Wedding Day, June 1968 ( Hair Permanented)
Wedding Day, December 2001 (Hair Dyed)
I have always had thick, absolutely straight hair that I was grimly determined to curl. The first picture of me in curlers was taken at age 4. I either set my hair every night or had permanents until I got married. I was a blonde until I was 3; then my hair turned to dark brown. My aunt found my first gray hair when I was 12 .
When I was 23, a colleague asked me whether I streaked my hair because I had so many gray hairs. My mom had dyed her hair from the time she was 30; I vowed to let my hair go gray like both my grandmothers had done.
Around age 38 I sold out and periodically attempted home dye jobs. I stopped when a woman asked me in the supermarket whether I had purple hair. I started to have it dyed professionally when I was 42 (depressed over my dad’s death). It was expensive and time-consuming; about a week after I walked out of the beauty parlor, I would have dramatic silver roots.
At age 47, I impulsively decided to go gray. If you use permanent dye, you have stark choices. You can cut your hair very short and endure looking like a skunk while it grows out. Or you can bleach your hair ash blonde and let it grow out a bit less conspicuously. I opted for the latter. Walking into my social work field placement and my classes as a blonde, I was the focus of attention that I had never been before. It took a year to grow out while my hair felt like straw, but I was pleased with the results. My hair was silverish white.
Two years later, I was meeting my mom in Manhattan for a Broadway show. As I watched her walk down the block, I thought, “I can’t stand it. She looks much younger than I do.” So I dyed it dark brown again in 1995. My 28-year marriage ended in 1996, and gray hair did not seem the best advertisement for a new husband.
My mother died on Good Friday, 2004, almost 83. We asked the undertaker to touch up her roots because we knew she would have hated mourners seeing her gray hair and realizing she was old:) My 5 brothers made tasteless jokes about hair growing after death and needing touchups six feet under. That was a moment of truth. I went the bleached blonde to silver route and have not changed my mind in 5 years. For about six months I was shocked when I caught an unexpected glimpse of myself in a mirror.
I was brave. My husband is 16 years younger than me, and I dreaded being asked whether he was my son. That hasn’t happened, but he is not allowed to shave his beard off and look younger. Andy calls me his silver princess. I can spend a whole day in Manhattan and never see another woman with long, straight silver hair. Too many older gray-haired women have unbecoming permanents. In contrast, when we visit England, I see lots of women in their 50’s with gray, silver, or white hair. The second most important man in my life, my grandson Michael, has always loved my hair.
I believe my gray hair struggles are all about my relationship with my mom. My mom hated it when I wore my hair gray. It is not an accident that I waited until she died to revert back to silver. At least 3 of my daughters, 36, 33, and 30, have noticeable gray streaks. Mysteriously, the men in my family go gray 20 years later than the women. I have been asked if it’s platinum blonde; I have been asked who is my hairdresser. Being silver is much more fun than being brunette, naturally or artificially.