Right around March 1, 2020 I colored my hair for the last time. It wasn’t planned. I have been coloring my own hair for so many years now I can’t even remember when I first started. Fortunately because my hair was light brown to begin with, when gray started showing up back in my 40s it was easy to just go with lighter hair color—out of the box. I liked the way it looked, was pretty easy to do, and didn’t cost much. Why not? Then COVID 19 hit. About six weeks later when I would normally recolor it, I paused. Was it necessary to bother at all, at least until the pandemic was over? Now, 12 months later I am completely gray. With one vaccine shot in my arm and things looking better, the question is coming up again: Do I want to stay gray or go back to blond? Perhaps more importantly are the questions behind that question: Does gray hair automatically mean I look old? If yes, then what is wrong with looking older anyway—especially when I sort of am?
I suppose I should admit that I never thought I would become a gray-haired woman. Not because I think anything is wrong with it, but because I didn’t think I would look good with it. I remember my mother as her hair became almost white in older years and I didn’t like it. I never wanted that color and convinced myself that with my complexion it wouldn’t look good. Sure some people have gorgeous gray hair and look fabulous in it. Me? Not likely.
Now I have something real to compare it to. My hair is not white, has some nice highlights, and I think it looks fine with my complexion. It takes a little getting used to in the mirror—and for obvious reasons when I look at myself I have to accept that I look older. So what does a veteran rightsizer do? I did a T-Chart listing the positives and negatives.
On the benefit side to staying with my natural gray:
- I’m happier with the color my hair is now than I ever thought I would be once it was all gray.
- It is much easier to maintain (I don’t have to color it every four to six weeks).
- It doesn’t cost anything. Even coloring it myself didn’t cost a fraction of what some women pay to maintain colored hair—but it still came with a cost.
- Thom says he likes it as much or even more than me being a blond. He looks at me more than anyone so his opinion does matter to me.
- It is likely much healthier to not put chemicals on my head every month for many, many years.
- The few people I have been around in the last 365 days hardly seemed to notice I was going gray. That tells me that most of the people who care about me accept me and my age as it is—and aren’t analyzing my looks anyway.
On the negative side for not coloring my hair:
- One morning after not sleeping well I looked at my tired face in the mirror. I looked old and it caught me by surprise. Of course let’s face it, after a bad night I would look old no matter what my hair color.
- Even though I’m much, much better about not caring what other people think, I still wonder if it makes me look older to others.
- Why should that even be a thing?
After last week’s blog post, I have been thinking a lot more about what I want to experience in my next 20-30 years. I’m actually happy I am 65 years old (yay Medicare!) and never denied what I consider the many benefits to being this age. So that got me asking myself even more questions. At the very core it comes back to:
- Do I have to look younger to look good? This applies to women AND men. I get that we all want to do our best to look good as we age (at least most of us do!) The thing is, does looking younger automatically mean that we look better? Clearly some people look gorgeous even at an advanced age and others just age with character and grace.
- Is it delusional to think that we can fool others about our age? I live near the Palm Springs area of California and it is filled with examples of people who seldom fool anyone—yet they spend enormous amounts of money, time and effort trying to alter their looks to keep up a more youthful image. Are any of us really “fooled?” Let’s face it—we look the way we look.
- Do I need to “market” myself by looking younger? Am I in the entertainment industry and need to look younger just to keep working? Is it harder to get (and keep) some jobs if you don’t look younger? Am I doing it to attract (or keep) a lover—and if yes, do looks matter more to me than personality? If the answer to those is a no—then maybe it is time to embrace my looks and my body as it is? If the answer is yes, that’s an entirely different subject.
- It all boils down to the obvious final questions: Why are many of us so obsessed with looking younger than our age? What is wrong with looking older when you are older?
As the author of a book on positive aging, I still strongly believe that how we feel about aging matters. At 65 I don’t think of myself as old, but let’s face it—I am getting older. Plus I am almost positive that the people who know me (especially those much younger than me) consider me to be old(er) anyway. In the end, all my research about aging says that doesn’t matter what other people think nearly as much as what I think about myself. So yes, the biggest question about whether to color my hair is to ask myself if I feel good about how I look either way. And it’s always more about how I/we feel about ourselves, than how I/we actually look.
I think it is also a great commentary about the obsession with youth in our culture. Even when we don’t think we have an ageism bias, it pops up around questioning how we look as we get older (at least it did to me.) I would far rather be known as a person who stayed happy, interesting and vibrantly alive until the day I pass, than someone who was constantly admired for “looking good” or “younger than her age” as she aged.
Of course I’m not suggesting we all “go gray.” I might actually wake up tomorrow and die my hair orange—so it’s not really about the color. But ultimately I think it is good to ask ourselves: am I spending a lot of time, money and effort trying to look and appear younger? Why? And am I really fooling anyone? In the end I want to remind myself that it is neither my aging body, my hair color or my clothes that define the real me or my value. Plus I think it is probably SMART to be content with the looks of your older self when you are gradually getting older!