In 1971, I was 18. I didn't wear makeup, didn't do anything with my hair aside from washing it and letting it air dry, didn't wear a bra. I was too young to be a part of the Haight-Ashbury hippie movement, but I was definitely a sympathizer, an all-natural flower child.
When I was 21, I moved with my husband and infant daughter to Michigan's Upper Peninsula wilderness as part of the back-to-the-land movement. We lived in a tent while we cleared our land and built a small cabin, ate milkweed pods and cattail roots cooked over an open campfire, and carried our water from a nearby stream. Eventually, we opened a small pottery studio.
Over the years, however, our lifestyle gradually became more mainstream. We had three more children. We moved to town. My husband got a "real" job as a meat cutter for the local grocery store. And somewhere between the kids and the crafts and the creativity that eventually led me to a career in novel writing, I started wearing makeup.
Not much at first, just enough to hide the dark circles under my eyes and to rosy up my cheeks with a little blush. A dash of lipstick and a dusting of eye shadow for special occasions.
When I was 30, the gray hairs I'd been plucking reached critical mass, and I began dying my hair.
I knew that once I started coloring my hair, I couldn't stop -- not unless I wanted to risk instantly looking decades older. But thanks to a non-smoking lifestyle and good genes, I have youthful skin. I figured I had many years before my skin and my hair color no longer matched. "When I'm 60, I'll think about letting my hair go natural," was how I put the inevitable off.
Now I'm 59. After three decades, I'm tired of having to color my hair every month. Sure it's fun when I'm mistaken for being 15 years younger, as happened last summer at a thriller writers conference I attended, but how important is that, really? Isn't what kind of person I am and what I've accomplished what matters most?
So I mustered up courage, streaked my hair with blond highlights to make the transition from brown to white less obvious and painful, and stopped.
Still, I worried. What would I look like with white hair? There are plenty of beautiful white-haired women in magazines and on television, but they're models. They'd look great with no hair at all. I'm not.
Plus, I'm a novelist moving into the young adult market, currently writing a science-based thriller for teens. What would my prospective audience think when they saw my author photo or came to a booksigning and realized the book they were reading was written by someone more than three times their age?
Most of all, what would I think? Would I look in the mirror and see an old lady?
Then I thought about becoming enslaved again to that monthly hair-coloring ritual. I reminded myself of my reasons for growing out my hair, and decided that no matter what I ended up looking like, I wasn't going back.
Now I'm halfway to an all-natural white, and loving it. I feel like I've been hiding all these years. Not coloring my hair is enormously freeing. And when I look in the mirror, I like what I see. This is me.