The Saving Grace Of Going Gray

This article is more than 8 years old.

My fascination with hair began when I spotted a picture of a recently shorn Mia Farrow in one of my mother’s movie magazines. I tore out the photo of the delicate beauty and scotch-taped it to the wall of my room. Lying in bed at night, I would stare up at the young actress, studying the fringe of hair that rimmed her forehead, exposed her small ears, and revealed the nape of her long neck.

I repeated this practice until all the walls were covered with photos of the chic gamine, along with two other, equally trend-bucking, short-haired beauties: Tina Chow, the enigmatic Eurasian fashion icon, and Twiggy, the slightly-built, big-eyed London supermodel. In less than a month, my bedroom became a shrine to a sisterhood long on style, and short on hair.

Desperate to look like one of that trinity, rather than the long-haired girls at my school, I turned to Bobbi Almond for help. With her hair cropped shorter than any of the boys’ in our class, Bobbi, the red-headed renegade of Randolph High, would be my salvation.

Trying to expunge the markers of maturity doesn’t mean that the signs are not there.

During morning recess, Bobbi and I ducked into the girl’s lavatory. I sat on a covered radiator in the corner of the bathroom as she hacked away at my hair with a pair of blunt scissors borrowed from the art room. Word spread quickly. Before recess was over I had an audience of about 20. A lot of attention is paid when the choices one makes are noticeably different from the rest of the pack.

Soon after my haircut, I added color to the equation. I dyed my hair ebony and then eggplant. For about a year, in deference to Bobbi, I experimented with various shades of red. After the release of Madonna’s “Truth or Dare,” I went platinum, causing my then 2-year-old son Oliver to burst into tears every time he caught a glimpse of me. He was not completely convinced I was his mother. Eventually, I settled on a dark chocolate color.

Over the years, commentary about my hair has been ongoing. It has never bothered me when complete strangers stop me on the street to ask who “did it,” or to suggest that I cover my ears lest they get frostbite. But nothing could have prepared me for the response I got when, on our annual vacation in Truro last summer, I let my skin turn brown and my hair turn gray.

Of course, the gray didn’t appear overnight. When I had to extend one of my regular, monthly appointments at the hair salon for a few weeks, I noticed a hint of silver along my hairline. But, as a therapist friend of mine might say, I wasn’t ready to “go there.” Maybe I was holding onto the unrealistic hope that if I kept my hair short and an enhanced shade of its original color, I could remain that girl sitting on the radiator forever.

Actress Mia Farrow, in 1965. (AP)
Actress Mia Farrow, in 1965. (AP)

I’m not sure whether it was the salty Cape air or the long walks along the shore that convinced me to let it be, but all of a sudden it hit me. Sure, lines and wrinkles can be zapped. Sagging skin can be lifted. And graying hair can be washed away. In fact, common wisdom, popular culture, and a host of beauty products had me almost convinced that it was possible to erase all signs of aging. I am evangelical in my belief that women should look chic, that aging and style should not be mutually exclusive, but trying to expunge the markers of maturity doesn’t mean that the signs are not there. If you don’t believe me have a look at the hands — or worse, the elbows — of someone over 50.

This fall, while having breakfast with a friend who I hadn’t seen for a while, I realized that she was talking to the top of my head. “You’re brave,” she finally said. To a certain extent she was right. I’m brave in the same insouciant way I imagined Mia and Tina and Twiggy to be all those years ago.

In fact, I’ve become so enamored with my new gray hair that last month, I considered enhancing it by adding a bit more silver to the parts that are still brown. But I reconsidered. My hair continues to evolve with enough regularity to keep things interesting... and people talking.


This program aired on April 11, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.