Going Grey: A Milestone for Women of a Certain Age

by Donne Davis on April 23, 2012

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In our youth-oriented culture, one of the biggest decisions aging women face is whether to hide our grey hair or wear it with pride. Recently,  award-winning journalist Ysabel Duron addressed this question in a fascinating radio conversation titled Silver: A State of Mind on NPR’s Forum.

Her guests included photographer Vicki Topaz, whose new exhibit “Silver” celebrates a woman’s decision to “go grey.” The exhibit is currently on display at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Marin, CA. It features a selection of twelve portraits from Topaz’s recent series honoring fifty-two remarkable women, mostly in their late 50s and older, who have let their hair go grey. The large black and white photographs and their accompanying stories reveal women who are confronting issues relevant to all of us—aging, authenticity, attractiveness, illness, and more.

According to Duron, who is featured in the exhibit, 75% of women color their hair, mostly to hide their grey. The decision about whether to color is a constant inner and outer battle of aging that affects our self-worth on so many levels. The discussion addressed how to embrace and acknowledge our aging process and then find the freedom and liberation to move forward in our lives.

Another guest on the program, clinical psychologist Tamara McClintock Greenberg, said that we live in a Photoshop world that affects women’s self-confidence and leaves them ill-prepared to embrace aging gracefully. “We don’t know what real women look like any more and women who do have the courage to ‘go grey’ could be role models for younger women as a new way to be.”

There’s a natural mourning process we must face as we age and then learn how to embrace it. Guest Wendy Johnson said that “we need to mourn our culture that makes us want to be younger than we are.” Johnson is a founder of the Organic Farm and Garden Program at Green Gulch Farm Zen Center in Marin County, author of Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate and another one of the subjects of “Silver.”

Callers to the program shared their feelings about going prematurely grey and being mistaken for their children’s grandmother or their sister’s mother. But most who let their hair “go grey” were happy they’d made the decision to avoid the expense, time and toxicity.

“As our looks change,” said psychologist Greenberg, “we need to develop an internal life to fall back on so that whatever choice we do make, we’ll have the confidence to wear it with the same grace and strength that the women in the exhibit do.”

How do you feel about going grey?

{ 4 comments }

Susan Adcox May 2, 2012 at 7:34 pm

I’ve been struggling with this dilemma for a while now. I hate going to the salon every five weeks for color. When I asked my husband about going gray, he said, “I don’t think you’ll like it.” (Read: I don’t think I’ll like it.) I have a family wedding this summer. After that, I may just take the plunge!

Sdeagman April 30, 2012 at 10:28 pm

I want to be and look the best that I can without being narcissistic about it or spending an inordinate amount of time on it.  I want to be fit and active and slender (still working on that one) and energetic. I want a hairstyle that reflects me and my attitude. That means I color my hair and I will continue to do so as long as I can. I can’t do anything about the wrinkles on my face . . . well, actually I can but that stuff is painful. A perky hairdo and a pretty hair color make me feel good.

Monica Ackerman April 24, 2012 at 11:43 am

I was one of the women who called in to the show and I actually got on-air because they liked my attitude about waiting patiently for my hair to turn as beautifully gray like my grandmother or silver like my mom. I shared that I’ve been looking forward to getting old my entire adult life and I celebrated the appearance of my first silver hair. In my fifties until just recently when I turned 70, I also colored my hair but decided to stop and see what was under all that color. It’s not gray, not anywhere near silver but looks like  silver highlights and I love it.

Adrienne Freas April 23, 2012 at 11:47 am

Thank you for posting this! I started going gray in my mid-twenties. Being married to a man who looks 15 years younger than her really is made this decision so hard for me. On my 30th birthday I started coloring. My sister and I had an agreement that when it was time for me to color, she would tell me. Just before I turned thirty, she walked in my front door and declared “It’s time!”. I made the appointment and began my ten year journey of hell. I had to pay exhorborant fees to go through this smelly, agonizing process every six weeks. I always had burns and scabs on my head after getting my hair colored! 

The day I turned 40 I made the decision to QUIT coloring. It was hard and took 18 months. I knew that I would look older than my husband who was finally starting to look 25, even though he is actually 3 months older than me! I have been color-free for nearly 3 years. It has been hard for me, when I see women who are young and I remember when my hair was long and pretty. But, you know what!!! I get compliments all the time! I have a cute and sassy cut with a wedge in the back and it angles towards the front of my face. It is naturally curly and they are better curls now that I don’t color it. I wear my curls and my gray with pride most days. On those days, I get the most compliments!

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