Gray Expectations

Recent shot…. as a brunette.

With the recent news of the Patraeus affair, people are abuzz with disbelief. But the disbelief didn’t seem to stem from Patraeus’ behavior, more from the obvious contrast between his wife of 40 years, and his mistress.  In fact, some were heard saying, “Well, no wonder he cheated on her!”  Hmmm.

So, this got me to thinking. Was the shock and awe due to the gray haired Holly versus the brunette mistress 20 years her junior? Or, was it the contrast of thin vs. not so thin? Likely, the combination. But I wondered,  if she were fit and gray would the reaction be different? Are we so used to women coloring their hair, that when we see gray hair on a woman we think she’s a lost cause?

As a 51 year old woman, I wonder if  gray hair is an automatic sentence to frumpville?  Does it mean women who are gray no longer take pride in how they look? Do they lose their fun factor?  Why do I color my hair?  To be honest, I can’t even recall why I started coloring my hair. I suppose it just was a natural part of keeping the aging process at bay, or at least preventing the perception of being old. Like most women, I look younger when I color my hair. But the real question, does it make me FEEL younger?

This past week  I went in to get my hair colored, as I do every 4-5 weeks. I asked Terri, my hair dresser, my colorist, my stylist, “Why is it that when men start turning gray they’re distinguished? Whereas women go gray and we’re just old.”  We both surmised it’s the aging thing. But wait, why is it an aging thing with women, but not men? Why does a woman with gray hair automatically become less interesting or less eye-catching? Why is there a negative vibe around aging for women? Lord knows, we spend loads of moolah in an effort to fight the inevitable. Yes, I’m guilty.  Yet with men, put some decent cash in their bank account  and they instantly become Channing Tatum, not fair.

Men and gray hair = distinguished. Women and gray hair=old.

So, this begs the question, as women of a certain age, why do we color our hair? Is it honestly just to appear younger? Does it then make us  more attractive because youth is considered more attractive? Or is it a way of hiding something that’s not well received in today’s youth obsessed world? Perhaps all of the above.

But the question I keep coming back to is, does coloring my hair actually make me feel younger? Or  or is it society’s perception of me and how I might be viewed if I were to go gray. Hmmm.

The more I started mulling this over, the more I started wondering how I might be treated as a silver goddess? I thought about people at the supermarket, a waiter at a restaurant, and new people I meet. What would it say to other people? Do I really care that much? Would my current friends treat me differently? So many questions surrounding such a small thing, hair color.

Ultimately, with all of this introspection, I have decided to visit my natural roots. I may not stay there long, but I’m willing to try. I guess in order to go gray more gracefully, Terri said there’s a process I need to go through. You can bet  I’ll share all of those details and more as I go. With photo documentation as well.

As Terri and I chatted more deeply about my decision she asked,  “Are you sure you want to do this Nicki? I’m not sure how much gray we’ll be dealing with?” That translated to, “Be prepared, you might not like what you see.”  But why not? Is it because being gray will immediately catapult me to old? Will I actually feel older and maybe carry myself differently? Feeling more aches and pains? Kind of fascinating. Why do I assume that going gray will be a negative?  I’m sure psychologists would have some thoughts on this. I’ll have to be sure and add some interviews about that on this blog.

I rather pride myself on being mistaken for someone 10 years younger, so this is definitely a tough decision. But in truth, if I FEEL young regardless of hair color, what difference does it make?  Even before starting the process, I have a million questions on what will change when my hair does. I suppose I’ll find out.

As of today, I’m still a clear brunette. My family isn’t sure I’ll go through with it, but at this point, I’m so intrigued with the unknown, I’m ready.  As of this moment, as a brunette, I believe that age and old are not synonymous. I believe hair color should have little to do with how I feel inside, it’s more how others perceive hair color.  But perhaps these thoughts and beliefs will evolve along with my hair color.

So, here I go! Join me in my yearlong adventure. I’d love to hear from those of you that have gone gray and those of you who would spend your last penny on hair color before ever giving it up.  I have no idea what to expect, hence Gray Expectations. This should be an interesting ride! Come on, hop in and buckle your seat belt, it’s going to be a gray-t adventure. (Sorry, couldn’t resist).





26 responses to “Gray Expectations”

  1. Because of cost I’m not coloring my hair but I also have very good genetics and only have a few grey hairs and they are more silver. At 47 even without coloring people usually put me at much younger because of my attitude and what they think someone my age should act like. Plus because of my boys ages they assume I must be younger since I waited until I was established with my husband before I had them. I will love following and finding out what your journey is like.

  2. You caught all my rambling thoughts on this subject in your post! At 60, I am an auburn/red hair-colored person who sits in a salon chair and pays a lot to stay that way—-every three weeks! I started coloring at 39 while going thru a divorce with three very young daughters and I told myself it was because I did not want to be the grayest mom at the preschool. Now I don’t know….it is part of my musings on how much money and time and energy I spend on looking young and attractive. Why do I need to do that when I am happily married to a man who spends no time and no money and no energy on these things. Is it for him or for me or for the rest of the people in my world who are not looking anyway?
    Last year I asked a woman I met, whose hair was dyed
    a beautiful red and who announced that she was 80 plus, when a woman should stop coloring her hair. Her answer, “I hear the coffin is a good place to do that!”

    • Ha! Such a great variety of opinions and responses, hence my decision to give it a go! We shall see if I love the look or if I decide to join your friend and dye til I die. 🙂

  3. I started coloring my hair when I turned 40 and the gray started to appear! Felt I was too young to have gray hair. Now my hair dresser/stylist says I would have to cut my hair very short, and then let it grow out gray. I would have a streak of gray down the center of my head! I’m not quite ready to try it. I have two friends that have beautiful gray hair. I think it makes a difference because all of their hair is gray, not streaked with gray. Tough decision for sure. Good luck to you. Can’t wait to see the results. (by the way I am also 51)

    • Hi Ellen! My hairdresser said it’s a process of doing some shades or something like that so you’re not forced to cut it or walk around with an unsightly zipper. I’ll post photos for sure!

  4. I begun to grey in my late twenties and have been alternating between using henna (from the plant in my backyard) and commercial colours. I have readily accepted that I do it to feel young, because I’m still 15 in my head, hehehe.

    I don’t think I do it for how other people perceive me, but rather for what I feel about myself. I also think that pampering my hair is a way to pamper myself, so it’s fun, feels nice and gives me great result.

    The ladies who let themselves go grey is to be saluted; especially those who stopped colouring their hair. It is a change that I don’t think I will actually do, even if one day I cover my hair (I’m a Muslim, BTW).


    • We’ll see if I’ll be one that will be saluted. Right now, I’m ambivalent, but I won’t know until I try. I’m all in favor of feeling young and that’s what I want to find out. Thanks Snuze!

  5. Thank you for addressing this issue. At 45 I’ve been fortunate that I only have a few silver strands on my head; that I have to thank genetics for. I decided long ago that when I go grey I’m going to let nature take its course. I just don’t want to have to worry if my roots are showing. I’m just trying to embrace me the way I was made. As a mother of 4, I figured I’ve earned every grey hair and laugh line on my face. I think age is a state of mind, and my kids tell me I behave like I’m four years old sometimes. (lol) Looking foward to your journey.

    • Thanks Debra. I have 4 children also. I wish I only had a few strands. I have 2 older sisters and they have next to NO GRAY! So, I must have pulled the short straw, or maybe I pulled the right straw? We’ll find out, right! 🙂

  6. Nick,

    Great article! I am 100% gray and have been since I was in my 20’s. I have a picture at age 37 where my hair was not gray, but platinum. Edging toward what I really looked like under the hair color. It is shocking. I will send you a copy. You may reconsider this decision after seeing it. As far as what men find attractive and why they do what they do??? Good luck figuring that one out.

    • Marth, a lot of people are saying coloring is everything as well as the color of the gray. Sooo, we’ll see what I’ve got hidden under here. As for men, youth = studly. Just a guess.

  7. Some of the historical roots (sorry for the pun) come from gray signifying a loss of fertility, youth. With sterility and by getting old, women lost leverage and became less valuable. Men do not suffer this fate as much because, even when they gray and lose virility, they retain their ability to earn and exercise power.

    It’s complicated to go gray. Women here today enable stereotypes as much as push back on them. (How many overweight, out of shape, gray men are in positions of power? How many overweight, out of shape, gray women are in positions of power?)

    And I’m of it, too. I do not have much gray at this point but I’m already considering my options for this eventuality.

    • Jane, this topic just begs for puns! In fact, I’m finding this issue it’s not just black and white, this is a gray area for sure. 🙂 I know, I know, but it’s true. I’ve heard from a few men on my FB page saying that it’s an issue for them as well. But I’m with you, they hang on to their power and respect. But if you look at the American Indian culture, age is wisdom and respect regardless of gender. It will be very interesting to see how I feel as I progress, right now I’m feeling quite sassy!

  8. I tried the dye in my late forties, but soon decided to grow it out. It’s been years, so if I were that way inclined, I could tell you how much money and time I’ve saved. But that’s kind of boring. What I can say is that I don’t regret it. People still get a shock when I tell them how old I am (no work done, promise). However, it’s definitely true that I look better in the summer when my face is a little tanned. Around about February I’m tempted to color because I feel too gray. So I take a short vacation instead.
    I read a magazine once that suggested yes, colour when you’re still in your 50’s, but after that, not.

    • Brenda,
      That’s been the common response, it’s all about coloring both with skin tone and gray color. I like the idea of taking a short vacation for a little natural bronzing! I think color is such a personal thing, just as the length of hair is. Not sure there’s any age, if it’s right for you. In my research I found that only 5 out of 93 women in Congress are gray. Love what I’m learning.

  9. I’m 63 and stopped coloring my hair about 10-11 years ago. It got to the point where I was coloring it and that skunk stripe would appear in 3-4 days. Finally enough was enough. I had most of the color stripped out of my hair and then they colored blond streaks in it. The gray grew out gradually. I was fortunate in that it came in a really nice shade of white/gray. Later I read that Helen Mirren had gray coming in and now she has streaks of blond applied to her hair. I have been thinking about doing that, just for a change.

    • Jane, I met a woman the other day with gorgeous gray/blonde hair (I’m now talking to every woman I see with gray hair!) and her story is similar to yours and I’m guessing around the same age. The zipper thing, agreed, no one should ever sport that look! Thanks for sharing!

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