Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Grey-Haired Girl

Because I know you're breathless to follow my grey journey, here's the update.

Today was the day I had scheduled for a haircut and silver streaks to be added to my hair. The person I spoke to on the phone at my usual salon said, "Oh yeah, we do that kind of thing all the time" and said I should plan to be there for two hours. I hoped I wouldn't have an allergic reaction to the peroxide -- it would be ironic to react only as I stopped dyeing.

I arrived and was suited up in several layers of plastic before my stylist arrived. My hairstylist is a very short, Vietnamese woman in her fifties who cuts hair like a dream and swears like a sailor. She watches The Bachelorette and is a devoted grandmother. She is also a collaborator with me on my hair plans.

Not so much today.

Today, she shook her head and told me she would do whatever I said, but she said it in a tone of voice that suggested I was insane. And then she said no, she wouldn't actually do it. She said she had clients who got grey streaks and then went to Shopper's Drug Mart -- "It's always Shopper's Drug Mart," she said -- and were asked if they wanted the discount for Seniors' Day. "They always dye their hair back," she said. She also made the argument that my hair might fall out from the damage of stripping the dark colour out. She pointed out that I was really tall, that few people could even see the top of my head, that the back and sides were barely grey at all.

We talked haircuts then. Could I get it all chopped off or would I look like a potato? We compromised with a non-potatohead short cut, no dye job, and she began to snip.

As she cut, I mentioned the people who had died of toxic, accumulated dark hair dye. She shrugged and said that cancer was also a strong possibility.

She asked what my mom thought of my idea to stop dyeing my hair. I said my mom still dyes her hair and now so do both my sisters while my brother is quite salt and pepper at 31.

As I paid, I asked her whether she thought I would cave in and dye it dark. Again, she shrugged.

I stopped in at my husband's office afterwards to show him my hair and to get a cup of coffee. He was working on something with a colleague, a guy I have also worked with. "Hey, no colour," Dave said. I turned to Richard, "I'm going grey," I said. "Me too," Richard replied. "No, I said. "I mean, I was planning to get grey added to my hair today." I told the Shoppers Drug Mart story.

I don't want to get carded, so to speak, at Shoppers Drug Mart. I don't want to be mistaken for my children's grandmother. I don't want to look ugly. But, why is it, I thought that Richard, who is younger than me and who has probably the same amount of grey as I do, is relaxed about his hair colour, and that the world is too? Would Richard be offered the seniors' discount? Probably not.

I know there's almost certainly a grey hair-female fertility connection going on here. That's the subtext of the fact that the vast majority of women dye their hair. But, I'm okay with the fact that I'm done birthing babies. (I would accept a three year old, mind you. I love those guys.)

What I'm not okay with is any assumption of loss of creativity or relevance, with the idea that grey hair = rocking chair.

With today's haircut, a greater percentage of my hair is now greyer, even without a bottle. I think growing the grey out will be significantly more annoying than growing bangs out. And maybe I will cave in rather than accept fraudulent discounts at chain drugstores. But, for now, it feels like a step of authenticity.

And that's the silver lining.


  1. Sounds like a good plan, Susan--grow in the grey. And I think you're right about the hair dyeing being different for women than for men.
    Oh, and you could have had my three year old today. He was lying on the sidewalk yelling at me to carry him because his legs were "too tired" to walk two more blocks. Stand up, stamp, whine, walk a few steps, yell, fling self onto sidewalk. Repeat. So yeah, I would have let you take him. At least for a little while ...

  2. Susan, as I am coming late in life to the gray hair issue (I've never had to dye my hair and it is just starting to turn) I have been contemplating never getting my hair dyed - just going it natural. The varied responses I have had, in such an appearance conscious community, have gone from simple shock to utter dismay. Andrew on the other hand is almost entirely grey but the comment he gets is, "It looks distinguished." Yes - there is a double standard here - grey hair for men = wisdom, experience, being distinguished; grey hair for women often = dowdy, doesn't take care of herself, etc. Go figure! As for the 3 year old - well I have to say we enjoy our 5 year old immensely...it is the 15 and 11 year olds that are up for attitude adjustments!