A Year Of Stripping Away The Dye
I’ve always wanted to ask this question of people who totally change their look: do you still feel like you?
We are all such visual creatures. We look, we see, we judge, “ooh, I like that,” or “what was she thinking?”
It’s built in, our cultural, societal expectations. Young people have rich, glowing hair in an increasing variety of colors. Old folks have grey or white hair, often dry and dingy. Young people can wear any style and it all looks good. Older women tend to chop their hair off when they reach a certain age, whether for sheer practicality or because it’s too dry.
Why am I obsessed with hair color? It’s been on my mind for a while now, mainly because I’ve reached the age where many women just give up on their looks. They chop off their hair, let their middles expand and just “go with the flow” of aging.
Other women, like my mother-in-law, continued to dye her hair a dark brown shade until she passed away in her eighties. It looked strange, accentuating the deep wrinkles and sagging lines about her face and neck.
Change is hard. I’ll bet that’s why so many people stick with a long-established hairstyle. They don’t recognize themselves without that signature look.
I stopped coloring my hair a year ago. I’d been wanting to go au natural for years. I could see the white hairs showing through and I wondered, what would that look like, all over?
It was time.
Change Keeps Coming, Whether We Like It Or Not
A few white hairs began emerging around the time I finished college. I was 22, what is this?
My natural reddish chestnut hair was fading. It was unnerving, to be honest. I wasn’t ready for premature signs of aging before I’d even moved out of the dorm.
So, yeah, I started coloring it. My hair grows fast and thick, so I colored it faithfully every month. The years flew by. Instead of thinning with childbirth, my hair only came in thicker and, if anything, grew faster. Soon, I was coloring it every two weeks, as soon as that 1/4” white line began to appear. I worried about what all that hair dye was doing, as it got absorbed into my skin. Was this even safe?
Somehow, my children survived gestation, despite the red hair dye.
Then I turned 60. My older sister showed up at the family reunion with a lovely white pixie cut framing her face. Of course, she’d gone from pale blonde to a few shades lighter, an easy transition, I told myself. But it looked really good.
“This is all the rage now,” she told me. “All the young twenty-somethings are dying their hair platinum.”
And what would my friends think? Shallow, I know. But, as author Anne Kreamer put it in Going Gray: How To Embrace Your Authentic Self, “I was about to find out what people thought of me.”
I wondered what I’d look like with white hair. Being Irish, I worried I’d look totally washed out. My skin was so fair. Would people just ignore me, because I blended into the walls? Then I saw a sixtyish model with silver, shoulder-length hair, smooth and elegant. Her brows and lashes were dark brown, providing this amazing contrast. That was the look I wanted. Of course, I outweighed her by about thirty pounds, but still —
The Line Between Youth And Old Age Grows Wider Each Month
When I stopped coloring, that pure white demarcation line grew wider each month. My hair looked sloppy, frowsy. I tried putting it up, but that only looked worse. My bangs were still dark, but the sides were pure white.
I’m just not a hat person.
Finally, I went to a fancy salon that had great reviews. I asked them to strip off the dyed auburn color, so I could see how much white there was, exactly. Six hours later, my hair was an odd shade of orange. A bit closer to the white, but it looked like someone had dropped egg yolks on my head.
I stewed about it for a day, then drove over to the Walmart Smart Style salon and said “just chop it off.” The six-hour standoff at the fancy salon had taken a big chunk out of my budget. $16.95 was all right. I should have had them just cut it off in the first place, I admitted, but only to myself.
I am not a pixie-cut person, either, but this was an emergency.
For some reason, I kept going back to this same hairstylist for the next five or six months. Every time I’d say, “I don’t want a pixie cut this month, okay? I just want to grow this out.”
She would nod and smile, and chop all my hair off again.
I liked my hairstylist. She was good at cutting hair, and she was also a talented stand-up comedienne, so we had some interesting conversations. She’d explain her latest tattoo and tell me what was going on in her life.
But I wanted to give my hair a chance to grow back. I was tired of waking up every morning looking like the baby bird on the Peanuts cartoon, with half a dozen cowlicks sticking straight up around my head like a frowsy crown. No amount of product seemed to tame them, and pinning down my hair just looked stupid. A nice tiara would have held the hair down, but yeah, not my style.
And no, I’m still not a hat person. You either are or you aren’t.
Wanted: Hair That Looks Like Me
I didn’t look like myself. No matter what I did, my hair stuck out in all directions. I glumly tried on a few hats. Now that I had so little hair, some of them actually fit. But I hated wearing them and gave it up.
A few months later, my hair had finally grown out to a short bob. The cowlicks were more manageable now. I could pin my hair flat at night and coax it to lie down with minimal product. A few more months and it will be down to my shoulders. Something to look forward to: all 16 cowlicks sufficiently weighed down and behaving themselves.
Then, I’ll have the minimalist style I like, where I can wash and go.
The orange tones had been cut off months ago, leaving a soft, light blonde which looked nice, I thought. It blended in nicely with the pure white. One year later, my hair is still a mix of white and gold, not pure white like my sister’s. People keep asking “how do you get that look?” and I realize it looks like an expensive blonde balayage.
My kids were startled by the new look, but they’ve adjusted. We moved a few months before the great “white-out,” so new friends just accepted my white hair without question.
My husband and I went back to the old neighborhood, to check on our old house and put it on the market. We stopped by the diner after church, our regular hangout spot. Friends didn’t recognize me at first.They laughed and exclaimed over the new look.
I’ve got used to that strange woman looking back at me in the bathroom mirror every morning. And I love, love not having to spend the time on dying my hair twice a month, or trying to find a new hairdresser who can get the exact shade I want, not too harsh against my fair skin, but dark enough to cover the white.
I started looking for new tops and sweaters, realizing the grey and white t-shirts I favored just looked kind of blah against my shiny white-gold tresses. A rich, dark purple provided a startling contrast. I could wear pretty much any color now: hot pink, orange — colors I’d avoided when my hair was reddish brown — now, it was color and lots of it. I put on a bit more mascara and filled in my thinning eyebrows the same dark brown shade as my lashes. It looked pretty nice.
What do people think? Most people I know are more concerned about their own looks than mine. My husband loves the new look, especially the money we save on coloring at the salon.
Turns out, I was the only one who worried about how I looked.
Yeah, sometimes strangers will treat me like a stereotypical ‘little old lady,’ because of the white hair, but I can let that slide. People tend to stereotype others. We all do it sometimes.
I’m not pretending to be anyone but myself.
I survived the year of stripping away the dye, and I’m actually okay with it. I’ve discovered it’s more important to worry less and do as I please. Change is definitely good.