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.