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I have been conducting an experiment for the last couple of months. I’m a little surprised and very pleased with the results so far.
The experiment? I stopped coloring my hair and let it return to its natural color. And by “natural,” I mean a little bit … somewhat … OK, a lot gray.
I know – some of you men are rolling your eyes. But for many women, this is a major issue. I had always said I would NEVER go gray. I always felt that you had to have certain coloring to pull it off, and I do not have that coloring.
But there’s more to it. Let’s face it - very seldom are women with gray hair featured in advertisements, unless they are ads for “senior” products. You don’t see gray haired women modeling the latest fashions. You don’t see women with gray hair on television very much – unless they’re portraying grandmothers. Gray haired women don’t anchor the news, we don’t host entertainment shows, we’re not the stars of sit-coms (except for the Golden Girls) or prime time dramas.
We are inundated with messages about looking younger - erasing age lines and covering our gray hair. Coupled with the more subtle messaging where women with gray hair aren’t used in youthful, “hip” advertising (which means there’s no way we can be) – it’s understandable why we turn to the box, or our stylists. It’s understandable why there is an entire aisle devoted to hair coloring products.
For men, there isn’t the same messaging. You look distinguished, women look old. You look experienced, women look tired. There are hair coloring products for men of course. One product out there for men says you’re done in just 10 minutes.
And why are those products “just for men,” anyway? Is there a secret ingredient in there that’s tied to the male DNA that makes it useless on women? The “secret” ingredient is that marketers know men won’t pay an arm and a leg for something that they have to sit around with on their heads for 45 minutes!
I have been color enhancing my hair since I was a teenager. First there was “Sun In,” which I sprayed into my hair before going to the pool to give it that blond, sun-kissed look. Then there were the highlights that I painted in myself.
I was probably in my mid-20s when I started adding color services to my salon visits. It started simply enough – a few highlights. Then when I noticed gray, I progressed to temporary, all-over color. By my mid-30s, I needed longer lasting coverage. I was hooked.
I tried to keep the color as subtle and as close to natural as fake hair color can be. But when I found myself asking my stylist to mix a color called “chocolate cherry,” I knew I had crossed the line. Not to mention how much I was spending. I could buy a used car with all the money I have spent on hair coloring!
So fast forward to the beginning of this year. I had already been letting more time go between trips to the salon – it was costing me too much. I could have switched to something I applied myself, but I feared turning my hair some odd color (like chocolate cherry isn’t odd).
So the experiment began – innocently enough. As my roots came in, I noticed that I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I might. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. I went for a haircut and told my stylist I was giving up the “juice.” I knew it would take a few cuts for all the applied color to be gone. I also knew that if I woke up and absolutely hated it – help was just a phone call or visit to the store away.
A funny thing happened. I really like it. No – I really love it! I just had my fourth haircut – so any remaining salon color is totally gone.
I feel liberated! And I really like the way I look. I have earned every one of these gray hairs. While I used to think having gray hair might make me look older, I actually think I look younger.
I would never tell anyone to stop coloring their hair. For me, it was just the right time. My experiment – started largely by budgetary concerns – has been a huge success.
And I learned a lesson I have learned many times before but never retain: I’m much happier when I am being my natural and most authentic self.