How many baby boomers learned about vanity, perhaps hearing the word for the first time, from Carly Simon’s 1972 hit, You’re so Vain?
One of the most notable lines in a song full of them is, “You probably think this song is about you, don’t you?” When we’re being honest, we each in some aspect or another have a touch of inner-absorption. Most of us aren’t like the ex-lover Carly is singing about (long purported to be Warren Beatty), staring at ourselves in every mirror (I’ll admit to the occasional shop window self-assessment) we pass or taking our Learjet to Nova Scotia, although seeing a total eclipse of the sun from that location would be grand.
I don’t want to be conceited, but ceasing that sometimes egocentric act many older women succumb to proved to be more difficult than I thought: stop coloring my hair.
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.
While my tresses were still vibrantly auburn, I swore that unlike my sisters who started to hide their disappearing brunette tones in their early twenties, I would—so brilliant in my wisdom—side with my prematurely white-haired brother and let my hair go as light and white as it wanted whenever it choose to.
Then came the year I turned 39 when I caved under the pressure of, you know you have a lot of gray hair, comments 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.
Once I succumbed to outside influences dictating what I should look like at this age and stage of my life and started coloring, I felt condemned to continue. I thought I was doomed to retain my auburn image—not only for the external pleasure of being a redhead, but also to thwart those calculating my age based on the white.
Growing up hating my hair, I often wished it would magically turn coal black like my parents, my siblings, some of my cousins. As the sole red head in the entire Griffith clan, I was an anomaly and one that 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?
Somewhere in my late teens, maybe into college, I gave up any notion of conforming and chose instead to indulge in liking my red hair and freckles. After all, I was feeling mighty different on the inside as I molded collegiate life to my own creation, it was time to embrace the outside appearance as well.
Being a redhead from birth, I’ve had people providing lifelong comments on my hair from the old ladies who used to reach out to touch it when I was five, asking Mom, where did she get such gorgeous hair? To just a few years ago when a lovely elderly woman in the grocery store stopped me 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.
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.
Red is simply different.
Even with many women now going red in all it’s glorious multiple hues, natural red is still unique. When I grew up there was Raquel Welch, Ann-Margret, and henna-using Lucille Ball, most identifying with her I Love Lucy version and 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-the-collarbone and the ensuing 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 2007, but my body parts have rearranged themselves into some other form.
What does that bit of rant have to do with 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 and yet haven’t you seen the opposite to be true? I can’t speak for women with darker skin tones than freckled me, but the older I got, the more noticeable I felt with dark red hair shocking against my pale face. I’m not saying women should stop coloring their hair, but try lightening it a bit. I’ll bet you shave five years off your 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!
I could go on, but I sense you get the picture.
When there’s a normal-bodied woman on the screen—British shows provide this rare sight far more than American TV—I raise my hand in triumph and say, Thank you for that one!
Women are still 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 have to worry about us women checking their eyelash length, crow’s feet, or determining that their butt looks overly large in their trousers. They don’t have to 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 particular rant have to do with my hair?
I got tired. I reached the enough is enough point. I got worn out with wondering if I put my eye shadow on correctly, if my lipstick smeared, or if my butt did 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, does my family 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.
Then came the latest bout with basal cancer causing 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, seeing the crows feet at my eyes, the new skin around my jaw, and said aloud: enough is enough. Time to let it go, let my hair fade from fake red to whatever it is underneath the colors I’ve added.
Eighteen months ago, 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’m getting the biggest kick out of the shades I see.
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.
I have learned to say: I used to be a redhead.
I am becoming what I am right now instead of thinking about what I was yesterday, relishing 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 current white, silver, strawberry blond, black, red—you get the idea—shoulder length, I’ve been wondering how much I still look like me. While TSA had no issue with my un-matching picture, when I went to renew my library card, the woman with multiple lovely highlights on her head of brown hair exclaimed, “This is you?” I was stumped for a witty comeback when she made her comeback by adding, “You look so much younger now.”
Which is something I keep hearing.
And words that keep me laughing.
And so Jackie said when she first saw this version of me. All along she’d kept begging me to continue with my original shade of auburn, being used to seeing me that way for fifty plus years. During our June trip to Wales, as we looked at our daily array of 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.