I have technically finished growing out my grey, except for 2″ of leftover colour on my shoulder length hair, which, for want of hair appointment, remains.
I can’t say I feel prettier with grey hair. But that was never the goal.
I hardly think about it anymore, but when people ask me if the grey is here to stay, I revisit my initial reasoning: this was exploratory. This was meant to be a two-year experiment to help me understand both the Biblical view and our culture’s view of grey hair by living in it. I wanted to challenge what was, up till that point, a self-prescribed, locked in colour appointment once every four weeks. This was a prescription that was not only eating away at my bank account, but, I had a feeling, covering up something of great value. I’d previously only thought negatively of the intrusion of grey hair on my head, while it’s the one physical attribute the Bible honours. What was I missing?
Grey hair is a crown of splendour; it is attained in the way of righteousness.
Proverbs 16:31 (NIV)
As I let friends and family in on the idea – and got some surprised, even horrified reactions – I had some hopes that I’d “get away with it,” that the visible change wouldn’t be for the worse, even as I anticipated important inner changes.
I can speak to the physical result quickly. I can say that I look 100% better when my hair is professionally coloured, if “better” is rated by how young one looks, which it absolutely is. I now clearly look older, my hair duller, which also has a drab effect on my skin. (Might be a clue to the popularity of the Florida tan for Caucasian Snowbirds…) At the same time, it’s not an alarming shock. My natural colour is lightish and the grey is blendy (lightish and blendy, both technical names) enough that some people don’t even notice… in the dim light or when I use filters on my selfies – tricked ya!
Although the end date of my experiment is still three months away, I have some preliminary findings that I want to share before my 2nd anniversagrey.
First of all, let me clear up a few wayward assumptions that some people have attached to this experiment along the way:
1. Going grey does not mean giving up.
People have assumed that my intention has been to let myself go and that makes them sad. I know women who have fasted from all things superficial to see where they end and vanity begins (see Phoebe Baker Hyde’s “The Beauty Experiment” for such a story). It’s a noble strategy, but not where I’m going with this. I notice that my desire to spiff things up has increased; I care more about makeup application, how I style my hair, the type and colours of clothing I wear. My question has been, upon what should a “crown of splendour” rest? Which prioritizes self-care. I also want to remain relatable to others. It has been important to me that I would keep myself, including my grey hair, presentable, particularly for reasons of competitive employment and because this is what my mama taught me. No one’s giving up anything here. I’m trying even harder.
2. I do not recommend that everyone go grey.
In the beginning, I had asked for participants on this journey because it felt lonely and I knew it didn’t have to be. I knew there were others with similar struggles, feeling enslaved to their hair appointments every four weeks. In fact, “being enslaved to hair colour” is a popular sentiment, I discovered. Some of you broke those chains and joined in, bless you. But I also saw that a lot of friends get defensive around me, worrying that I’d push them into something they didn’t want. Even when unsolicited, women tell me that they would never go grey, “My colour and I will go to the grave!” or “Don’t take this away from me!” Friends, there is ZERO JUDGMENT here. I’m still embedded in this experiment and the conclusion, I can guarantee you, is not me with a picket sign at your front door, “ALL FOR GREY, GREY FOR ALL.” Yes, I’ve talked it up to a few of you (increasingly less – I’ve seen y’all react!), but I’ve also talked at least three people out of it. So there.
3. I do not judge you for colouring your hair.
I’m not pushing you to go grey nor am I judging you for your commitment to tawny blond or russet brown. Even as I take my own chains are off, I can see that hair colour is different things for different people. While some of us are shackled to hair colour, others of us are actually just having fun. Some are using it as a tool to be relatable and relevant, others of us are using it for creative expression. At different times, these have all of been reasons why I coloured my hair and why I miss it sometimes and, frankly, live vicariously through some of you. Your “why” is yours to contend with.
I do judge bad hair colour, though – that’s just unnecessary. Visit my hairdresser, Barb, she’s a colour magician and she’s down a client.
Now that we’ve cleared up those three biggies, let me set out my actual findings since I last posted.
The Invisibility Factor
I had been riding out the sentiment from the six-month mark for over a year. It was growing stale. One can only abide an “it sucks” attitude for so long before you want to kick that young punk out of your head, and learn to adult in this changing landscape. So I moved into a place of acceptance and made one of my most surprising discoveries, what I call “The Invisibility Factor.” That is, when I’m in public, I’m less visible than I was when I coloured my hair. Certainly less visible than the blonde days of my 20s, but generally just plain immaterial to other people. Not in a way that people bump into me or I can now walk through walls, but I am not easily noticed.
Perhaps if I’d moved into this invisibility naturally, strand by strand, rather than inch by inch, it wouldn’t come as a surprise. But going from vibrant “fresh hair” (as my kids call it) to a new grey reality within months, meant that it was observable.
Don’t get me wrong, being noticeable isn’t the same as a gawk motivated by sexual drive, it is a simple, even subconscious perception that eyes in public land on you from time to time. Now, In a sea of strangers, I have become filler. I could easily disappear. I COULD BECOME A SPY.
It’s not just my imagination! My daughter was shopping at Winners with me a couple weeks ago. We had split up and then ended up at racks, close by each other. I saw her of course, but when we got home, she felt the need to unburden herself. “I don’t want to dis you or anything, but I didn’t register you. Well, I did, but it took me a moment to recognize you because of your grey hair. I didn’t know who you were.” My own daughter.
I comforted her that she hadn’t broken any bad news and thanked her for her honesty which is a lovely virtue. Then I sobbed in my bed sheets.
This has challenged me to consider how I look at people in a crowd, where do my eyes land and why. This is beyond “people watching,” but the everyday business of living in and navigating a crowded city. I will admit that I didn’t “notice” strangers with grey hair until I decided to grow out my own and then developed an imaginary kinship with them (Months 1-5). I have become aware that my eyes tend to search out people of interest or relevance to me, relationally motivated. Which is a whole other fascinating experiment I’d love to undertake in my mythical spare time.
My early conclusion is that hair colour can have the effect of registering you into the minds of others in a relational way (positively or negatively). In our culture, we certainly speak loudly with hair colour, it is an expressive element of our outward appearance. We’re saying something by the colour of our hair. With grey hair, one’s presence is quieter and, if someone takes note of you at all, it is as benign. Unless of course those strangers are themselves hoping to grow out their grey. In this case, I have had two strangers approach me asking me how I went about it.
This has also led me to speculating about women of a certain age who tend to move into a bigger and bolder fashion sense. Colourful eyewear, chunky jewellery, interesting outfits… I’m telling you, women in their 50s and 60s generally have an incredible fashion sense that you don’t see in your average 20- to 30-year-old. Is this because they don’t want to be invisible? Of course, it may be equally influenced by an understanding of who they are as individuals and a gradual moving into it without apology…
I’m not necessarily inclined to feel sorry for myself about this or think that I’ve made a mistake simply because I’m not as noticeable. I’m looking forward to exploring more of this new found invisibility, what some people might even consider a super power…
[TO BE CONTINUED]