*Disclaimer: The problems addressed in this article are only real where extreme vanity, ridiculousness and narcissism are concerned.
I used to dye my hair all the time when I was too young to. Before I was old enough for tattoos, dyeing my hair was my first expression of myself, on myself.
I went Stefani blonde at 13, black a few months later, purple, accidentally green, orange, back to blonde, and red, before returning to my natural brown in my 20s. My mom would study each new hair transformation with serious worry on her face. “Stop dyeing your hair,” she’d say, waving her hands in the air the way Italians do when words just aren’t enough. “One day, you’ll have to dye it and then you won’t want to.”
It took me fifteen years to listen to my mother, which is a pretty good average for how long it takes to listen to advice from your parents if you’re as hard-headed as I am.
I never thought about grey hairs before I noticed them. Then one day, as I looked at myself in the mirror of a dimly lit elevator, going down, there they were: a small cluster of never-before-seen greys congregating at my side part. “What the shit,” I said to the empty elevator. I was 26. I had just gone through what I still hope was the worst breakup of my life, and now my hair was telling me that I was getting old and going to die.
In that moment, I was angrier with my ex for giving me greys than for locking me out of our house, emptying our joint bank accounts, and taking my dog. It seemed like a final parting gift from him, after four years of manipulation and emotional abuse. “Here are some grey hairs to remind you of everything I put you through.” Insult, meet injury, you’re going to fucking hate each other.
Physically and emotionally, I was spent. I felt much older than my actual age. I felt like I had lived a couple of lives, and proof of my ordeals had sprouted on top of my head. While I was close to diving into full self-pity mode, I buried my vain worry about premature aging because I had bigger issues to deal with, like where I was going to live, how I was going to make money quickly, and if I was ever going to feel okay again after having my heart slaughtered and entire world pulled from under me like a carpet.
Once I got my life together, and had a bit of disposable income, I was inspired by J-Lo’s honey golden blonde locks to highlight my dark hair. I enjoyed the lighter hair, but the main reason for the highlights was so the greys coming in would blend into them and no one would know what I was hiding in there. This worked well, but highlighting is expensive and it ruins your hair, and soon, I was longing for the shiny chestnut brown hair of my youth. My mom was right -- I didn’t want to dye my hair anymore.
Now, after about a year of not dyeing my hair, the top of my head is uniformly brown, from a distance, with the springy greys popping out to the unaided eye the closer you get. Popping out is the only way to describe these hairs because I pull them out regularly, and they seem to grow in completely straight and vertical, as punishment for plucking them. I find long greys all the time now, too, which is scary. Somehow seeing a couple of inches of grey is so much better than a completely silver strand.
I realize this isn’t a life-ruining problem. It doesn’t even register as a real problem. I know it’s stupid, but you know what? In those moments when you’re coming off a terrible breakup, or dealing with a crappy day, or had a really bad date, or people are asking you when you’re getting married, the grey hair situation is vomit icing on a shit cake.
Dyeing my hair at this point seems like admitting defeat, letting aging win, and signing up for a lifetime of root touch ups. On the flip side, having obvious grey hairs is a daily reminder that my body is slowly shutting down. I’m not dyeing it, but sort of dying inside because of it. God, I’m so conflicted about those stupid pigment-less hair follicles.
When I used to dye my hair, or after I put on makeup, I’d sometimes look at myself and feel sad to so consistently succumb to the trappings of female vanity. However, I didn’t change my appearance as a teenager because of a societal pressure to look perfect, I’ve always genuinely enjoy experimenting. How we present ourselves is usually our biggest expression of ourselves. Still, I’m trying to rise above coloring my hair again.
I’m way over J-Lo and her perfectly highlighted hair because my hair hero of the moment is a princess named Kate. The Duchess of Cambridge was recently hammered by the British press for “letting herself go” because she stepped out in public with grey roots.
I’m glad she’s on my team here, even if she’s a castle dweller, married to a prince, and rich as Roosevelt (did you like that 50-year-old reference? It goes with my grey hair.) I have none of those things, but we’re in this hair battle together. I’d like to think she doesn’t give a shit about grey hairs, being a modern feminist princess and all, but I also know that Kate probably has moments of silver-hair age-panic when no one’s looking, because everyone is actually always watching her. Princesses are human, after all.
Brilliant 1950s actress Anna Magnani once famously said, "Please don't retouch my wrinkles. It took me so long to earn them.” That’s great, no? I love the idea that aging is something we earn -- a gift -- and not something we’re owed.
As such, I’m trying to think of my greys as wiry, silver badges of honor for my head. Real hair tinsel, if you will. I’m not going to dye it. Fuck it. I’m raging against the dying of the light by letting my hair display normal human signs that I am alive -- for now. I might have a panic attack and impulse buy some Feria to mask that shit. Aging is full of changing minds and inner conflict.
How do you deal with greys and other inconsequential but very real aging issues?