I make no secret of my age. (46, and if you haven’t wished me a “happy” yet, feel free to!)
So why, oh, why am I having such a problem letting my hair go gray?
A little backstory: unlike many of the women on my mother’s side, while I had a few stray grays pop up as early as my 20s, I didn’t need to start actively coloring to cover them until my late 30s. And I was earning a nice living via acting at that point (with good health insurance…sigh…), so it made sense to make sure my hair matched my face, which for some reason insisted on looking 5 – 10 years younger than the rat’s nest on top of it.
But if I’m honest, and dammit, if I’m not, there’s little point to anything anymore, I wanted to look chronologically younger for me, too. In the late 90s, I’d just left my marriage of 8 1/2 years for a man 12 years younger than I, who looked 5 – 7 years younger than he really was. And who was also, shall we say, empirically good looking. It was frustrating enough for me and my fragile self-esteem to flit about with The Youngster in public; add to that the subtle and ongoing pressure from him to “look my best” (what is it with these empirically good looking people?) and you have a perfect storm for public deceit.
Well, I’m not acting anymore. And dye, in addition to being not inexpensive, is toxic and time-consuming. What could I do with those extra two hours per month? Those extra 1000 or so cancer-free years days of my life? Or, while we’re at it, the extra 750 bucks a year? (A steal in L.A., but still.)
I find myself obsessing over gray hair. It seems to be a trend, or a meme, the ladies lettin’ it go, perhaps kicked off by Meryl Streep in the otherwise forgettable Devil Wears Prada. Someone wrote a book about it. There’s a Yahoo! group devoted to it, a graying Botticelli’s Venus as their icon. (I joined.) There’s that idiotic Dove campaign.
I think it comes down to this: vanity.
Not vanity about looking my age, but about looking good for my age. Or maybe just looking good, period. I quit wearing makeup long ago, and I’ve let myself get woefully squishy around the middle; strictly from a design/style perspective, hair dye saves my beauty bacon. It’s the lazy gal’s way to look good (at least, until your face and skin tone stop coordinating well with dark hair. I am going to look like a raggedy-ass schlub growing out my gray if I don’t work a little harder to look good in other departments, like clothes and fitness.
Maybe that’s the thing: put “Pilates body” on the to-do list. Make it a big goal for…say…2010, and get crackin’. Then, once I’m leading the yoga class, shave my damned globey-head bald and wear all black or something.
It’s an option I’ve discussed with my patient, generous colorist. He’s amazing, really, basically helping me figure out how and when to fire him.
There are no easy answers to this. I would like to think I’m “there”, but clearly, it ain’t so. Whether I like it or not, going gray is a political statement in a patriarchal society where a woman’s currency is tied to her looks and reproductive status. As is toeing the party line with a box of dye.
I do not like the lies I am telling, and yet, here I am.
Now, where’s the way out, I wonder…
UPDATE 9/19: I wrote another blog post about aging (and lying about aging) here that may help illuminate some of this thinking.