That Touch of Gray (it kinda suits you anyway)

I have returned from our Cialis Holiday, as I described with plucky relish and perhaps a tad bit of "TMI" in my last post. My husband and I spent five days playing tourist in our hometurf of San Francisco, spending days and nights wandering, laughing, wining, dining and doing a mind boggling assortment of ooo-la-la stuff that, if I elaborated on said ooo-la-la stuff, our kids cringe in horror but Dr. Ruth would nod and grin in approval.

I will refrain from going on about the ooo-la-la. I will, however, tell you that while lounging with a cup of room service coffee and luxuriating in the hotel's thick and fluffy bathrobe, I read an article in the New York Times on an issue dear to my heart and one of great interest to hair colorists and feminists alike - the question of dyeing one's graying/gray hair.

God help us, they're calling this the Gray Wars, and here are the calls to battle from each camp:

I'm going gray because we can't let the beauty industry rule us! We must embrace our ever-evolving, natural selves! And, besides, those visits to the salon cost a pile of bucks, damn it!

- or -

We live in a culture that is brutal and dismissive to old people, why put up with that? Coloring over my gray helps me maintain an energetic and capable image at the workplace. And, the bottom line is that I look better as a blonde/brunette/redhead, damn it!

Bringing this debate up front and center is author Anne Kreamer, whose new book Going Gray, What I Learned About Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity And Everything Else That Matters was described by New York Times reporter Natasha Singer as "...partly a memoir of her addiction to and withdrawal from hair dye."

“It feels deeply liberating to be off the treadmill of ‘Oh God, I have to get my roots done again,’ ” said Ms. Kreamer...

...But the book is not another New Age paean to midlife self-acceptance.

At a time when more than half of American women ages 13 to 69 color their hair, Ms. Kreamer argues that hair dye is the great divide that separates those who are in denial about aging from those who embrace it. Dyed hair looks as artificial as a toupee, she concludes, whereas gray suggests candor.

“We have been brainwashed to think hair dye looks good,” Ms. Kreamer said... “I wanted to open up the conversation and get people to ask themselves why they are doing it.”

Heady stuff, and no, I couldn't resist the pun because the decision for a woman to let her hair go gray is a heady, exhilarating, daring act. I know this by experience. When I turned 45, I stopped my monthly trips to the salon and saved big bucks by foregoing the reddish-blonde highlights woven into my dark hair (I called this curious combination "blondasian"). I considered this an everyday feminist action and blogged about it last year, to the applause of my beloved readers.

But, my self-congratulatory blog post aside, it is a tough call, particularly for women in the workplace. Reporter Singer asked clients at Manhattan hair salons for their take:

(the) clients said they viewed coloring their grays as a means to maintain professional currency, attract romantic partners, mask their age, and, of course, express their inner blondes.

At the John Barrett Salon at Bergdorf Goodman, Marilyn Bevington, an investment adviser, had her gray roots touched up with light gold, a shade that recalled the natural blond of her youth.

“In New York, there is tremendous emphasis on being young and fresh, on keeping current and having your hands on the pulse of the market,” said Ms. Bevington, who declined to disclose her age. “Speaking of gray hair, a lot of young entrepreneurs would be much less apt to take advice from someone who looked like their mother or their grandmother.”

At the Warren-Tricomi Salon on West 57th Street, Jonelle Caro, a singing teacher from Fort Lee, N.J., also had her roots touched up with a bright blond.

“Gray hair? I hate it! I don’t think it does a thing for me,” said Ms. Caro, who is in her 50s. She recounted how some of her elementary school students recently complained to her that a gray-haired substitute teacher looked old. “The better you look, the better people relate to you, even children,” she said.

Women in politics appear to share the fear of graying. Author Kreamer's take on this appeared in the August 31, 2007 issue of Time Magazine:

Electoral politics is a professional area in which maturity and gravitas would seem to be among the most important attributes for the job. What better way for a woman who might otherwise be viewed as a girly lightweight to convey her experience than by having gray hair? Yet of the 16 female U.S. Senators — the highest number ever — who range in age from 46 to 74, not a single one has visible gray hair. Of the 70 female members of the House, only seven have gray hair. Political professionals say that the double standard is a great unspoken inequity but that candidates and officeholders don't dare publicly discuss it for fear of seeming trivial.

The late Ann Richards, the fabulously gray coiffed former Governor of Texas, explained this disconnect in an interview with Kreamer:

"You can't appear to be too flashy because it will send the wrong message, but at the same time, you need to appear energetic. The issue is much more significant for women because the hurdle is higher in our society. We're not sure what we want our [female] elected officials to be — mother, mistress or caretaker."

As to the matter of attracting that romantic partner, Author Kreamer, who is married, made her gray and not-gray self hypothetically available on dating site Match.com:

For my book, I decided to make myself a guinea pig and put gray hair vs. brown hair to the acid test on Match.com. I assumed that if I accurately reported my age and posted first a photo of myself with gray hair and then, three months later, the same image with brown hair, that the photo with brown hair would be deemed more attractive by more of the Match.com men.

I couldn't have been more wrong. Among Match.com-ers in New York City, Chicago and — most shocking of all — Los Angeles, three times as many men were interested in going out with me when my hair was gray as when it was dyed. This blew my mind. Maybe the men sensed that if I was being honest about the color of my hair, I'd be more accessible and easier to date. Or maybe the gray made me stand out from the overwhelming majority of Match.com women my age who color their hair.

Los Angeles! Who knew?

Anne Kreamer also writes a lively, well-read Health Expert Blog on Yahoo where she continues the dialogue and poses more questions. I am particularly enamored of her post, Aging and How to Have it Both Ways as it validates my generous use of bandwidth on my personal blog that I devote to the savagery of menopausal symptoms:

If we talk publicly and loudly about menopause, maybe it loses its cultural ick factor, and we validate our rite of passage.

But we also cannot bear to feel out of it. So we struggle to find our places in the lightning speed shifts within the techno-world. And while these two impulses - shout out to the world that we're getting older, and also trying to stay with it - might seem contradictory, they both are healthy ways to approach aging.

And now, BlogHer Readers, I would love to read your thoughts on, dare I say it, The Gray Wars:

Do you/do you not color over the gray? Why?

If you're not there yet, young nubile BlogHer Reader, do you think you will/will not hit the dye bottle when the gray shows up? Again, why?

***************************************

Grace Davis, who has been humming The Grateful Dead's "Touch of Gray" while writing this post, also blogs at State of Grace.

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