In her book Going Gray, What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Matters, Gray’s writing is consise, thoughtful, comfortable and entertaining as if you were sharing confidences with your old roommates. Washing that gray right out of your hair is no longer a “right to passage” as we age.
Letting your”rock and roll hair” go gray is certainly not Hollywood but it is a hot topic for women all over the country. In the past it was a sign of “letting yourself go.” Not so to most people, going gray is the hottest topic in most women’s online chat forums, the seeds of colassal shift have already taken place.
Going Gray” is her very first book. It developed from a writing which she did for More magazine about the “going gray” process, when she was 49, of letting her hair grow out to show her natural gray after religiously dyeing since she was age 25. Anne has the grace to acknowledge there are larger issues in life. But she skillfully uses that experience and its anxieties to explore thoughts about aging and femininity.
Anne Kreamer also takes an almost girlish, Nancy-Drew-detective approach to examining what other women, and some men, think about the cultural pressures and self-images that connect to dyeing hair, especially for midlifers. Although she is happily married, she wrote an Internet dating profile for herself pretending to be divorced and put it, along with a photograph of herself, on Match.com for her research. Sometimes she used one with dyed hair and sometimes she used one with gray locks, to compare how many responses she got.
Those of you who, like me, already have a happy vanity about the lively gray streaks in your hair, will be pleased to know she got more approaches with her natural gray look. Kreamer also hired a data-gathering business to conduct a national survey to learn more about attitudes toward graying.
For the reader interested in cultural shifts in attitudes toward women and aging, some of the most thought-provoking parts of Kreamer’s book are the contextual and historical perspectives she gives. She notes that fewer than 10 percent of American women colored their hair in the 50’s, compared with a reported 40 to 75 percent today. Her observation on the parallel between that statistical growth and a likely increase in women’s involvement with plastic surgery:
“In the national survey I conducted for this book, of four hundred women, average age forty-nine, 15 percent reported having had cosmetic injections or surgery — probably about the same percentage of middle-aged women who, back in the ’50s when the artificial-coloring boom began, dyed their hair. . . . Extrapolate the trend line, double the available technologies, and imagine the choices and pressures our great-grandchildren may face.”
Consider how deeply ingrained the message of “gray” is in American culture, not covering gray is considered downright rebellious, turning away from the 50’s Clairol mom generation, that started women home coloring en masse. “From that point on, women were brainwashed into thinking that to look young they have to color their hair,” said Jewell. “Clairol did a fabulous job of it. We grew up seeing our mothers and grandmothers religiously dying their hair. We got that message.”
“Gray liberation” websites are now popping up, Jewell’s, a how-to guide to transitioning to silvery shades, inspired this website that launched in 2008 and now boasts more than 2,000 registered members. The site, covers topics including various ways to grow out the gray (the brave embrace a pixie haircut, while others suffer through a period of calico color) and how to find complementary makeup for the new hair hue and it also includes a slew of first-person stories and photos from its members.
Some celebrities have picked up on the new trend and even the younger culture has picked up on it, gray has become a hot color. Kelly Osbourne, Pixie Geldof, Lady Gaga and one 13-year-old fashion blogger Tavi Gevinson have dabbled in shades of silver this past summer, lends support.