My son, 10 years old at the time, was perched on the back of a chair and I was sitting at his feet. He was armed with tweezers prepared for our weekly ritual of plucking the stray gray hairs from my head; the ones I had missed in the dyeing process. I patiently waited; his hand hovering uncertainly above my wild curls. Finally, he said; “Mom, can I just pluck the black ones instead?”
Yes, my hair is naturally gray; although, I prefer the term silver. My first gray hair showed up in my teens, when being gray in your teens wasn’t the ‘in’ thing. My mother insisted it was due to the year I spent ‘down under‘ as an exchange student in Australia, where there was obviously something ‘in the water‘ or not. By my early twenties, I was 75% grey. I started dying my hair around the age of 16; black as a raven’s wing; to emulate my favorite punk rockers and new wavers; think, Joan Jett and Patti Smith; and for the second, less obvious reason, to cover the gray.
In my teens, I decided on the Mohawk look ala Joe Strummer; spiked high and hard with Pledge Floor wax or by beating egg whites into a meringue and applying to my hair.
My twenties brought me to 80’s hair– constructing my own stairway to heaven; my thirties brought me to blowouts and straight irons. It also brought me to blonde highlights in an attempt to cover the ever-increasing grey. My forties brought me to red Bozo hair–which is not a good look for anyone. To those who asked, I tried unconvincingly to blame it on Henna. My mother, to her eternal credit, has been excruciatingly candid through all these phases; taking a long moment to look me up and down, emerald green eyes scanning me like a Terminator; shaking her head while asking, “what in the world were you thinking?” By this point, my driver’s license should come with a color wheel.
My 50’s brought me to exhaustion and a weird sort of acceptance. I decided to wean myself from the dying process, wondering how the grey would look. I started small, leaving only one strand down the center of my head. It was so shocking and freeing, that I decided on my next dye job, I would allow a larger strand.
I went to the hair salon, for a professional dye job; and took pictures of Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd, for reference. When I showed the stylist, who happened to be Russian, she was visibly stunned and insisted it was not a good idea. I went to a different stylist, Paul at Hair Dimension on 6th & California. I have been going to him for the past four years, and he has been with me as my gray stripe has taken over the entirety of my head.
I couldn’t do this when I was 20 or 30 or even 40; but, something clicked for me at 50. I have never felt so empowered, confident, sexy and self-assured; it’s a magical age, where I can own my story and I love it. Self-acceptance has been one of the most wonderful byproducts of mid-life. I am old enough to know better about a lot of things, young enough to care deeply about a lot of things and bold enough to just do them.