Why yes, now that you ask, I am fading right before your very eyes. I’ve noticed people taking an extra few seconds, staring when they haven’t seen me in a while, and surely thinking, “Holy crap, has she gone gray!”
They’re only partially right. I started going gray nearly 20 years ago. Being of the “hate that gray” generation, I washed it away. Right away. Growing up in the ’60s, that Miss Clairol commercial was as much a part of life as the Mickey Mouse Club theme song and Red Ball Jets. (Those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, just shut up. I mean it. Just shut up.) And man, was I peeved when I got my first pair of Red Ball Jets and couldn’t fly like the kids in the commercials. I wore Keds ever after in protest.
Sadly, it’s only just now dawning on me that the Clairol commercial that injected the “gray is ugly” meme into our collective female subconscious is as deceitful as the one for Red Ball Jets. And I’m getting peeved about that too. While we’ve learned that sneakers won’t make us fly, we still believe that gray is ugly.
Is the American obsession with living our entire lives as young, fresh 20-somethings so deeply engrained that we despise and fear any and all signs of natural aging? Who among us has not panicked and plucked out that first gray hair? Is there one hand in the room still up? If so, it’s a man’s, because men are perceived as getting sexier as they gradually go gray. Not women. That gray hair is in the same category as crow’s feet and upper arm trout bellies. Women will gasp in horror and rush to the hairdresser, esthetician or plastic surgeon to get rid of anything that indicates we’re older than 25.
At some point … isn’t it just dumb? Why do we dread the second half of life so much that we’ll endure great pain and expense to pretend it isn’t happening? What if we just shook off that nonsense and that “hate that gray” meme, and just embraced our own age, stopped perpetually chasing 20, and redirected our energy to staying healthy, enjoying life and being thankful just to wake up in the morning? Just imagine it, ladies — completely comfortable in your own skin. Wouldn’t it be delightful?
I’ve been pondering this gray thing for awhile, and have taken a run at letting it grow out several times, and failed every time. It’ll get to that horrible wide, gray, scalp-stripe stage, and I chicken out. I run for the L’Oreal Light Golden Brown, and hate myself even as I’m applying it. And hate myself even more when I’m done, and all the gray is gone, and I’m overwhelmingly relieved: Whew! I look like me again.
But do I? The fact is, “me” is no longer golden brown. Well, not in the front, anyway. “Me” has a wide ruff of silver — white, even — all the way around my face, like a white ruff on the hood of a snow jacket. Why is it bad? It’s just a color. Why do I, should I, fear a color? I don’t feel that way about skin. Skin color is just a gradient on the same color spectrum, just a darker or lighter shade of the same tone. Fearing black skin is sort of like fearing navy blue but not periwinkle. Totally irrational. As a country, we’re starting to evolve beyond our skin color bigotry. But hair color bigotry? We’re still Neanderthals.
Well, not quite. Neanderthals surely viewed gray hair as a symbol of wisdom and accomplishment, and, holy mazoly, someone who made it more than three decades without getting devoured by a saber-toothed tiger! We’ve got a lot of evolving to do before we catch up with the Neanderthals.
Because I will turn 54 next month, the age that my father was when a brain aneurysm destroyed his life, and in two more years, the age my mother was when she succumbed to the same, I’m starting to reject this age phobia I’ve been force-fed my whole life. Neither of my parents had a chance to enjoy the second half of their lives. My father spent the next 27 years after his aneurysm completely disabled and mostly in a convalescent hospital (another term for “seventh level of hell”) before dying far too early, and my mother was denied a second half at all. Her aneurysm cut her down in her tracks at age 56 with no warning. Bam. Gone. I’m not quite sure who had it worse.
Given my parents’ truncated lives, doesn’t it seem odd that I would do anything to avoid or deny my own second half? It seems like a jinx to say, “Oh no, I don’t want to get old!” On the contrary, oh yes, I do! I guess that’s why my encroaching gray hair has taken on some symbolism to me. It means that I am getting older, and at this point in time, that seems way better than the alternative.
So, yes. I’m going gray. That’s my natural hair color. Seems that my weight isn’t the only thing I’ve been lying about on my drivers license. And I hope that when you see it, instead of thinking “Wow, she’s getting old!” you’ll think, “Hooray, she’s still alive!” Because that’s my angle, for sure. I’m totally digging this being alive stuff, regardless of what darts life throws at me. Being on this side of the grass kicks ass. Agatha Christie nailed it: “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”
Yes, Gray is Grand! Silver is Super! Sexy, even! And anyone who disagrees can go strap on some Red Ball Jets and jump off a roof.