Sunday, May 22, 2011

Going Gray

Motivation for reading: I decided to read Anne Kreamer's book  Going Gray: What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters after Gretchen Rubin mentioned she was a big fan of it on her blog The Happiness Project. Gretchen wrote:
Not dying her hair any more was a sort of happiness-project for Anne that caught my attention.
What is this book about?
Anne who had been coloring her gray hair black for several years realized she wasn’t fooling anyone after viewing a photo of herself:
There she was - behind carefully chosen clothes, meticulously dyed hair, and several rounds of botox - looking exactly forty-nine.
She decides to go gray and wrote this book to document her experience. She explores our perceptions of gray hair. She interviews family and friends asking them if they think grey hair will make her appear older. She posts photos of herself on an on-line dating site, one with grey hair and one with black, to gauge which photo will receive the greatest response. (The grey-haired Anne is more popular) She explores whether those with grey hair are less employable? (In most cases they are). She looks at those who have gone grey in the entertainment and political arenas. She seeks advice from Mireille Giuliano, author of French Women Don't Get Fat, who explains that French men value women of any age who are “bien dans sa peau” (comfortable in their skins). It gives them a quiet confidence and serenity, that seductive je ne sais quoi.

My Thoughts:
Initially, I thought Anne seemed narcissistic. It didn’t help that I’d read a review shortly after bringing the book home that said "Who Cares?" But as much as I wanted to stop reading the book, I couldn't seem to put it down. The more I read the more I liked it and Anne no longer seemed self-absorbed at all. She was just exploring the social and advertising pressures women encounter to look “young.”
Today, three and four decades after the baby boomers’ countercultural transformation of the culture, we have held on to the hedonistic, forever-young part of our Woodstock dreams much more tenaciously than the open-and-honest-and –authentic part. Yes, women really have come a long way toward equality of opportunity and social empowerment. Yet at the same time there has been a narrowing of the range of acceptable looks for women. Women may now be CEOs and TV news anchors, and openly indulge their sexual appetites-but only if they appear eternally youthful. And a main requirement is a hair color other than grey or white. (Pg. 38)
And what a business boom hair color is for the beauty industry:
Some hair-color marketers estimate, hopefully, that as many as three-quarters of women color their hair, although some research puts the number closer to half that, including women in their teens, twenties, and thirties. (Pg. 44)
Anne calculates she spent over $65,000 coloring her hair during the 25 years she did so. She went to the hairdresser on average every three weeks to touch up her grey roots.

I love Anne’s opinion of low-lights:
A friend Betsy was wrestling with the whole low-lights concept of reverse coloring, adding dark streaks to her grey hair. If you search “grey hair” on the internet, a lot of information you’ll discover covers how women can add ‘dimension” to their hair by introducing a wide variety of colors. I personally think this is simply one more way the beauty industry tries to keep us on their regimens. But “low lights” might effectively change the subject from age-versus-youth truthfulness to plain-versus-stylish aesthetics. (Pg. 23)

Anne, now grey, meets with three image consultants. Surprisingly, none of them think she should color her hair, but all feel she needs to update her wardrobe. This gave me another push to clean out my own closet (I, like Anne, still own suits from the 90’s that no longer fit).

Anne realizes every decade of our life is important and that if we spend our time, money and energy trying to look perpetually twenty we will miss out on what is important in each of those decades - but we also care about how we look.

She closes with:
One's character is the result of hundreds of ordinary, mundane daily choices.  And social and cultural progress are the cumulative result of a billion tiny choices.  If each of us tries to tell more of the plain truth in small ways, then maybe we as a society and culture will find it easier to start to recognize and reward the truth in bigger ways. And hair, as ridiculous as our obsession with it may be, is a very real, visible, emotionally central sign of what each of us is trying to be- a sort of personal flag.  To dye or not to dye, that is a question. (Pg. 202)

What about me - do I or don’t I dye?
At 48 soon to be 49, I’ve yet to see a grey hair, but that could be somewhat deceiving since I've been professionally highlighting my mousy, dish-water blond hair since the early 90’s and don’t have plans to stop anytime soon. My hairstylist agrees my hair color hasn't turned grey it is just duller and in my opinion uglier. Other than an occasional teeth-whitening and nightly dose of anti-aging cream when I remember which isn't often I don't partake in any youth preserving beauty regimens. I have friends who have gone grey. They grew tired of the four-week maintenance appointments and their hair is gorgeous. We all do what we works for us. Moderation most likely is the key. 

How about you do you or don’t you?


  1. I colored for about five years in my late 40's and early 50's - mostly an auburn riff on my natural brown. I loved it, but the spouse not so much. I finally quit only to discover that I did not have a single gray hair. Plenty of years later, I still have little gray and no plans to color again. It seems that I am blessed with good hair color genes.

    I do go to college reunions and shake my head at classmates who are still flaming red, or glossy black and wonder if they think they are fooling anyone. Mostly I think they look a bit sad, trying to hold onto their youthful look instead of enhancing their current one. If they were pretty then, they can be a different pretty now.

    But. I have to admit to a nightly cream routine designed to keep my skin looking better. We do all want to look our best, but we don't agree on what "best" entails.

  2. Interesting, I'm 62 and still not gray except around the temples. OTOH, the rest of my hair is mousey brown, so it's not that much of an improvement! What I find interesting is that my mother, who had jet black hair, was already gray by the time I was born when she was 36. I don't color my hair, but it's more that I just don't have the time or energy to keep up with it. I always thought I was lucky to have come of age during the hippie era, so I've never worn make-up. (But I DO shave my legs--just could not throw myself that far into the hippie chick life!)

  3. Fascinating. I colored my hair until I my first pregnancy. I've never looked back. I look forward to aging gracefully. I revel at every new gray hair. I consider them all badges of courage, honor and wisdom.

  4. I've highlighted/colored my brown locks blonde since high school (I'm now in my 40s) and can't quite take the step yet to go natural. I love some womens grey hair when it is a pretty grey but I don't think mine would come in that way, it would be salt and pepperish...I also don't want to be 75 and still trying to pass myself off as a blonde highlighted girl...time will tell. Great Blog! Found you over at LBS tea party!

  5. Hmm, I too highlight my hair (mousey brown otherwise)and do see a few gray ones but it doesn't bother me. I've seen some gorgeous gray hair and wouldn't mind it one bit!! I do a hit and miss on the night cream too!
    Found you on Lady Bloggers and just wanted to drop by and say hi!

  6. Anonymous12:00 PM

    What a fascinating subject! I spent years not coloring my hair because I dreaded what the dye can do to your hair, make it brittle, etc. But nowadays, with advancements...Anyway, I started coloring my hair about 5 years ago and the thought of stopping terrifies me. I'm 55 and not ready to go completely gray. Though I don't really know how gray I'd be. Right now, I love my black, curly hair, and I like the highlights I get. This is very sensitive issue. Yes, I'm a baby boomer and ready to hang on to my "youth" as long as I can! I think I'll know when it's time to stop; just like I knew when it was time to stop wearing short skirts. I had an epiphany then, and I'm sure I'll have one again re going gray. Thank you for giving so much food for thought! Just stopping by from LBS.

  7. Webb,
    Your auburn riff sounds lovely, too bad Mitchell didn't like it. You are fortunate to have those good hair color genes. While at a conference this week I paid particular attention to hair color. I saw both bad dye jobs – over processed & brittle and outdated looks (bleach blonde Farrah hair). I think you have summed up how one should age perfectly:

    Mostly I think they look a bit sad, trying to hold onto their youthful look instead of enhancing their current one. If they were pretty then, they can be a different pretty now.

  8. Grace,
    You are fortunate not to have inherited your mother’s genes. Love that you don’t wear makeup. One of my regrets from my youth is spending way to much time beautifying and shopping for clothes and makeup. There are so more productive things I could have been doing with my time.

  9. Steph Abott,
    Good for you! And you are a great role model for your children.

  10. Holly Diane,
    Thanks for stopping in. I think we are supposed to go from highlights to lowlights when hit our 70's. I agree time will tell.

  11. Deb,
    Thanks for stopping in. I think those of us who consider our natural color "mousy" highlight our hair. I had mine colored carmel (supposedly my natural color)a couple of years ago. My husband didn't like it. Also, one co-worker told me she liked my blond hair better.

  12. Monica,
    Your black curly hair looks gorgeous in the pictures on your blog. I wouldn't stop dying either. I stopped wearing short skirts when I turned 35. I started gaining weight and thought they made me look ridiculous.

  13. Caroline,
    The short/long hair dilemma is another whole story. My husband loves long hair. With my fine locks long hair just isn't happening. In the past, I usually wore it shoulder length. Then I saw a picture of myself with a chin length cut and realized shorter hair looks so much better on me.

  14. I'm not old enough to be gray yet, but your post reminds me a lot of the famous (in my community at least) to-straighten-or-not-to-straighten battle. I've opted not to straighten mostly because I abhor having to spend money every two weeks or so to torture my head.

    I remember when my mother got her first gray though. Everyone told her it was time to start dying but her take was "I earned these grays!"

  15. I'm a couple months shy of turning 40, eek! The gray hair is creeping out slowly against my formerly jet black hair. And being that my black hair is curly, my gray hair is more like shockingly white, wiry and sticks up straight off my head. But, my hair is very dry so I know dying it would make my frizz even worse so I am letting it gray naturally. Very interesting analysis, you always read the most interesting books!

    Thanks for sharing with #ThrowbackThursdaylinkup!

  16. Oh boy! I've been coloring my hair in one way, shape or form since I was a teenager. I've hightlighted it, done all over color, 3 colors at once, dark, light and some purple as well. I will be 44 this month and recently went lighter (closer to what I was when I was born). I figure it's easier to go from blonde to grey than dark to grey. Let's see if my theory holds true!

    Thanks for sharing on #throwbackthursdaylinkup