Every few years, I get a sign that maybe -- just maybe -- it's time to stop coloring my hair. As I wrote 3.5 years ago, I'm a die-hard dyer and have been coloring my hair now for more than 40 years. I've probably applied enough toxic chemicals to my scalp to be declared a Superfund site. At the very least, my husband should be wearing a HazMat suit to bed. I have absolutely no intention of letting my hair go gray no matter how much applause there is for those who do. It's just these once-in-a-blue-moon signs that give me pause.
For me, keeping gray at bay started as a teenager. I fault my genes. While they have produced several generations of women who dance well into their 90s with nary a health complaint, they all went gray very early. Call it the draw of the hair follicle and yes, I know there are way worse problems to have.
At first, I could pluck out the gray strands that seemingly sprouted overnight. By the time I was in my early 20s, I was visiting a salon every six weeks to have the gray covered. The expense of that drove me into the arms of drugstore hair colorings with mixed results. One product burned my scalp. Another brand stained everything but my gray hair. Then I found L'Oreal Healthy Look #4 and assumed we would live together happily ever after. But no; it was not meant to be. Over the past year, my shade of hair coloring has been increasingly missing from the shelves. I've gone online and found it, ordering it by the dozen.
But slowly and surely, the realization dawned. Supplies were drying up and that could mean just one thing: L'Oreal must be discontinuing this product shade. I am bereft and still trying to grasp at straws, or more accurately, at the few remaining boxes in circulation. I've seen three boxes of my $8.99 hair color being sold on Amazon for $50, so I know I'm not alone in the hunt and market forces are behind the price hike. I've emailed L'Oreal asking for help or an explanation and thus far have gotten no response.
So now, I am forced to ask myself: Is this really just a sign that it's time -- time to just let my hair go gray?
The last time I was sent a sign this powerful was on my first day of work here at The Huffington Post office in Beverly Hills four years ago. On the way to the office that morning, I passed a woman walking her dog. The woman had a head of wild silver-white ringlet curls that reached to the middle of her back and whipped around her face all sexy-like when the wind blew. It was statement hair: bold, beautiful, youthfully hot. While I normally notice the dogs and not the people walking them, I can't even tell you if she had a Great Dane or a Chihuahua with her. All you saw was her fabulous, amazing mane of uncolored hair.
She was the first seriously-looks-good-in-real-life woman with gray hair that I may have ever seen. I couldn't squint and imagine her as a brunette 10 years ago and think "she should color her hair." She had no need to; she was gorgeous as she was. I made a note to myself: Stop coloring.
And then I rode the elevator up two floors and walked into the office where I quickly realized that I was the oldest person in the room by a few decades and any thoughts to stop coloring my hair vanished.
I still scroll obsessively through every slideshow and photo gallery that shows women with gray hair. They all look beautiful but I suspect that they all looked beautiful before when their hair was brown or black or dirty blonde. Plus they have the Photoshop advantage.
The current chorus of Internet voices singing praises for those women who proudly sport their gray hair are all off-key to me. These gray-haired women are called "brave" and told they are "aging gracefully." They are admired for being their "authentic" selves and celebrated for their obvious self-confidence. They are held up as role models, women we should emulate.
It's all baloney if you ask me.
In real life, most of us still associate going gray with getting older. Like it or not, we live in a culture where old is bad and young is good. Go ahead and try and get a job while your hair screams "I'm 62 and am only going to stick around for a short time and then you can hire and train someone else." Or ask for that promotion while your hair says "I'm applying for Social Security at the end of the month." It just doesn't work like that.
I don't judge those who have the capacity -- emotional and follicley -- to have gray hair and have it look good. But let's not apply a higher morality to them because going gray is not the best choice, however inevitable, for everyone.
As for me? If you wouldn't mind helping me find a few more boxes of L'Oreal Healthy Look #4, I'd be most appreciative.