Beauty-Marked: Going Grey

At noon on Tuesday, June 3, 2014, I announced to my hair stylist that this would be my last visit for colour. I’m growing out my grey.

She was understandably horrified.

This is not a decision I’ve arrived at flippantly. In fact, I commit to (and make public) this decision with knee-knocking fear and a boat-load of doubt.

Let’s refer to my hair stylist  as “Barb” …because that’s her name.

Barb figured I had a good reason to make this big decision and she became willing, after a while, to hear it. In essence, it’s a two-year experiment to help me understand both the Biblical view and our culture’s view of grey hair. I could – and will – interview those who have gone through this process, but I also want to experience this myself. How will this affect others’ behaviour towards me, how will I feel about myself, will it increase the generation gap between me and my daughters, what will my husband think when I look 10+ years his senior… etc. etc.

I want to challenge what up till now has been a *need* to cover my grey. I can’t help thinking, once again, there’s a better way.

As I said in my previous post, I am on a quest to discover/develop a foundational understanding of beauty. I know it’s important to God because he has breathed wisdom into scripture on the subject of beauty… and hair is a big part of the beauty equation.

Our culture has equated beauty with youth and doing everything we can to maintain it. This means we’re fighting a losing battle from the get-go because – newsflash – none of us will stay young. It’s actually impossible. And yet, we are continually “anti-aging,” putting on the aforementioned creams, getting surgery, colouring our hair, resenting inevitable signs of aging, hating ourselves for not living up to an impossible ideal.

The Bible gives a place of honour not only to the aged, but specifically to grey hair.

Proverbs 16:31 (MSG) says, “Grey hair is a mark of distinction, the award for a God-loyal life.

It’s honourable to have grey hair. It is an award, mark of distinction. Some translations call it a crown of glory and splendor.

Why do I have a standing appointment to cover up my crown of glory every 4 weeks? I want to grow out my splendor.

I expect this will be a painful process because, as my friend Marguerite, who has done this already, says, “It gets ugly before it gets better.” And I don’t know if I can yet claim the better part.

So I make sure to soak in the lasts of my colour appointment with Barb. The cold paint on my scalp, being forced to relax for 45 minutes while the colour takes, the luxurious shampoo and head massage…

As Barb works her magic one final time, we talk about beauty. It’s a complicated thing because where is the line between caring about your appearance and vanity? I honestly can’t say at this point.

Barb says she isn’t against aging. “Aging is beautiful!” She’s generally against plastic surgery, but – don’t tell anyone – would be open to getting botox herself. She feels she has a  wrinkle developing in her forehead that she thinks makes her look angry and it’s reflective of something she’s not.

Except I can’t even see the line she’s talking about.

She thinks I’m too young to go grey. Underneath Barb’s fabulous, funky burgundy hair, she is covering her own head of grey hair – she went prematurely grey in her 20s. She leaves me to let the colour take and to contemplate her use of the word “premature.” I was in my 20s too when I started going grey. Wonder how many of us there are.

As I pass the time, I pose the question on Facebook, “For those of you who colour your hair, have you ever considered going grey?” The responses come fast and furious and a complete range of answers. (Oh, y’all didn’t know your comments were fodder for my blog?) Here is a sampling:

  • Nope! Hair dye is ‘in our budget till death do we part’!
  • Have thought about it many times because of cost but nope “grey” is not one of my colours.
  • …have always hated the inequity of the sexes when it comes to youthfulness…one of these days, I just might give the world the finger (the male half anyway) and do it…if my daughter was 20 and not 2, I might consider doing it sooner….until then it is Loreal #51…
  • NO! I’m going to fight the grey hair until I’m too old to go buy the box of colour!! Even then, I’ll make one of my kids go get it. Of course vanity and societal expectations keep me from taking that step. And, well, I just don’t want to look older.
  • If we all did it, we’d prove that aging gracefully has nothing to do with hair colour!
  • Um … you first.

Also, can you imagine the conversations we’ve had at home about this? My family is absolutely sick of me. J-M has reluctantly agreed because, I’m guessing, a happy grey-haired wife is better than a frustrated brunette. Mallory says she’s OK with it except she resents having to explain to her friends when I have 6″ roots that her Mom’s not really that weird. Sophia’s answer gave me pause, “I don’t want you to look so old that I won’t relate. I’m afraid I’ll notice all the old things about you rather than all the fun, young things.” I can’t say that won’t happen, but I want to challenge that because – and this is a theme for another post – what makes us think old is negative?

Barb unveils my colour for the last time. I think it’s fitting that I’m “bronde,” neither blonde nor brunette. I document the event. Barb is definitely forcing her smile.

Barb & Lor Selfie

As I pay ONE FINAL TIME for hair colour, I tell Barb – and Kristin at reception – “You know and I know that mid-winter is going to hit hard. I’m going to have half a head of grey roots and an extremely depleted self-esteem. When I come in and desperately say either cut it off or colour it all…”

Barb interjects, “We’ll be strong for you… even if we don’t want to be.”


Barb went online later to see the responses to the FB post…Barb Going Grey.jpg

 

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Beauty-Marked

It would be interesting–horrifying?– to discover exactly how many “beauty” messages we are subjected to every day from advertising alone. The general consensus is that it’s in the thousands. And if we know anything about advertising, whether specifically for a beauty product or not, it relies heavily on “beauty” and “sex” to sell. (Which goes to say, we are told thousands of times, daily, what beauty is and should be.)

We know this, right? Media literacy was part of our school curriculum growing up. I can remember dissecting a page from a Sears catalogue to see the 101 ways they used sex to sell a twin set!

Even with such awareness (and in some cases, hype), I believe I have become an unwitting adherent to the dogma of beauty as it has been presented to me in all its printed and digital  media over the past 40 years. Without thinking, I’ve wanted to buy what they’re selling; namely, eternal youth, flawless beauty. Give it to me.

Mirror Reflection

I am in cahoots with beauty ideals from media as truth – mixed with the formative messages I’ve received via my family, friends, and the current cultural norms. They yoo-hoo at me and I follow. These ideals are what motivate me every day to style my hair, put on makeup, and select my clothing (or gripe when “I don’t have anything to wear”). They are what make me colour my hair every four weeks to hide the ever-creeping grey. They are what have me buying and applying decadent creams with Glycolic Acid and Retinol and AHA and any other anti-aging chemicals I’ve been told I should slather on my fine lines and sun-damaged skin. I hoist the anti-aging flag!

At the same time, I am deeply discontent with this “truth.” It would have me dread every passing day as my treasured youth pulls away from my grasp simply because I’ve lived to see another day. It would have me begrudge certain physical traits I was born with and others I’ve “earned” over time.

Oh, and let’s talk about “earning” signs of aging because here comes the pendulum swing. There’s that defiance we muster up when we just can’t keep up any more. We ask to a sympathetic ear (ourselves), “How long must I fight this losing battle?” Or we declare, “My wrinkles are my war wounds!” We become aggressively, falsely proud of our slowing metabolism and sagging skin. Fine, we’ve been found out! That’s how we wanted it to be anyway! Ha, fooled you, I’m not young and I don’t want to be! (Not today, anyway, mostly because I can’t be.)

All the time we’re receiving these messages of beauty, we’re doing the tough (albeit subconscious) work of categorizing them or embracing them obsessively or discarding them aggressively.

Thousands of messages, coming at us daily, telling us who we should be and what we’re worth.

Dare I say, there has got to be a better way!

This is a recent track I’ve been on, looking for the foundation of my own dissatisfaction, trying to figure out where the truth resides. All this searching has me getting excited (uh oh, there’s that word I like to use!) about what I’m learning.

That is, God actually cares about beauty.

We tend to relegate discussion of beauty to the shallow end of conversation and things to think about. But God’s got a beauty message for us to rival all the others, one that runs deep and brings healing. I don’t know about you, but that’s SUCH a relief to me.

So I say we look into this. By the fact that God has written about this, we are invited to adopt a foundational, God-infused understanding of beauty. I want to be beauty-marked with this understanding, so that it becomes the filter by which I see myself, others, and those thousands of messages coming at me everyday. This new and true understanding could and would have the effect of making swift work of our insecurities by settling our minds about where true beauty/our worth is found, and–importantly–what that looks like.


Over the next little while (weeks? months?) I’ll be exploring the topic of beauty/physical appearance from a biblical perspective. I hope you’ll dig deep with me!