If you're tired of those monthly visits to the salon, or even your own sessions over the sink, you're not alone. Leah Rozen, writing in the New York Times, announced to the world that she's gray, 57, and loving it, proudly announcing that "Blondes may have more fun, but we gray gals have it made in our shade."
How about you? Are you battling those tell-tale roots, or reveling in the glory of your own gray locks? If so, perhaps you share Rozen's feeling of liberation. If not, you might ask yourself whether looking young is really worth all that expense and effort.
There are plenty of reasons to cover up our signs of a maturing scalp. In fact, as Rozen herself acknowledges, she's definitely got the "old lady" look going for her. In our youth-oriented society, showing your age may preclude you from certain opportunities. Despite the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), the over-50 set may face negative stereotypes about their abilities and suitabilities in the workplace. The ADEA resulted in settlements amounting to approximately $72.1 million in the year 2009 alone. However, despite the reach of ADEA to many areas of the U.S. workplace, ageism still exists and can take many forms, ranging from biases against the abilities of older workers to stereotyped beliefs about their personalities and work attitudes. As their self-image and abilities change, older workers can begin to doubt their self-efficacy. A self-fulfilling prophecy can develop, resulting in their further losing the ability to perform up to par. To prevent this outcome, many older women and men take the preventative action of keeping up their youthful personas.
Ageism may take many forms outside the workplace. One way is for younger adults just to avoid you altogether. They may not be openly hostile but instead make older adults "invisible" -- that is, not worthy of any attention at all. Perhaps they're afraid of being tainted by the aging vibes you give off.
Risking the wrath, visible or not, of ageism can make going gray a dangerous proposition. However, thinking about how and why you're trying to maintain your youthful image for as long as possible can give you important insights into understanding yourself and your feelings about life changes.
You might ask yourself to what lengths you go, and are willing to go, to remain young-looking. Let's start with your clothes. Perhaps you truly enjoy wearing your old college t-shirts and ripped jeans because they're comfortable. Is it possible, though, that you're still clinging to your 20-something self? How about where you go to shop? Do you avoid the traditional "men's" or "women's" department like the plague? Instead, do you insist on outfitting yourself in the Abercrombie & Fitch offerings of tiny shorts, platform wedges, and midriff-baring tops? How about, for men, the baggy cargo look and beer logo tee's? Assuming you pull off the look of these teenage uniforms (and that's a big "if"), is that really the look you want to project to the world?
Now let's get to the makeup department (guys, you can skip this section). Clearly, much of the face paint you see both in drugstores and department stores is designed to be worn by the young. Who else can pull off those smoky eyes and baby-doll pink lips? When we over-50's try to wear the glittery eye shadows, they only end up creasing and getting all over the rest of our faces. That's probably not the look anyone seriously is going for. The deliberately pale lip may look fantastic on a teen or young woman, but it only makes us older ladies look washed out. On the other hand, the blaring red colors that scream sexuality on the young woman's lips just start to creep into our fine lines and wrinkles within hours if not minutes. That impossibly shiny and glittery lip gloss? Forget about it! More creepage.
Of course it would be ludicrous to suggest that women, and men (you can come back now) should give up all attempts to look good. But looking good doesn't have to mean looking young. You can get out of the youth trap and still feel great about the persona you present to the world, if not your own inner sense of self.
Take an honest look at yourself right now. What is working and what isn't? Which aspects of your hair, makeup and clothing reflect how you really feel about yourself, and which reflect your desire to blend in with the young crowd? If you don't trust yourself to give the right answer, you might want to consult someone who's objective to get a second opinion (NOT your children). It's hard to find someone whose opinion you can trust, because virtually anyone working in clothing, makeup counters or hair salons benefits from selling you their youth-oriented products. (Just think about how much those skin creams are costing you.) If you feel that these people aren't being honest, you might consider talking to a friend, co-worker or family member (again, not the children) who pulls off an age-appropriate look.
Thinking about the image you try to present to the world can give you great insight into your own identity and feelings about how you are changing -and improving- over time. As we cross each aging threshold, including the changes in our hair, skin and bodily functions and appearance, there's an opportunity to reflect on the deeper meaning of these changes to our sense of who we are. Many people try to put off the inevitable as long as possible, but eventually bounce back as they incorporate this new view of themselves into their identities. Whether gray or not, by bringing your outer image in line with your inner self, you'll be better prepared to negotiate whatever changes come your way in the years ahead.