My Hair

Today was the first day of the Slice of Life March blogging challenge that I felt at a loss as to what to write about. I peeked over at their idea suggestion page, and I had to laugh out loud at this line: “Does the thought of writing 31 slices in a row scare anyone? If it doesn’t now, about day 13 it will.” Yep. That’s about right. Day 13, and I was stuck.

One reason I think I was feeling especially uninspired is that I just finished reading an inspiring book, and all I want to do right now is process it and tell everyone to read it. I wrote a review already, and I know that Slice of Life is not about reviews, so that’s all I will say about it.

One item on the 31 Slices to Inspire word cloud on the suggestion page jumped out at me in particular. Hair. My friend Glenda has already written about her decision to go gray. I thought to myself, perhaps I should write about my hair.

Prematurely gray hair must be hereditary in my family because my mom says my dad had gray in his sideburns when they met each other at the age of 19. I found my first gray hairs when I was 18. I can’t say where they came from, though, because in pictures, my grandfather’s hair was black except for some gray at the temples, until he passed away in his 70’s. My grandmother’s hair was gray, but I can’t say when her hair might have started turning gray, as she colored it most of her life. My dad’s hair is now a beautiful shade of white. Our hair is exactly alike, so I know in twenty years exactly what color mine will be. For right now, though, this is a pretty recent picture.

Alison BechdelSome people think it’s actually platinum blond until they see me in person. A friend of mine once argued with me about my hair. It was a walnut brown before it turned gray. I was there. I know it was. My friend insisted it had to have been blond because it didn’t look like it had been brown. You’re not going to win an argument like that. Still, I was there, and I remember.

It was the French horn player who sat behind me in band (I played flute) who first noticed gray hairs in the back of my head. Inexplicably, she pulled them out whenever she saw them. Why I didn’t give her a black eye, I’m not sure. I think at one point I did tell her to keep her hands off my hair.

I dyed my hair a variety of shades of brown and red in the 1990’s. Nothing I tried looked right, and it was horrible for my hair. I never did use a salon, so perhaps the results would have been different if a professional had colored it. When I was pregnant with Maggie (who just turned 15), I think I must have read that you shouldn’t color your hair. My hair looked pretty bad, I guess, while it was growing out. I can’t remember anymore. I fully intended to color it again once I gave birth, but my husband said he liked it. It was, at that time, more of a slate gray. So I left the hair alone.

I am really low-maintenance when it comes to hair. If a style requires more than blowing it dry, I don’t want the hassle. I found that the hair recovered from those years of coloring it. It felt better. Still, I was worried that I looked old before my time. I was in my early 30’s. I was in the hair color aisle at Wal-Mart one day looking at different colors and trying to select one. Two women stood nearby, and I could hear them whispering. Finally, one of them called down the aisle to me, “Don’t do it! See, I’m trying to convince her,” she said pointing at her friend, “that her hair can look like yours if she grows it out.”

I think I must have thanked her and left. Then, at Panera, a younger man complimented my hair. What you have to understand is this was years before gray hair and the granny look came in style. Hairdressers were always trying to convince me to color it. I was the only woman I knew—well, certainly the only one my age—who was not fighting the gray hair.

Eventually, it just sort of started turning silver. Then, lo and behold, young women started dying their hair gray. I was asked at Kenyon last year why I had chosen to color my hair gray (it was clear from the context and the way it was asked that the person liked it). I said I didn’t choose. It was natural. She said, “I like it even better, then.” From what I understand, the process of dyeing your hair gray is time-consuming and difficult.

Photo courtesy Glenda Funk

I am not someone who has always felt comfortable in my skin. When I was young, I was teased for being skinny. Having three babies made short work of that. Like many women, I often looked in the mirror and focused on all my perceived faults. But my hair? I admit it didn’t take long before I really enjoyed rocking the gray hair, even before others did, and even when others told me I should color it.

I could not have guessed I’d feel that way. I remember seeing Emmylou Harris on television when I was young and wondering why she didn’t color her hair. But at some point, even though it was something that made me stand out, I decided to just let it happen. My headmaster admitted to me a few weeks ago he was quite curious about it when we met, but couldn’t ask me anything about it during the interview process because it’s not legal. One former colleague said it’s “superhero hair.” I think someone said silver hair is the new blond. Whatever. I’ll take it. One time in my life I was actually ahead of the trends.

I actually do get a lot of comments on my hair. One of the most recent from a woman cutting my hair, and for the first time, a hairdresser was not telling me I should color it. I learned to love my natural hair before it was cool. My hair is now such a part of my identity and who I am that I can’t imagine it being any other color. Me at the Folger Library


Slice of LifeSlice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.

12 thoughts on “My Hair”

  1. Ah, you know I love your hair, and you made me brave enough to go gray. Yes, your hair would have been in better shape during the coloring years had you had it colored by a professional. One thing that has surprised me about my hair is how soft it is. I expected it to be coarse. And all those hairdressers wanted to color your hair because there’s money in coloring, not so much in cutting.

    I had it cut yesterday and am very close to being rid of all the residual color. I’m thinking about adding some purple just to the top, just for fun.

    1. I know they stood to gain monetarily if they talked me into it. I think it feels a lot softer than it did when I colored it. I imagine that the chemicals in the store-bought hair color were pretty harsh. Still, I wasn’t going to spring for the cost of a salon color once a month. I didn’t have that kind of money to spend on my hair, of all things.

  2. I love this post! As a woman in her mid-thirties grieving the onslaught of gray, I especially love this. I’ve never dyed my hair and I never want to. I only hope mine looks as beautiful as yours one day! When people tell me I should dye it, I’m going to refer them to your post! 🙂

  3. Your post inspires me. there is so much pressure for women to conform and fight aging. I love how you embraced it so young and you do look great. Never mind that I just got blonde highlights to hide my grey hours ago, and you will never see my photos on a blog. Great job loving yourself and being confident to say your truth!

  4. For the last 10 years I have noticed all the gorgeous gray hair around me. I think I would have gone gray around 30 if I hadn’t started coloring it. Our librarian had the most gorgeous silver hair and I was so jealous. Then one of our accountants, who had long blonde hair, cut her hair off one day. When I saw it I was in awe. “Why would you do that?” She said she had noticed she was getting gray and wanted to do it naturally, without starting with gray roots. I have to admit that I was so impressed!! Then one of our newscasters had a huge gray streak put in her hair. I’ve been wrestling with it…you may have pushed me over the edge. I REALLY want to do it. Am I brave enough?

  5. Platinum or silver: your hair looks great!

    I’ve colored my hair twice in the past 22 years. I wrote a slice of life story about it too last year. It’s a perfectly reasonable topic. 🙂

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