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?