essays

Gray Matters

gray streaksI got my first gray hair at about nineteen years of age. Everyone in my family grayed early, so it was no big surprise. And being a man with gray hair in his twenties was not a disadvantage either. Men get the “you look distinguished” compliment right up until the day they die (at which point it becomes “he looks extinguished”).

What is surprising is the way our culture views women who don’t color their hair, who are not trying to obscure the aging process. In her book, Going Gray, What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Matters, Anne Kreamer thoughtfully chronicles the realization that it was time to go gray and how that decision put her squarely in the middle of the go-natural vs keep-dyeing-it baby boomer stand-off.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to making the choice to color or not color. The decision is a personal one based on a variety of factors. But each side has its staunch defenders.

My own experience prepared me well for this debate, as Emmy Lou HarrisI have two older sisters who have never in their adult life, I repeat, never dyed their hair. They went gray and stayed gray, which is ironic in some ways, because our mother had always dyed her hair. Not at the salon, mind you, but right there at the kitchen sink with the help of Dad and a box of Clairol Nice N’ Easy Black 003.

Our mother might have been a slave to hair coloring, but was not one to wear any sort of fancy make-up or much of any make-up at all. I always assumed that this was why my sisters had little use for make-up or hair coloring, but, I am coming around to the idea that gray matters in more ways than the judgments people make about someone’s outward appearance.

In many instances, whether it’s the photos on eharmony or the men sitting on the loading dock, women who look natural (gray haired or not) come out on top. And that translates into more "winks" on match.com.

Maybe it all has to do with artifice, and whether you’re for it or against. Dyeing your hair to maintain a “youthful appearance” is literally a cover-up, but after age 50, does it just become an act of self-delusion? Sometimes, real is just better, sexier, easier. Or in my case, I'll take distinguished.

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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