When I was younger I was certain I would never dye my hair when I began to gray. After all, I already eschewed shaving and managed to stand tall (well, as tall as I could at 5’1”) even in a bathing suit surrounded by women who shaved every bit of hair they were told to through our culture. But it wasn’t easy. And eventually, I reluctantly decided to shave when I worried that my appearance might interfere with my message as a humane educator. If students found my hairy legs disgusting, they might reject my message out of hand, or so I concluded. Ironically, years later, one of my students told me that she was really inspired by the fact that I didn’t shave my legs and that it empowered her to make her own choices in life, based on her own values, rather than to succumb to peer and societal pressures. (Take a look at this recent New York Times article about celebrities who aren’t shaving and the flack they’re receiving.)
Now back to gray hair. As my hair began to gray, I girded myself with all my will to resist the pressure to dye it. For the most part I’ve resisted successfully, although I occasionally put henna in it, which rinses out after about a month. I get all sorts of compliments on my graying hair, but I always think they’re backhanded compliments, and that what the person who’s praising my hair is really thinking is something like, “Wow, you are courageous to not dye your hair! And it’s not so bad-looking either! Sure, you’d look a lot younger if you dyed it, but good for you!” I may be wrong about this, or just paranoid, but it’s hard to believe that people actually mean it when they say they like my gray hair. I always joke and say that I think my gray looks like highlights.
Well, guess what? Young celebrities are now highlighting their hair … gray. Here’s an article from the New York Times for your viewing pleasure, with photos of young women with dyed gray hair.
Most dyes aren’t good for our bodies. We absorb them into our skin through our scalp. Many of them are tested on animals, force-fed to rabbits, mice, guinea pigs, and so on in quantities that kill and put into the eyes of bunnies who receive no pain relief or anesthesia. They create waste, some of which is toxic, in every portion of their brief lifecycle. Dyeing our hair is a costly and time-consuming habit. Yet I understand why so many women believe that it’s MOGO (most good) to dye their hair. I sympathize. As women age, we become more and more invisible within a culture that so valorizes youth, so dyeing one’s hair feels like an easy way to gain visibility and maintain attention, not to mention self-esteem.
But perhaps now we middle aged and elderly women can let our gray hair shine. After all, young women are paying lots of money to look like us.
Author of Most Good, Least Harm, Above All, Be Kind and Claude and Medea
Image courtesy of kevindooley via Creative Commons.
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