In the September 10 issue of “Time” (which has a great updated image of the “We Can Do It!” poster on the front cover), there is an article by Anne Kreamer, “The Gray Wars” (pages 71-74). In the grand tradition of intelligent baby boomers, she has written a book about what began as her personal decision on whether or not to color her hair: Going Gray: What I Learned About Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Matters. I haven’t read this book, but I think I’m going to.
In the “Time” article, she writes about the research she did on how people perceive grey hair (yes, I spell it using the English version). There are photos of six currently famous people, shown with and without grey hair, and the results of how people perceived them. Are they more or less attractive? Intelligent? Believable? Distinguished? The bad news: they were generally found less attractive. However, the results on the other three attributes were mixed. In her article, Kreamer also writes about how defensive people can be about their decision to color or not color their grey hair, and likens it to the days of 1960s and 70s feminism, when women were debating whether it was better to go out and work or stay home with the kids. The part that really encourages me, however, was the research she did on Match.com. She did one posting of herself with grey hair, and then three months later a posting of herself with brown hair. The grey won. “…in New York City, Chicago and … Los Angeles, three times as many men were interested in going out with me when my hair was gray as when it was dyed … Maybe the men sensed that if I was being honest about the color of my hair, I’d be more accessible and easier to date. Or maybe the gray made me stand out from the overwhelming majority of Match.com women my age who color their hair” (p. 74).
Yes, I have grey hair, or at least 30% of it is grey. And the other 70% is more brown than it was in my youth (when it was so dark it was almost black). I read somewhere that lighter shades are more flattering to aging faces, so I take solace in that. My dad and his mother went grey early; it seems I’ve taken after them. I did try to color my hair when I was in my 40s, but I’m allergic to peroxide, and my hair won’t take color without it. My body made the decision to go grey for me, without a lot of soul-searching and philosophical debate. There is still angst, though. When my mom died at the age of 83, she had less grey hair than I did at 48. (On top of that, she always looked 10-15 years younger than her age — naturally.) Going grey has been difficult for me, because I didn’t see my mom do it. I have no graceful mentor to follow.
On top of that, my hair is long. Waist-length. I’ve had short hair (twice) in the last 12 years, and it looked really good, but I finally decided I like it long. Years ago there was an older woman with a long, grey braid of hair who rode around town on her bicycle (vigorously). I saw her and thought, THAT’S what I want to be like when I get older. For my mom’s generation, when you got older (and especially if you went grey) you cut your hair. Yet I see more older women with long hair now (grey or not). It looks beautiful.
Maybe going grey IS a political statement. The Baby Boomers have had a huge affect on U.S. culture, and promoted the “cult of youth” as we moved through our teens and young adult years. As we move into our silver years, perhaps it is time to reinstate the idea of respect for older people. To be proud of our experience and knowledge (learned the hard way). One way to do that is to let the world see how many of the people we admire have grey hair. Grey hair is a part of life, and perhaps it is important to accept it as part of the cycle of nature. Maybe I’m providing a role-model for someone else. Maybe, as a therapist-in-training, it is easier for me to build a good relationship with my clients because I have grey hair, and am seen as someone with life experience.
In the end, it is a personal choice, and one we all make for different reasons. I fully support any person who goes grey AND those who color their hair, just as I do the women who work outside the home AND the women who work at home with the kids. It is important to make your own choices. Meanwhile, it is interesting to think about the choices available, and to understand why we choose what we do.