woman in the national media with silver hair. In fact when I look around the only actress who comes to mind as standing firm with grey locks is Jamie Lee Curtis. I applaud her decision and, frankly, she is sexier than most actresses half her age who are already trying to set back the hands of time with one procedure after another.
I was pleased to read last year about longtime San Francisco news anchor Dana King. She too chased the greys for years until it became so much of a chore that she was dying her hair every two to three weeks. Interestingly, she approached her general manager about the prospect of letting her hair go grey, and he was not supportive, but she chose to do it anyway — a ballsy move for Ms. King in a time when looks continue to trump the excellence of great journalism. She took the plunge knowing that her contract was secure until 2013. A short time after kicking the bottle of dye to the proverbial curb, a strange thing happened. The people of the Bay Area started to take notice. Her hair even generated a sizable article in The Sunday Chronicle. When all was said and done the verdict was in and guess what? The response from the viewers was an overwhelming “atta girl.”
I believe we have more power than we think against the multi-billion dollar beauty industry. After all, this is an industry dependent upon our hard earned dollars. If the power of the people can affect change then why can’t we begin to alter the discussion of what we want as consumers? Why are we allowing the powers that be to make us believe that you are either young at all cost or old and washed up? Don’t get me wrong. I love everything fashion and strive to always look my best. I’m just saying why can’t there be fifty shades of grey (so to speak)?
I just learned that in 1950 less than 10 percent of women dyed their hair, and today that number exceeds 90 percent. Why? I’ll tell you why. Because it’s a grand gesture of manipulation brought to us by a select few, and we are all puppets in the great show called the bubble of beauty.
So, the next time you are mesmerized by an infomercial or titillated by a glittery, well-packaged box, ask yourself this: Who am I and what message am I trying to put forth to those around me? Because every time we leave our homes we are sending a message to those who come into contact with us. What is your message and how will you influence or worse, not influence the people around you? When all is said and done, I believe this to be true: The closer we can get to our authentic self the happier we will be in our lives. Who knows? Maybe someday grey will be the new blonde and the smart silver bob will make a comeback at the Neiman Marcus cosmetic counter.