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Eight months on...
Life is all about embracing the grey, and yet when it comes to hair, it's so bloody hard!
How are you? I know I’m totally out of sync at the moment. While I’m doing an MA at University and my youngest is doing her A levels, I’ve paused this space and the podcast. I am, however, still doing shorter posts on social media as they are easier to squeeze into the load - it’s always about balance, isn’t it? I’m glad to say that I’m managing to hold on to the thoughts from my previous post about productivity v quality of life though, and it’s working a treat!
If you are with me on social media, you will know that since last Summer, I’ve been trying to embrace the grey as it comes through, and while the shorter posts might look like it’s all a blast, I wanted to take a bit of time to talk about it here, as many women message me with similar dilemmas questioning whether they should/shouldn’t do the same. I feel like it’s a battle against a narrative that has programmed us into needing colour on our hair. We think it’s that we want to …. but do we? Need/want/need want …I don’t know? And then Martha Stewart, age 81, shows up plastered all over the internet, having been featured as the oldest cover star on Sports Illustrated with blonde bouncy hair - and I question myself all over again! GAH!
Here’s what motivated me to try to embrace the grey in a post I wrote back in September….
And now here are my thoughts since then, with a bit of hair backstory which puts it into context…
Back in the early ‘80s, when everyone had a long ‘flick’ in their hair, my grandmother told me in no uncertain terms that having layers cut into mine would be a bad thing.
‘It’s far too high maintenance having a cut like that darling. A mark of vanity too.’
Then along came the perm and for a number of my teen years, I attempted the shaggy look - which only shagged for about three days. I saved from my cleaning job to pay a trainee the £15 to get it done, and they’d insist on doing it too tight because ‘It needs time to drop’. So I’d look like a poodle, and my Dad wouldn’t speak to me for days because he also had an opinion on how I shouldn’t do my hair.
When I was 17, my boyfriend told me that I should never cut it off because it was my hair that made me pretty (he said it the day this photo was taken, probably even while it was being taken). This, of course meant that without it, I’d be ugly. I didn’t want to be ugly. So I kept the mop for another decade until my self-esteem was enough that I dared try.
Throughout my entire childhood, my grandmother used her RAF hairbrushes and combs, neatly positioned on her dressing table, to smooth down her bob. She used the same ones from when she left the army in the 40s, through to when she died in the 90s. The style served her well, as did the brushes (which are now in a cardboard box in my bedside cabinet.) When it came to make-up, she powdered her nose and wore lipstick. The prospect of spending any more time on her appearance than enough to be presentable was incomprehensible. Vanity was ugly. So, when I started wearing make-up, she insisted on calling me Boy George. I think she meant for it to sound offensive.
A few years after she died, in the mid-90s, I had layers cut into my hair and, not long after, jumped in with both feet and went for a short pixie cut – in for a penny, in for a pound. It surprised me how liberating it was. She might have spun in her grave, but she was right, it required a ridiculous amount of maintenance—I loved it.
At the time, it helped me realise the value of image, of having a personal identity and the freedom to express ourselves as we embark on life. It’s communication, and I’d say it’s also a form of art - why not?
But now, here I am, having entered my 50s, and I’m in a quandary. The pixie got boring, so I grew it long in my 40s, and with all the hair paraphernalia that we have these days, even my wispy, neither-straight-nor-curly fly-away never-look-nice natural barnet turned out to fair ok. I’ve coloured it for years because I loved going from pink pixie to orange, to white, to black and white and then when it was long, I loved playing with tones and shades of high lights and low. But over the last couple of years, it’s become about hiding the grey, and I’m finding that I’m uncomfortable with that.
Colouring my hair now feels like it is not on my terms. I’m visiting the hairdresser in order to chase the grey, to hide it. It feels as though I’ve slipped from art and communication, to treading water and being influenced by an industry/culture that says grey = old = ugly. L’oreal spent years reprogramming us to believe that colouring our hair was the ultimate way to make us feel good, better yet, important. I tell my daughter that beauty is on the inside – and if I believe that to be true, what is the problem?
I think the problem is that I feel as though I’ve lost agency. Somewhere along this line, I’ve crossed over to ‘managing’ the grey rather than ‘maintaining’ a colour I love. It feels like it’s not (brace yourself) authentic—one of the most overused words of our time. The truth is authenticity matters. It’s where we connect. If we can’t be true, then isn’t it a lie? I know there has to be middle ground for me to find. I need to find the grey (‘scuse the pun!)
And that’s where I draw a blank. I have loved colouring my hair for the last 25 years because it was fun and liberating and expressive. But now the trek to the salon is to hide the ageing clock that I’m lucky to still have ticking, and to fight the frizz that comes with it. I’ve lost friends who didn’t make it this far, so I want to celebrate my age. And I’ve lived through some pretty shit times, I want to celebrate that too! I don’t want to look younger. I’m 50, and I bloody love it. I love the grey too (but not the frizz, who loves the frizz?), but I miss the magic of colour. I’ve been letting the grey come through now for nearly a year and I like that I’m not hiding it or afraid of it, but currently, I don’t like my hair very much.
I don’t know the answer. I don’t want my value or identity to be wrapped up in how I look. And I don’t believe for a second that beauty resides with the young. There has to be a way to embrace the grey - I’m trying to find it. And I’m trying to ignore the fact that Martha Stewart looks bloody amazing.
Feel free to add your thoughts on this below, I find it a fascinating conversation.
Until next time,
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