Tag Archives: gray hair

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.