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Why I Will Never, Ever Go Gray

The cliché is true: You only look as good as you feel.

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Grey Hair in Braids
Mari Juliano
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My first strands of gray were spotted when I was only 13, in pigtails. During a tennis match, my opponent commented on how cool my hair was with the white strands spreading along the part on the back of my scalp.

As a young teen, it did feel cool. But at 22, as the strands began to multiply, the coolness began to diminish. As a dark brunette, there’s no such thing as covering it up. There’s no blending. The gray strands are magnets to the eye. It is like being at a party with a stain right in the center of your shirt. And that is all you become focused on. At 22, that’s how I felt about my gray hairs. They were a stain on my head, an image that remains today.

We can agree that many older women have shucked the dyes and gone gray, with beauty and panache. I know that could not be me. I am my mother’s daughter. For over 60 years, I watched my mother “wash that gray right out of my hair,” as the actress sings in the old Clairol TV commercial — this after she laments: “My gray hair makes me feel sooo old.” I was raised to believe that dying your hair was part of the natural aging process.

But then the pandemic hit, and we are reading about women (and seeing our friends) avoiding salons — caring more about our health than our hair color and embracing the ease and look of going silver. It makes perfect sense that trying to find a diminishing supply of Clorox wipes became more important than touching up roots. For nearly two years, we had few places to go out and nowhere to be seen.

Though some of my friends were flaunting silver locks, I still dyed my hair. Even when the stars looked more gorgeous than ever by going au naturel.

For many years, some of the hottest women in Hollywood have been proudly parading their silvery tresses on red carpets, on magazine covers and in interviews. Jane Fonda rocked it at the Oscars, claiming in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres that “she’s feeling totally liberated.” Glenn Close was spotted at the Screen Actors Guild Awards sporting her transition from blond to gray, while Andie MacDowell showcased her salt-and-pepper hues at the Cannes Film Festival, stating in a 2021 interview in Vogue magazine that she “never felt more powerful.”

Helen Mirren, Diane Keaton, Jamie Lee Curtis and Meryl Streep allowed their authentic gray to dominate long before it became trendy. Can it be that gray is the new blond? Apparently, as a documentary with the same title had its world premiere on Jan. 23, 2020, in Los Angeles, inspiring women to “go gray on purpose.” As reported by What’s Up? magazine’s August 2019 online edition, “granny hair,” a term to indicate gray or silver locks, has become the latest trend of women willfully going gray.

Will 50 shades of gray now come in a bottle? Not in my bottle.

I never went blond for the same reason I will never go gray. It does not compliment my skin tone, nor match my personality. I am a brunette! I would feel washed out, dull. I live in color. My home and my attire are both accentuated in bold color.

A thorough search of my closet reveals only three items of clothing that are predominantly gray. And of two of the three I have not worn in some 20 years. I guess I am like the woman on that Clairol commercial — gray makes me feel so old!

Gray also makes me look older. Several years ago, before I turned 60 and was well overdue for a touch-up, I was offered, without asking, the senior discount by the cashier at my neighborhood grocery. Remaining a forever-brunette, though, is not an attempt at disguising my age. To the contrary. I just want to look my age. I may be vain. I may even be perceived as artificial. But I am nothing if I am not loyal. For the past 40 years, I have been alternating hair coloring regimens between my salon with Nicole, and my bathroom with Preference by L’Oréal No. 5.

The pandemic may have temporarily shuttered the salons, and for many women that was apparently life-changing and trendsetting. For me, it was convenient and cost effective. Nicole made house calls to the backyard. I saved on gas. I saved on my time. Talk about life-changing.

I will never go gray for the same reason I choose to work out and control what I eat. It is the same reason I do not leave home without makeup. It is the reason I wear Spanx when I get dressed up. I like how these rituals and routines make me feel when I look in the mirror. As a mother and wife, I make all sorts of choices to bolster my family.

These beauty choices are all about me, not about how I am viewed by others.

When I leave the hair salon or my bathroom, depending on where the dye is being applied, I feel an immediate sense of rejuvenation. Even my complexion takes on a new glow. I stand taller and feel sexier. Having washed that gray right out of my hair, I feel like the real me and empowered to stand out. The cliché is true: You only look as good as you feel.

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