Judging by her furrowed brow, my hairdresser wasn’t impressed.
“We’re doing a 30% colour sale at the moment”, she whispered discreetly, wrinkling her nose as she combed through my silver streaks, separating them out with forensic precision. I squirmed in my swivel chair as she liberated an offending clump of grey and presented me with exhibit A in the mirror.
“Oh really?” I replied, with a thanks but no thanks grin. “I’m happy the way it is.” Her right eyebrow arched. “You are?” she replied. My right eyebrow defiantly arched back.
I really am.
I started to go grey (well, silver actually – important distinction) in my mid-twenties and it’s never occurred to me to dye it – despite regular shaming sessions at my hairdressers and the semi-regular greeting my friend lobs at me every time he spots my clumpy streaks: “Alright, Anne Bancroft?”
Bearing this in mind, I’m rather tickled that grey hair is back in the news at the moment – partly because celebrities such as Kate Moss and Demi Moore are embracing theirs too, but also because scientists recently pinpointed a gene responsible for grey hair (meaning gene manipulation could potentially banish it altogether, like some kind of frightening, dystopian sci-fi film.)
Over the last few years it has struck me as slightly odd that silver hair has become a fashion trend – and yet naturally grey/silver hair has remained something to be feared, dyed and denied. It happens to everyone eventually, after all – many of us, prematurely. According to the experts, women start to get their first grey hairs at the age of 30. So why the social taboo when so many younger celebs are going grey artificially?
Zosia Mamet, Nicole Richie and Cara Delevingne have all hit the bottle recently: an acceptable move, if it’s a choice in your twenties, perhaps. For women like me, however, who refuse to delay or prevent a perfectly natural ageing process, it becomes more of a talking point. That hairdressing chair doesn’t lie. It’s definitely a thing.
Society still harbours a prejudice against grey hair. Scrap that, let’s start again: society still harbours a prejudice against women with grey hair – which is why men like George Clooney are considered distinguished “silver foxes” and women like Demi Moore are mocked in the headlines for “FINALLY” showing their age.
Ageism and sexism are never too far apart: we are less inclined to value the silver-haired shimmers and the lifelines that marble the face of a woman. We tend to turn away from the embracers who say: Thanks – but no thanks. This is the real me. Perhaps this is why we still idolize eternally youthful stars. Maybe this explains why we struggle to celebrate older beauty.
A few years ago I asked veteran photographer Douglas Kirkland, who photographed Marilyn Monroe for Look magazine the year before she died in 1961, what it is about her that still beguiles us today. His answer was frank: “If she had stayed with us and grown old we might not hold her as high as we do. We’ve never known her as an old individual.”
His words have stuck with me ever since – and perhaps they’ve influenced my decision not to conceal, but embrace these rogue hair follicles. It unsettles me to think we value youth over age. I’m tired of reading headlines that teach women “how to go grey gracefully.” I happen to think my lightning bolt streaks look good. Who wouldn’t want to rock them like Anne Bancroft in The Graduate?
Not me, that’s for sure – so it’s a thanks, but no thanks from me. I’m having a LOT of fun embracing the grey.