Going gray

I like the idea of calling them “sparkles,” but they are - honestly - a pretty dull gray.  I began to notice the transformation underway on my head a few years ago, when I was in enough personal tumult I couldn’t bear to add one more thing to my list of life-changes. I dyed my fading hair several different colors, badly, before getting some professional help from my sweet, nearly lifelong hairdresser who began blonding-up the new hairs every few months. But it's costly, and after a few years of it I began to wonder what it would be like if I just let it be.    

I remember imagining, as a child, what I might look like when I grew up. Then, there was no sense of dread or loss, just curiosity. I simply "wondered"  - in a que sera, sera kind of way - what would be. If we lived in a culture that appreciated aging, if we acknowledged the growth and the wisdom obtained over the course of a human life, might we be a little more open to this change, or even see some beauty in it? As it is, I have an oppressive feeling that going gray is failing somehow. But at what? Beating back time? Keeping myself up (as opposed to letting myself go)? Who says?  

A lot of us, unfortunately. The hair-dying is just the tip of the iceberg. I have a friend who, at forty, went to a well-respected dermatologist to have a mole looked at and also got a free lecture on all the ways he could improve her face - removing laugh and frown lines, plumping up her lips, "a little here, a little there."   I have a younger friend whose husband gave her a breast-lift and tummy tuck for her birthday following the birth of their second child. God forbid we appear to have actually lived during our lives. This does not happen in the same way to men whose graying temples are considered distinguished and whose wrinkles add a certain amount of panache in the middle years. This worries me too. Is it simply biology? Instinct makes us perceive signs of aging as indicators of security and experience in men, but only of lost reproductive potential in women? This is kind of dreadful.

But I have been gradually going gray in other areas of my life too, and this has been - honestly - wondrous. Things are simply less black-and-white than they were in the brighter days of my youth when I thought I knew so much. The world I inhabit these days is much more nuanced. I have seen, heard, and done a lot I would not have imagined when I was a young woman. As I look at those thirty years of choices - my own and those of others - with some distance, I tend to see the whole thing as a lot more mysterious that I would have thought possible back in the day. I couldn't see then the wonderful outcomes of my worst decisions or some of the difficult times that followed the ones I made most carefully. Real life is even more colorful than I had imagined. Categorizing, labeling, and judging is complex to the point of being futile. 

Looking back from this place in the road, I see a winding path indeed, partly of my own making, partly coincidental, with plenty of unexpected twists and potholes that put an end to some of my careful plans and assumed ideas. Following some of those bumps off the path, I found myself looking for tracks in the mud from those who had gone on ahead of me, for some worthy guides in the fresh territory.

I still seek those tracks. When I look at the women I most admire, they have had the interesting, unexpected lives that those who resist falling into role-playing, or truth-hiding, can have. They had false starts, and backtracks, and a certain amount of floundering. They aren't necessarily "pretty" and neither are their lives. They are "beautiful" instead, with their skinned knees and messy play-clothes, their deep wrinkles, bright, curious eyes - and gray hair.  

What does the world need now? More women desperately trying to quash the consequences of the adventure of living? Or those wearing their real age proudly? I think we need more graying women out there, dancing. More hard-laughing, recklessly ageing grown-ups delighting in the mystery and wonder of it all - as it is. We need women who just don't have the time to keep checking themselves in the mirror or against the latest magazine ads. Srong and resilient, gracious and flexible women, appropriately worn a bit around the edges; women who are gray, silver, and whitening, lightening up. And while I entertain the real possibility of a bright-headed future version of myself down the line, it will not be because she is hiding something, but because she is expressing on her head a true inner brilliance, vibrancy, and  joie de vivre. We deserve some joy after all this living, not shame-filled slinking around. For me, for now, that means going a bit grayer. 


[photo: Advanced Style - I love this blog!]