Going grey


I was listening on the radio this morning, as I drove to Central Station to pick up my father (who had an appointment at RPAH for a minor procedure aimed at controlling the progression of his Paget’s Disease), to one Anne Kreamer, who was describing the array of responses she received when she decided to stop dying her hair and show herself to the world with her naturally grey hair.

A statistic Kreamer mentioned was quite astounding: in the 1950s less than 10% of American women dyed their hair. Now the proportion is 65%. In only two generations, it’s gone from something hardly any women did to something that most women do. Kreamer pointed out the women politicians in the USA, nearly all in their 50s and 60s and surrounded by greying men of a similar age. The men’s greyness is perceived as endowing them with dignity, wisdom and gravitas, indeed it’s an electoral asset for the men, but not a single one of those women in Congress has let themselves go grey. They fear that they would not be re-elected if they did, and they’re quite probably right to do so.

Hair-dye has become a basic grooming expectation for the majority of women of all ages, but especially to cover any hint of age changes. Not dying your hair, for a woman going grey, has become a profoundly political act, by default. Even the usual phrasing – “allowing herself to go grey” implies that not chemically altering yourself to conform to the beauty standard is some sort of indulgence or worse, a dereliction.

For me, I guess it’s largely an anti-consumerist statement: I have better things to spend hundreds of dollars a month on than hair dye (so many books!), but it’s also the hours spent in the salon (I know from past experience, my hair requires about 3 or 4 times longer than most people’s to “take” a colour). So I’m greying.

I got my first grey hairs around my 40th birthday, I will be 45 this year, and the main difference is that as I get more and more silver hairs my hair colour now appears several shades lighter than it did five years ago. I have no anguish at all about this. Am I really that unusual?

P.S. I love it that my auto-tag generator suggested “one of those women” as a tag for this post.

Categories: gender & feminism, Life

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19 replies

  1. Hmm… I think it might depend on just how and when you go grey. If it’s a few silver threads among the gold, or a respectable and even sprinkling through your hair, that might be a bit easier than going grey in patches, a bit here and a bit there like a piebald horse. And starting to go grey at forty might be a tad easier than starting to go grey at 20, and being all the way there by 25, as happened to a friend of mine. My hair started going grey at thirty, and really, I don’t fancy being taken for my six year old daughters’ grandmother. So I have taken to colouring it in recent months, to my girls’ delight.
    Deborah’s last blog post..Hating powerful women

  2. There’s nothing wrong with people wanting to colour their hair for their own personal reasons, and certainly actual premature greying is a good one. People’s perception of one’s age definitely matters.
    I’m just sad that 60 year old women are still feeling obliged to pretend they don’t have grey hair, and I wish that more 50 year old women felt as comfortable about grey hair as most 50 year old men do.

  3. i love the idea of this and intend to let my grey happen without colour. I found my first grey hair about 4 years ago, juat after turning 30 (was slightly appalled) and it is progressing pretty slowly from there. My partner has gone much greyer much earlier and has a George Clooney look and I think his grey makes me much more relaxed about my own. I try very hard to embrace signs of ageing, after the initial shock.. so far grey is one of the easier things I’ve found to embrace.
    blue milk’s last blog post..The daughter competition

  4. I have tried letting my gray go; it’s silver, not gray, and theoretically should look nice mixed in with my very dark brown hair, but I just don’t like it. It’s sprinkled all over my head, and from a distance I just look dusty. So I use a temporary dye; no roots, and as the color washes off the gray it looks like blondish highlights. It’s meant to be used once a month, and I do it about every three months, so I go back and forth between gray and uniform dark.
    I dye it at home. Most of the women I know do, unless they’re going for some fancy-schmancy highlighting thing. Ten bucks a month isn’t all that much.
    My lovely 20-year-old daughter dyes her hair different colors all the time. Right now she’s mostly copper-red, with two white wings framing her face, but she’ll change it in a couple of months. Lots of the 65% of women in your statistic are dyeing for fashion, not to look younger. (I almost typo’d “dying for fashion.”)

  5. Lots of the 65% of women in your statistic are dyeing for fashion, not to look younger.

    Sure, not all or even most dye jobs are about grey hair. But the broad expectation now, that most women when they go grey will dye their hair (unless they’re countercultural types), is certainly padding the pockets of the dye companies significantly.
    Here in trendy inner-west Sydney, the dye jobs are mostly professional, because the fancy-schmancy highlighting, along with a top fashion cut, are de rigeur. Thus my calculation of the expense saved.
    There are also other problems with hairdressing chemicals adding to the chemical load of our bodies and the environment, of course.

  6. I only just turned twenty-two, and not a sign of grey yet. But I fully plan on “letting myself” go grey; after one ill-fated flirt with hair color in my teen years (immediately after which I lost literal handfuls of hair, and it took several years to build my already naturally fine and thin hair back to a point of health) I have come to appreciate my natural color. It’s one you don’t see many places: the borderline between “dark blonde” and “light brown,” with some wild red tones thrown in. It’s not a color many women dye their hair to. But I like it. I can only hope I go silver when I reach that age, but regardless, I will (I hope) let my hair do what it wants — at least I’m secure knowing that it sure as hell won’t let me dye it again 🙂

  7. Like Vicki, I don’t like my white hairs because they make my hair look dirty (and up close it makes me look like I’m balding). I’ve been greying since high school and once it’s mostly white, I’ll probably cut it short and let it grow in natural. (or start experimenting with colors my almost-black hair won’t “take” now)

  8. I’ve been going grey since I hit puberty, at 12. By that I mean I have had 1 grey hair on the right of my part since then. I would occasionally pluck It and It would grow back, all by Its lonesome. I lightened my hair once, and dyed it black another, but not to cover the grey. At around 20, It started growing up high in a curve to come down and poke me in the eye, so I plucked it more often.
    Oh goodness, I’m turning 25 this year. You might not think that’s old, but I’m probably the only greying student in my freshman physics class. I’ve left the miltary and dyed my hair plum once last year. Much to my joy, actually, my grey hair has been joined by a few close friends. I’m hoping they will get together to become one of those cute grey streaks. No way I’m dying it…unless purple strikes me again.
    Tanya’s last blog post..Wild Streak

  9. I started with the colour in my thirties, long before I showed any grey. My hair had lost its red tinge and gone a flat dark brown that made my skin look really stark. I deliberately don’t make it look ‘natural’; it’s for fun. But I take all your points. In theory. 🙂
    M-H’s last blog post..Spotlight story

  10. I find with my dark brown/black hair that my grey hair makes me look much older than my 34 yrs, so I get a semi-permanent rinse about every three months which slowly washes out so no nasty roots. I also find that it depends on who cuts my hair and how, because the grey tends to hide underneath the darker top layer and can only be seen if I have my hair cut a certain way. My MIL decided to stop colouring her hair a few years ago and is a lovely steely grey, about an inch long all over and given her five or so cowlicks it stands up on end everywhere. But it suits her beautifully and actually makes her look younger, which is exactly how she feels.
    Mindy’s last blog post..Who Ate All the Piiies!

  11. I’m 29, I’ve had white hair sprinkled (increasingly liberally) through my dark brown hair since I was 14. My year 9 maths teacher pointed the first one out to me (quite rudely) and people have been talking to me about dye ever since. I dyed it on and off aged 19 – 28. Red, purple, brown, blonde streaks. Now I can’t be bothered. I don’t mind it the way it is, and I’m sick of slathering my head in chemicals to keep other people happy and comfortable.
    Mindy, the reason your grey makes you look older than your 34 years is that all the other 34 year olds are dying their hair too. Our conception of ‘what a 34 year old looks like’ has changed.
    When my grandmother was greying in her 20s and 30s, she wasn’t that different, she didn’t look that much older than her cohort. I do. I am the only mother in our playgroup with (visible) white hair. I am also the youngest. I am the only mother dropping a baby off at childcare with white hair, again, I’m younger than the average. I’ve got more visible grey hair than most middle-class 50 or 60 year olds. More than either my mother or mother out-law will let show. It’s ridiculous that our society’s acceptable age for ‘allowing’ grey hair is now around 70.
    I saw a young woman with a fair smattering of white hair (about teh same as mine) pushing a pram near my place the other day – I had to restrain myself from hugging her.

  12. I love my silver temple! My hair is currently blonde, and I would say that perhaps 5% of it is silver. When I get a decent head of silver, I am so totally going to keep it that way. My face – if I stay like Dad did – will be younger looking for at least another 15 years, and I love the idea of having a head of shiny silver with a young face. Kinda anime, y’know?

  13. I have a chunk of grey-or-something hair, on the right side of my down-the-middle part.  It’s only about two inches wide.  I love it to death.
    I plan to either let it all turn whatever it feels like turning or dye just that chunk purple.  See how many people notice.
    Hell, my hair’s dark enough already, I might just dye it all blue without bleaching first, go for that comic book look.
    XtinaS’s last blog post..Sometimes, I think our laws need a reboot.

  14. I would like to see more women feeling happy to just go grey too, but that’s the critical thing – that they are happy to do so. By analogy, for years as a young woman, I didn’t shave my legs, with the net result being that I felt terribly self-conscious, spent summer sweltering in jeans and floaty skirts, and didn’t go near the beach at all. These days, I just relax, and get them waxed. It can be so very difficult either way, fitting into social expectations, or trying to live up to feminist ideals.
    Having said all that, I do plan to revert to grey sooner rather than later, just not while I still have acne as well.
    Deborah’s last blog post..Dashes not lines

  15. I started finding grey hairs in my mid 20s, and now, at 40, I have a prominent streak above one temple, and patches of grey elsewhere. I’ve never been at all tempted to dye it – laziness, rather than cheapness, I guess. It probably helps, though, that once it got noticeable it became a striking streak, rather than pepper and salt.
    But, Deborah, sadly, I still do have acne as well, occasionally. I suspect that it’s life long, for me.
    Jennifer’s last blog post..Identifying as a mother

  16. Wear your wisdom proudly! Mother Nature IS the best Artist, she knows exactly what shade of pale best suits your eyes (and they will stand out), your skin (and you will look fresher) and your personality. It’s your unique colour, the formula can’t be found in a salon and you can’t buy it at the supermarket casue there are too many varieties….silver, dove, oyster, granite, mercury, slate, stone, smokey, ash, charcoal …………

  17. Would really like to feel that I could let my hair go grey. Yet Since I am unemployed ie: temping at the age of 43 and looking for permanent work and also still interested in dating and meeting a man and new friends (actually I could easily do that grey but not the look for a job part) I guess I am just scared that it would be even more difficult to find a job considering I am basically not in a particular professional field and relying on just finding a good fit. Actually job searcning is really tough for me. My passion is environmental but I didn’t finish my MA and had some bad luck in one company and then started working in a law firm doing property tax appeal, now I am temping as receptionist in law office that does insurance law and the decor upsets me. Secretaries working with no windows. I learned Germany has made a law that causes architects to design long narrow office building so that all workers have daylight…we get dilbet and another country get improvements. Well so are we, somewhere, due to LEED buidings. Boy where did this discussion about going grey lead me? I am some how afraid that going grey could jeaparidize finding a good job for me… yet I am not doing all that great with brown hair either? All the same I am afraid…not to mention I went prematurly grey due to a really horrible episod with a sick person. So I guess partr of me doesn’t want to accept grey hair that happened due to shock. That might be the real issue is I feel the grey shouldn’t have happened to me and I have to face that if I go grey. Feel that if I culd be happily employed I would let my hair go grey.

  18. I like the idea of older women embracing their “sparkle”! My mum is reaching that point and she’s debating whether to continue to dye her hair or just let it go. I, who turn 25 in one month, found an entire patch of gray hair at my roots this week and am mortified. I used to dye my hair lighter, but recently wanted to go back to my original true brunette. As the colour is starting to grow out (although extremely close to my original colour), I found a great amount of gray hair. I pulled one out because I couldn’t believe it – I had caught the light reflection off it during my make-up routine one morning. It’s almost pure white, it is so light! I am so sad, though, that I’m losing what used to be amazingly brown hair. I came across this post looking for ways I can stunt the gray growth! As a teacher, my students automatically think I’m old but I don’t want them thinking over 30 quite yet!!!

  19. What amazed me in all the comments, was that each one was saying colour or let go – like you don’t have to groom yourself if you don’t want a full head of colour. First of all a good flattering haircut is most important. I am 60 and was blond for many years but for the last few I have been enhancing my grey with low light streaks here and there in the most amazing colours of granite, slate, stone, smokey, ash, and charcoal ……… 2 colours at the time with an amazing result and no regrowth to take care of, I have an interesting well groomed head and many youngsters ask me for my hairdresser because they looooooove the colour.

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