Sunday, September 16, 2012


From Wikipedia:
Changes in hair color typically occur naturally as people age, eventually turning the hair gray and then white. This is called achromotrichia. Achromotrichia normally begins in the early to mid-twenties in men and late twenties in women. More than 60 percent of Americans have some gray hair by age 40, but white hair can appear as early as childhood.

I remember discovering my first grey hair at twelve years old.  Andrea, in the church library, with a book in one hand and a silver hair coming from head in the other hand.  Kind of like Colonol Mustard, in the billiard room, with the lead pipe; did anyone else play that morbid children's board game, Clue?.  It was kind of like discovering a crime on my own head.  My mom said that it was probably growing from a scar from the chicken pox I had as a baby, and I was content to accept that explanation.  

Fast forward twenty years, and I would peg my grey to brown ratio at about twenty-eighty, and progressing.  Quickly.  I know I can't be the only one, and yet it's rare to see anyone my age or even fifteen to twenty years older than me sporting the salt and pepper look.  I'm left to assume that most of us just start dyeing our hair, do we not?  Is it one of those things we're not supposed to talk about?

Emmylou Harris
I wish I could dye my hair without worrying about the health consequences, but I can't.  Since the cosmetics industry in Canada is self-regulated, I tend to be rather skeptical about the ingredients in toiletries and cosmetics.  Ever since my husband had cancer, a cancer that is on the rise in Canada and is linked to exposure to chemicals, we do what we can to avoid unnecessary risks.  Allergic reactions to hair dye are also particularly nasty and unpredictable, even if you've been using the same hair dye for years.  Google that for some unsettling photos.  I've used hair dye a few times in the past ten years, for times when I've been in weddings, or just felt particularly alone in grey frump-land.  After consulting the Skin Deep cosmetics database to find the least harmful dye,  I delved into the land of feigning hair colour, even still with qualms about the impact on my health in the future.  And, I do recognize the irony that perhaps anxiety is responsible, at least in part, for going grey!  Also, committing to dyeing my hair consistently for the rest of my life would be a costly and time consuming committment!  But...oh how I liked erasing those silver threads, those lines of evidence that I am not seventeen anymore.  Men can somehow get away with going grey with shades of being "distinguished" or "established" more easily than women.  We don't get to be silver foxes.  

Aside from the physical health aspect of dyeing hair, I sometimes wonder at the effect on self-esteem when we collectively alter the standard archetypal image of an aging woman.  I feel like applauding when I pass a woman on the street who has grey hair, especially stylish grey hair.  It gives me hope that one can age gracefully and authentically.  I don't think it's wrong to dye one's hair, but there is something to be said for being comfortable with your body as it ages.  It's not as easy as dismissing hair colouring simply as vanity though, because the continuum of vanity runs from combing your hair and washing your face, to surgically altering your body for the sake of appearance.  Every individual must find her own level of comfort on that continuum, a decision that is informed by family, friends, and culture.  What is excessive, costly, or painful to one person may be a non-issue to another.  That level of comfort is usually not static either.  I would like to be able to be comfortable with either dyeing my hair or not from time to time, just as I'm now fine with leaving the house with or without makeup.  There was a time in my late teens and early twenties when I wouldn't fathom going out to a social engagement without "putting my face on."  I stopped the makeup routine when my husband had cancer too, although it was because I knew that there was a reasonable chance of unanticipated tears at some point during the day, so what was the point of putting makeup on and getting raccoon eyes, and not because I was thinking about chemical exposure yet.  Once I got out of the routine of wearing makeup, it was actually very liberating.  I still wear makeup when I feel like it, and I'll probably dye my hair again if my anxiety about health issues wanes.  

Vogue Fashion Writer Sarah Harris
Our physical appearance should not be the basis of our self-image and confidence, but we cannot divorce ourselves completely our feelings about our bodies.  It's a complicated dance for women to feel comfortable in our own bodies, decide what level of physical enhancement we are comfortable with, and not to feel as though we are being vain or prideful if we ever reach that state of peace with our bodies!  


  1. Well said. I had my first dip into 'covering my grey' early this Spring and I can't wait for the consequences of it to grow out (as I can't afford to keep re-dying until I'm back to my own colour). It was a WagJag deal and the hair guy offered to naturally cover over some of my grey strands since I had more services I could do with my coupon deal. Natural in his mind was no-where near natural in mine! It helped me realize, however, that I'm far more okay with my hair as is (grey or straight) than I am with it colour-treated or permed. The former category may change with time, but definitely experience has taught me - no perms . . . ever!

    Anyway, I have to say that in Winnipeg, I've noticed more women in my age group who are choosing not to cover their grey and I LOVE it! Because it is, as you say, harmful to the collective self-esteem of women for us to feel we have to _______ (wear make-up, wax or do other hair removal, dye hair, make our breasts larger through push-ups or whatever other means, etc.) to be considered beautiful. It's hard to go against the push, but I'm with you on this one. I'm sure you'll still look so beautiful even if grey hair leads you down the path of aging before you'd like. Fun post. Learned a new word, though I'll likely not remember it . . .

  2. Okay, so I've got a few strands showing on the surface of my head and at first I cut them, but when they were too numerous to do so, I let them grow out, determined that I was going to age gracefully. So after a year, those hairs were BEGGING to be plucked. I couldn't handle it anymore. I know you're not suppose to pluck, but I did. So I still don't know what I will do when the gray become more numerous...But I totally hear you. I wore those gray hairs around proudly for a year only to lose my tolerance for it in a moment.

  3. Too funny, Katherine. I did the same thing a few times. I used to pull them until a family member advised me that going grey would actually be better than plucking myself bald. Oh yay.
    Hmmm...Winnipeg is looking better all the time! Well, maybe not all the time, but at least they have your family to boast and the freedom to go grey. I'm finding our move closer to the city has made me feel a little more self conscious amidst all the fashionistas here...


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