June 27, 2004

hair today

Yesterday I did something I thought Iíd never do. Something I probably wouldnít have done if I still lived on the east coast. Something that doesnít fit my personal philosophy, even.

It was almost an accident. Itís not like I woke up yesterday morning thinking, ďToday Iím going to do it, I am.Ē Itís more like I woke up thinking, ďOh crap, Iím going to be on TV on Tuesday and my hair is long overdue for a cutĒ and went and made a last minute appointment.

What? Oh, the television thing? Complicated, but in essence: I know someone who knows someone who works for a local news station. Theyíve gathered together a number of parents of special needs kids who have faced discrimination by the school district or rather by petty bureaucrats therein. Weíre meeting Tuesday with cameras present to tell our woes. I donít know when itís going to air, but Iíll try to let you know.

So yesterday I thought, ďIím going to look terrible on TVĒ and went off to make an appointment for a cut. Iíve been seeing this hair stylist since November. I like what she does. She just gave Dan a new cut a few weeks ago that looks better than any Iíve ever seen on him. I trust her eye. So I let her cut it a bit shorter and a bit more uneven and Iím happy with the result.

She said, as she always says, ďWhy not color it? Hide the gray? It dulls your hair.Ē I said, as I always say ďI donít know if thatís really me.Ē But I felt, as I always feel, this pull toward doing it.

It doesnít fit my self-image, someone who dyes her hair. Iím more of the be true to your body type. Embrace getting older because mimicking youth just looks tacky and false.

But. I live in Los Angeles. Everyone I know, literally every single woman I know, even the ones who donít wear bras, who walk around barefoot, who practice all kinds of interesting alternative religions, even all of those women donít let their hair go gray. Itís just Not Done. In general, Iím fine with being different, dressing differently and living differently and having different life goals. Itís hard sometimes, and sometimes I feel like an outsider here. But if you live in a world where no woman in her forties or even fifties has even a single gray strand in her honey colored tresses or her dark locks, you start to see things through their eyes. Gray becomes strange. And even if you yourself look in the mirror and think, ďWhat the hell, it looks fine to me,Ē you know other people donít see it the same way. You hear the moms of your childís friends complaining about how they canít wait till theyíre no longer pregnant so they can go get this awful gray out. You hear fellow moms commiserate with them, yeah, pregnancy is awful, god, that gray, they shudder to contemplate. And you stand there with your gray threads lacing through your dark hair and think, ďHow do they see me?Ē And you canít help it, you let it color (pun intended) the way you think of yourself, through their eyes reflected. D for dowdy.

If I lived in a different culture, in Boston, say, where my two-years-younger cousin got married with the strands of gray plentiful in her long dark hair, if I lived in a place where it was accepted and understood and even appreciated, Iíd act differently. Iím not proud of this, not exactly. Iíd rather be strong and independent and an iconoclast. But when people judge on appearances Ė and trust me, they do Ė itís an instant judgment and not a favorable one. If I want to appear strong and self-confident, as I increasingly have become; if I want to seem Ė ironic though it may be Ė like the person I am Ė I need to at least try this on for size. To erase the gray. To see how that feels, see how people respond, see how Iím newly reflected in their eyes.

So I said, ďWhat the hell. Letís try it.Ē And today I have dark hair with no gray. It looks strange. I keep expecting the gray. At first, in fact, I was sure sheíd made the color too dark. Too strong a dye. It canít be my real color, can it? But she showed me a spot where she hadnít worked in the dye, where it was still my real hair color at the root, an area that hadnít had gray to begin with. And sure enough, it matched perfectly with the rest. Itís just that Iíd gotten enough gray that it lightened the overall sense of the hair color and now thatís gone. My eyes werenít used to it yet. This morning, though, I looked in the mirror and thought, ďYes, thatís right. Thatís how it used to be. Thatís me five years ago.Ē And it was a comforting feeling. As you grow older, particularly past forty when you can start to see the changes in your skin, your face, your hair, it starts to feel odd, like youíre stepping into a new body. To return in this one way to the person you recognize of old, thatís a unexpected good feeling. Not a pretense of youth, not that. Iím not trying to erase the still-faint lines forming between my eyebrows. Not about to dress like a twenty five year old. Not about to pretend the years donít matter. They do. I feel a whole hell of a lot savvier and more experienced and, yes, more mature, these days. Donít you dare try and take that away from me. But I changing my hair color isnít that. Rather, itís a new definition of who I am right now. And yes, it makes me feel more self-confident in this city, in the life I live here, and thatís good, not bad. It turns out, of course, the new/old color isnít about other people as much as it is about me. I want to be myself more fully, more assuredly, and this, in an odd and backward way, is part of that. At least here and now it is.

Posted by Tamar at June 27, 2004 11:42 AM

Hey, you know me and I don't color my hair! Okay, I probably would color my hair if the grey were more obvious and less like silvery gold strands. And if I ever thought about it before making a hair appointment. And if I ever got my hair cut. And if...

(Actually, I did get my hair cut recently -- it's just under my ears now!)

Posted by: Diane at June 27, 2004 11:59 AM

And you know me, and I don't color my hair. Yet. ;-)

Actually, it's funny, because it's only recently, since just before I turned 40, that I've been getting the same comments from hairdressers, about my gray strands, which have become more plentiful. For now, though, I'm leaving it as is. Not because I'm so strong and committed to my self-image, etc., but because when I was in my 20s I still had blonde hair, and in the last 20 years it's darkened to this awful mousy brown that I have, and I remember when my mom went gray with a previously similar colored hair, it was actually spectacular. It looked like the best highlight job around, for several years...

Posted by: Tiny Coconut at June 27, 2004 12:49 PM

Okay, perhaps I exaggerated just a trifle (though Diane, you don't count anymore as an Angelino, y'know). But dyeing is definitely the majority. TC, I liked my gray too, to a certain point. And I may again after it gets more dominant. It felt like an odd in between stage recently. I like the dark right now, though it still feels unexpected in the mirror.

Posted by: Tamar at June 28, 2004 10:21 PM

Even here in far-off-edge-of-the-world-basically-quiet Nova Scotia, almost everyone I know colors their hair. Even some men. And especially most of my students--whose average age is 20 to 25. If it makes you feel better about yourself, why not! People have been doing it for centuries and centuries. I donít think of it any differently than wearing a braónot exactly necessary, just makes for a better body shape. From my point of view, life is too short not to enjoy your body.

Posted by: Leya Evelyn at June 30, 2004 01:10 PM

And you know me, and I...dye the hell out of my hair. Never mind. But I've been dying it since I was 18, a few years before the grey started showing up. Now, however, my roots are so spectacularly grey that I couldn't stop unless I decided that I wanted to be a 39 year old Mrs. Santa.

Posted by: Kymm at July 9, 2004 02:51 PM