Color Me Gray. For the Moment

Have you ever stood at the back of a large room – an auditorium, a concert hall, perhaps a church – and surveyed the heads of men and women sitting there together? The men’s hair gray or white, the women’s blond, red, brown, black, streaked or highlighted. What is this? Men with their daughters? Refugees from a Cialis® commercial? When did we women of a certain age begin to feel the need to color our hair? And if we consider ourselves equal partners with our men, why are we not equal in the hair color department?

Of course, here in Southern California, lots of men, especially actors, also color their hair. And now that the Never Ending Great Recession has put so many men (and women) on the job market to vie with much younger competition, I suppose dyed hair could be considered a necessity. Maybe even a tax deductible business expense.

Remember the hair dye scare of the 1970s? Because some experiments with laboratory rats and hair dye indicated that coloring your hair could cause various forms of cancer, there was panic among the vast number of people to whom hair dye was of paramount importance. My memory is that the panic was short-lived, eased by assurances that people wanted to hear and that everyone went back to dying their hair. (I was not a hair dye user at the time and my daughters had not yet entered the hair-color-of-the-week experimentation stage so I was only peripherally interested in the subject.) Now I read that sometime in the mid to late 1970s manufacturers changed some of the chemicals used in hair dyes and while studies continue, most results are inconclusive.

But that is not why I’ve stopped coloring my hair. I’ve found myself admiring women (men too) with wonderful heads of pearl gray or snow white hair. People like poor beleaguered Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius whose battle to bring affordable health insurance to Americans might have turned her hair white if it weren’t already that way. But it’s beautiful. Also Helen Mirren, Jamie Lee Curtis, Judi Dench. And how about Meryl Streep in “The Devil Wears Prada?”

It’s time to be a grownup, I told myself. And besides, what was under all those blond highlights that had somehow morphed over the years into a mostly blond do? Well, it’s gray. Sort of. In places. Nothing like any of those aforementioned women of course. Still, it fascinates me to watch it showing up. One of those interesting developments of the aging process. Like no longer having to shave your legs, a prospect one of my daughters found exhilarating when I told her.

But don’t hold me to the gray hair thing. I could wake up one morning and go screaming off to the hairdresser for help. Unless, that is, I turn into Helen Mirren.

kathleen sebelius

helen mirren


judi dench

meryl streep







[Photos: Kathleen Sebelius,; Helen Mirren,;

jamie lee curtis,; Meryl Streep, Judi Dench,]

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