How many of us baby boomers learned about vanity from Carly Simon’s 1972 hit, You’re so Vain? Perhaps that’s the first time we heard the word.
When we’re being honest, we each in some aspect or another have a touch of inner-absorption. Most of us aren’t like Carly’s ex-lover (purported to be Warren Beatty), staring at ourselves in every mirror we pass. I will admit to the occasional shop window self-assessment.
Aside: seeing a total eclipse of the sun from Nova Scotia would be grand.
I don’t want to be conceited, but ceasing the sometimes egocentric act of coloring my hair proved difficult.
Let me add the note that anyone who who dyes their hair for the sheer fun of it has my blessing! And if you do it to hide the white, that’s okay, too. I’m not judging you with this opinion. Just do it for yourself—not another person and not society.
I’m a Redhead
Having auburn tresses, I swore that unlike my sisters I would—such wisdom—side with our prematurely white-haired brother. The sisters started hiding their disappearing brunette tones in their early twenties. I would let my hair go as light and white as it wanted whenever it choose to.
My Vanity Caved Under Peer Pressure
I turned 39 and kept hearing you know you have a lot of gray hair. These comments came mostly from men—some of them bald. The warrior in me wanted to retort that at least I had hair, but I held my wicked tongue. Why?
Once I succumbed to outside influences dictating what I should look like and started coloring, I felt condemned to continue. Was I doomed to color? Not for the external pleasure of being a redhead, but to thwart those calculating my age based on the white?
Growing up hating my hair, I wished it would magically turn brunette like my parents, my siblings, many cousins. The sole red head in the Griffith clan, I was an anomaly. I suffered an abundance of abuse for being colorfully different. As if a freckle-covered, skinny kid with Lauren Hutton-parted front teeth needed one more thing to be different about?
Rebelling Against Vanity
Somewhere in my late teens, maybe college, I gave up conforming and chose to appreciate my hair and freckles. I felt different on the inside, shaping collegiate life to my creation, it was time to embrace the outside appearance.
People provided lifelong comments on my hair. From old ladies touching it when I was five, asking Mom, where did she get such gorgeous hair? To a few years ago when a lovely elderly woman stopped to say how beautiful my hair was. She was at least 80 and said she’d tried three times to get my shade of red. Hers was Kool-Aid purple and she was carrying it off with panache.
Once acceptance began and the decades of my life passed, I grew to embrace being a redhead. I could have been a calendar with the various shades my locks became over the seasons—lighter in the summer, darker auburn in the autumn. The same way my freckles fade in the winter months and get more pronounced at the height of sunny July.
Red Hair is Simply Different
When Jackie and I traveled in Italy, Celtic-looking me was given double takes by more than one handsome Italian man. We figured it was my long, flowing, curly and totally unmanageable auburn hair that caught their attention. Red hair makes you stand out whether you want to or not—especially in a sea of iridescent black hair.
Even with many women now going red in all it’s glorious multiple hues, natural red is still unique. Growing up I had Raquel Welch and Ann-Margret—curvaceous women unlike myself. We also had henna-using Lucille Ball, but most identified her with I Love Lucy, not her elegant early-film self. Now redheads are abundant on the television and throughout the movies.
Reaching the end of my fifties, I find myself feeling differently about every aspect of my bodily self. I’ve worked out at least five days a week from 1993 (a broken almost-collarbone and the physical therapy made me start). Working to stave off osteoporosis and jiggles in the wrong places, I’ve never been without a workout discipline for long. Pilates, a gym, FitnessGlo, Fitbit, weight bench, and the elliptical (I started carrying a 23-pound backpack while using it!). I’m still wearing clothes from that 2007 Italy trip. But my body parts have rearranged themselves into some other form.
What Does That Have to do With the Vanity of Hair
We women are judged daily by what we are on the outside. Women are led to believe that unless we dye our hair, we’ll look old. Yet haven’t you seen the opposite to be true? I can’t speak for women with darker skin than freckled me, but aging made dark hair noticeable against my paleness. Maybe lightening the color shaves five years off our age.
When watching TV, sometimes I literally fly off the chair in anger. Women are bombarded with anorexic, but bra-filling Victoria’s Secret models, with thirty-year olds advertising wrinkle removal creams, hair products to cure every one of our tress-problems, inserts to keep our stilettos (ouch) comfortable (like that’s possible?), mascara that is sure to lengthen our lashes enough that HE will notice us, and shows featuring women wearing cleavage revealing blouses (CSI Miami was notorious for this), Ally McBeal mini-skirts in court (she was the first of too many), doctors (Code Black), and nurses (Chicago Med) wearing nail polish, an EMT (Code Black) with long hair that she leaves untethered, constantly flouncing around—a pony tail while on a call, no pony tail when they get out of the ambulance at the hospital. What an insult to women!
When there’s a normal-bodied woman on the TV—British more than American—I raise my hand and shout, Thank you!
I Could Continue, but I Sense You Get the Picture
Women are paid less than men for the same work—the last survey I read was .79 to the dollar. Yet men only have to buy shaving cream, razors, and deodorant and they’re good to go. They don’t worry about us checking their eyelash length or determining that their butt looks overly large in their trousers. Men don’t think about their nail polish—toes and fingers—matching their shoes-purse-belt-earrings-scarf. They throw on a shirt, a tie if we’re lucky, shoes, khakis, and they’re out the door.
Again, you ask, what does that have to do with the vanity of my hair?
I got tired, reaching the enough is enough point. The world wore me out. Did I put eye shadow on correctly, is my lipstick smeared, or does my butt look big in my Levis.
There is so much more I’m concerned about these days than my appearance. God and whether I’m getting my act together so that he’ll welcome me into heaven some day. Tending to my friends and my family. Do they know how much I love them? Writing, getting published, and earning money,.Alex and everything that goes with having a husband in my life. Ethics and morality in our country, world peace, suicide bombers, and wars going on too long in the Middle East. Damaged children carrying guns into our schools as a solution to real or imagined problems…. So much to think about.
Basal Cancer Strikes Again
Cancer–what away to erode vanity. This was my second bout with basal cancer. This one caused a dime-sized hole to be cut—Mohs surgery style—above my right eyebrow in my hair.
I looked in the mirror and studied the older face looking back at me. There are crows feet and new skin around my jaw. I said aloud, enough is enough. Time to let my hair fade from fake red to whatever it is underneath the colors I’ve added.
I spent an afternoon going through the color-stripping process with my delightful stylist and friend, Dawn Sartori. We laughed as the various stages and colors came to light and wondered what the end result would be. It began its slow evolution to these shades I’m sporting now. I gave her free reign to whack it off, simply cover up the Mohs hole.
The last time I was there Dawn commented that, “Most people have their original hair color with streaks of white in it. You have white/silver/gray/black with streaks of red in it.” The auburn tresses are still a part of who I am—inside and out.
I’ve been getting curious reactions from people as I’ve let my hair go from its fake auburn to its natural whatever colors these are on my head.
Learning to say: I used to be a redhead
Changing this phrase has knocked a lot of vanity out of me. I am becoming what I am right now instead of thinking about what I was yesterday. It’s refreshing to relish the changes life is giving me and letting go of my past.
In my driver’s license photo, my hair is red and cut in a pixie. With its white, silver, strawberry blond, black, red and shoulder length, I’ve wondered how much I still look like me. TSA had no issue with my un-matching picture. But when I renewed my library card, the woman with lovely highlights in her brown hair exclaimed, “This is you?” I was stumped for a witty comeback when she made added, “You look so much younger now.”
Which is something I keep hearing.
And words that keep me laughing.
So Jackie said when she first saw this version of me. All along she’d begged me to continue with auburn, being used to seeing me that way for fifty plus years. During our June trip to Wales, looking at our photos each evening, she remarked how good the current colors look. I grinned, not feeling the least bit vain, dear Carly … well, okay just a tad.