I got my first grey hair when I was twenty-four. I remember it well because I was getting my hair done for my wedding and they needed to put a little mascara on it to cover it up. After that the silver strands came at an exponential rate. By the time I was twenty-nine I had a sizable patch on the crown of my head. Fast forward four years and two kids and the patch is still there accompanied by a generous sprinkling across the rest of my head.
Distressed, at first, by this obvious sign of aging I colored my hair for several years. Then I got pregnant with Bean and decided to forego the every-couple-of-months cover-up. (PS: this is a completely personal decision. Most doctors will tell you to perhaps skip it the first trimester, but others will give you the go ahead from the get go). After missing my first few appointments I came to terms with the obvious silvers among the my dark brown, and I stopped noticing it as much. However this did not apply to other people and about four months into the dye moratorium the comments started coming.
“Oh my god, you have so much grey hair!”
I found this a difficult statement to respond to. Usually I acknowledged my preponderance of grey and made a joke along the lines of “yep, chasing after a preschooler all day will do that to you.” But I have to say these comments bothered me. Not so much because they called out the problematic strands, because, hey, it’s true, I do have a lot of grey hair, but because they seemed to imply another question: “Why aren’t you doing something about it?”
And here in lies the reason for this post.
As a writer and a stay-at-home mom, my appearance has never been the focal point of my chosen vocations. I can, and do, get away with wearing yoga pants and sweatshirts on a near-daily basis. It’s partly practical because it’s hard to clean spit-up and finger paint out of cashmere, and it takes a fraction of my precious time and brainpower to throw on my tried-and-true “mama” uniform as compared to forming a put-together ensemble from the scant choices available in the rest of my closet. And it’s partly financial. I’ve saved a ton of money by cutting out clothes shopping from the monthly budget.
This was not always the case. I used to spend a lot more time getting ready and spend a lot more on buying clothes and accessories to make that time more worthwhile. But over the years my priorities have changed.
And I’m a bit tortured about it.
The hard truth is that appearances matter. Snap judgments are made based on the way you dress, the way you style your hair, how well you take care of your body, and, for us ladies, how well you apply your make-up. And beyond dealing with the preconceptions of others, there is a definite correlation between taking care of yourself and your self-worth.
But just how much of your self-worth should be tied to your appearance? That’s where things get murky. It’s a thin line. Spend too much time on your exterior and people begin to question the interior. I feel the excrutiating thinness of this line now with two young daughters that will be looking to me for guidance as they begin to craft their self-image. I want them to take pride in their appearance. But not too much. And these grey hairs of mine are at the forefront of this inner conflict.
As an inveterate non-conformist, my first reaction is to say screw the misogynistic, death-phobic, beauty standards that dictate a perfect, youthful appearance. Take those pricey brands, ridiculous neurotoxin injections, $250 highlights, and paleo diets and shove ’em. But I’m not really ready to go full-on off the grid, pioneer woman mode. And actually I kinda like some of those expensive clothes, and sometimes I wear make-up and I like it, damn it. And maybe I’m fine with my grey hair now, but what if I want to color it purple someday or just plain dark brown? Does that make me a hypocrite? Will I be showing my daughters that even though I tell them they are pretty enough without eyeliner and lip gloss, their momma doesn’t think she is?
The way I have reconciled it with myself is that it is all about choices. If they want to wear make-up because it’s a fun and relatively inexpensive way to play with your look and feel a bit fancy that’s fine by me. If they would rather skip it all together, more power to them. I just don’t want them feeling pressured to do something they don’t want to do because somebody else says they should, and that applies to so many areas of their lives. For me, self-respect and strength of character, the things you need to be a powerful, independent woman, come, in part, from making thoughtful choices about your mind, body and appearance. Right now, I have mindfully chosen to have my greys, to wear my yoga pants, and to take a break from make-up. Some people might think that I’m being lazy, but laziness implies apathy, it implies a lack of priorities, it implies thoughtlessness. That’s not me. I made the choice today to look this way. Sleep and breakfast took precedence over make-up and the flat iron. Tomorrow that might not be the case. Tomorrow may be another story, and its one that I will write of my own accord. And that is what I want my daughters to do too: set priorities and live their lives accordingly, without apologies.
So sorry, not sorry about the grey. Just call me the silver fox.
Image credit: Going Gray Beauty Guide