To Dye, or Not to Dye? That Is the Question

So began the round of hair colorists with their vats of dye, the highlights that turned brassy, the dark browns that were ashy and possibly lethal.  I switched to henna, which was, I hoped, less toxic, but the two-step process involved mixing a witch’s brew of grainy powder with boiling water and letting the slop sit on my head.  Brownish-green rivulets dripped down my face and neck; the colorist provided towels to sop up the mess. Unlike the conventional dying, which was relatively quick, the henna application required as much as five hours of my time (the goop was hard to wash out, and there was of course that pesky second step) every four to six weeks and I grew weary with the upkeep.  Still as soon as I saw the gray sprouting at temples and hairline, I would quickly dial up the salon for my next fix.

Yet all along, there was a soft, subversive voice in my head that said, Why do I have to color my hair? Why is twenty-five the template when I am about to turn fifty?   At twenty-five, I had a mane of dark, luxuriant hair. But I was no longer twenty-five; were my expensive dye jobs fooling anyone?   I thought of a woman I saw regularly at my gym: small, strong, with short gray hair, bright blue eyes and very red lipstick, even when she was sweating on the Stairmaster or doing a killer set of squats. I admired her but more than that, I envied her.  She wasn’t in thrall to a colorist or a regime; she owned her age with pride and with panache.  I wanted to be like her. And a month or two shy of my fiftieth birthday, I decided that I could. I tossed my box of henna away, and then, as the gray started coming in, I asked my stylist for a short, head hugging crop.

It was a bit of a shock at first.  My children were upset—Can’t you fix it? they asked—though my husband, Lord love him, was a fan from the start.  Friends and acquaintances that hadn’t seen me in a while went overboard complimenting the new coif. 

But most important, I loved it, not only for the way it looked, but also for the way it felt: light, fresh, liberated, and, paradoxically, younger than I would have imagined.  I adopted the red lips of my role model at the gym, and started painting on a coat of Chanel’s Fire even to walk the dogs.

It’s been several years since I made the switch and I am fast approaching the big 6-0. I can imagine doing all sorts of things in the next decade: flying to Paris, Dublin—or both—with my husband. Taking up salsa dancing. Writing a new novel, and another one after that. Qvelling when my son graduates from law school and my daughter from college. But I can’t imagine coloring my hair again; why submit to the yoke when you have tasted freedom? Forget the salt and pepper—it’s silver, I tell myself. Let it shine.

3 comments on “To Dye, or Not to Dye? That Is the Question

  1. Amy on

    I highlighted when I was in my 30s & 40s, but by my 50s I figured – the heck with it! Admittedly, had I been in a business where the competition for promotions was younger women & graying meant a chance to be passed over, I might not have made that same choice. But as a teacher I had the freedom to go gray without worrying about my job.
    Moving from the suburbs, where it seems that looking young is de rigeur, to Manhattan, also helps. I see many more women who wear their age gracefully and proudly. I’ve decided it’s too expensive and too time-consuming to color. However, I do compensate / give in, by making sure my hair is cut well & in a contemporary style. Post-menopause, my hair was too thin & didn’t look very good when I wore it long, so I now keep it short & “swing-y.”

  2. Bea on

    I’ve always love gray hair, even on the young, prematurely gray, I think it looks interesting. When I was young I wanted a gray streak–now in my fifties, I have lots
    of them! I’ve always hated the hairdressers and the acrid scent of dye–my gray is here to stay, until it turns pearl-white!

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