About three years ago, I broke up with Miss Clairol. Yes, that’s right—I quit dyeing my hair.
When I first started tinting my salt-and-pepper tresses at age 48, I was attempting to bolster my persona in the über-competitive world of media and public relations, where youth is considered to be de rigueur and gray hair signifies a publicist who’s out of touch with popular culture. It wasn’t even my idea: The new director at the museum where I managed public relations declared that I needed to beef up my wardrobe to include more suits and fewer floral frocks, and added that my gray hair wasn’t helping matters, either.
“But I’m a Native American, and in our community gray hair is considered a mark of wisdom,” I replied. “Well, so am I, and I dye my hair,” she said. “It’s what’s expected in the business world.”
So it was off to the drugstore on a hunting-and-gathering expedition for just the right shade that would remove the gray while complementing my coloring. I had always been jealous of one of my sisters who had inherited the red hair of our paternal grandmother, so I decided on shade number 4R/30, Dark Auburn Brown Rosewood. Remembering the horrific experience of an aunt whose face blew up to near-basketball size after an allergic reaction, I opted for semi-permanent color, which I figured would contain fewer irritants.
For nearly a decade, I made the monthly trek to the store for more Dark Auburn Brown Rosewood as the not-so-permanent color washed out. I had to remember to not wear white right after dyeing, because the dye would stain the material. Ditto for using white or light-colored towels. And, if I didn’t apply the dye properly, I’d have to repeat it to avoid alternating strands of auburn and gray—yuck!
Meanwhile, I had to contend with the op-eds issued by my husband, who was not a happy camper. “I love your hair just the way it is,” he would say each month. “I don’t know why you have to make it that fake color.”
As the years went by and I continued covering up my grays with Dark Auburn Brown Rosewood, I kept running into friends sporting midnight black hair that resembled black straw thanks to years of coloring with harsh chemicals. “Do I really want to look like a woman who can’t accept growing older?” I thought.
Around the same time, I also realized that I was tired of dressing to please others, not myself. So I exiled the black and gray suits to the dark recesses of my closet and allowed my wardrobe to once again reflect my artistic, eclectic self. The bright blues, purples, and pinks that set my olive complexion off migrated back into the light of day.
I also started wearing white whenever I wanted, and my towels no longer needed extra bleach. And I started to feel liberated—no longer did I have to lie about my age or my experience.
As my hair grew ever more silvery, so did my attitude toward life. I quit sweating the small stuff. Conversely, I grew less tolerant of the politics and backbiting that goes with heading to an office every day.
I finally had had enough: At age 61, disenchanted with corporate America, I brought all my personal items home one day and told hubby, “I quit: I’m going to freelance full time.” I haven’t looked back. And I don’t believe that I would have had the courage had I not looked in the mirror and realized that rediscovering my natural hair color also meant recognizing the wealth of experience that goes with the silver tresses.