Brand building through storytelling

Learning to love my gray hair

Just about exactly eight years ago, I made a decision that changed my life. I stopped pretending that my hair was still a rich, dark brown. I didn’t do this to be authentic, or to take a brave stand against the notion that a woman should look forever young. I was simply fed up with trekking to the hair salon every four weeks and then waiting for hours while the gunk on my head worked its magic on my tell-tale roots.

EmmylouWhy not just go gloriously white, like Emmylou Harris? It seemed like the perfect solution—until my colourist set me straight. In this age of experimentation, when a woman can go blue or magenta for a month or a day, she still has to wait for white hair. “Let’s take you platinum,” the colourist proposed. “It works for lots of women your age. Brightens up the face. Want to give it a try?”

I thought of the Clairol jingle from the TV commercials of my youth:Is it true blondes have more fun?” God help me if I fell for that tired sentiment, which harked back to the golden-haired princesses in fairy tales. So we went for an updated salt-and-pepper look, with a rinse to give some zing to the salt. Clearly, I’d be stuck with the salon visits. I just wouldn’t have to go so often, or sit for so long flipping through old copies of People.

Rona Goofy SmileAt the time I was editing Chatelaine. At 50, I liked to think that I could pass for 40 on a good day, with soft lighting. I had the editor’s photo to prove it: sophisticated suit, confident smile, hands on hips, full head of dark brown hair. (A little hipper-than-thou, I’d say, looking back.) The time had come for a new photo of the real-middle aged me, wearing a cuddly sweater that would never cut it in the boardroom. And how could I pass up the opportunity to feature my makeover in our own beauty pages? I posed in my robe at the salon, with foil papers all over my head.

Readers called, wrote and e-mailed to cheer me on. Some told me I’d encouraged them to stop covering their own gray. One reader intercepted me as I bought my morning coffee en route to the office. She pulled off my hat, exclaiming, “I want to see your hair!”

RonaSince then, my current colourist has worked a hint of blonde into my tone-on-tone look. In fact, some people think I’ve gone blonde (guess they’re missing the dark streaks at the nape of my neck). Am I having more fun, as the Clairol people promised back in the 60s? Well, after years of same-old, same-old hair, I’m found a sense of fluidity and freedom that comes with experimentation. No one else has hair quite like mine—including the self I used to be.

On a good day, from afar, I still get admiring looks from men, some of them my junior by a couple of decades. But—and this is telling—only when I’m wearing a hat. No matter how polished and pretty it looks, or how flattering it is to the aging face compared to the harshness of dark tresses, gray hair on a woman still says “older.” Gray says “mom” or “teacher approaching retirement.” So Hillary Clinton campaigns as a blonde. And legions of corporate women dye their hair lest they be seen as “running out of runway.”

Now some of us are discovering a new message gray can send. Gray can tell the world, “I’m confident. I’ve found my own definition of beauty.” But redefining beauty doesn’t stop with gray, does it? For me the real frontier is the changing of my face—those lines and saggy bits that weren’t there yesterday. In my mind, I still look no older than 50. The mirror tells me the truth. Even more blunt are recent photos, in which I’m a slimmer version of my mother.

Once the boldest step I could take as a woman was to drop my toddler at day care and dash off to work. I was simply being myself, a woman with two loves, career and family. Some people judged me harshly, but I stayed the course. Now it’s almost as challenging to look my age while still looking good on my own terms. Can I love the face life is giving me? I’ll keep you posted.

If you missed my earlier post on the role of hair in my life as a woman, click here. Anyone else remember Minipoo?

Posted by Rona

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