No matter what your hair’s color, condition, or lack thereof, what’s on top of your head can become an issue as we age. Men want to keep it, women (and men) feel compelled to dye that gray away, and all of us are unpleasantly surprised to find hairs growing in new and strange places. (“Where did that come from!” a female friend shouted in horror, pointing to a wiry black hair growing out of her shoulder blade.)
We’re often reminded that life is about the journey, not the destination, but not all parts of our life cycle are equally lauded by society. As Americans, we’re pretty judgmental about aging and the telltale signs of it—Number 1 being our gray hair. Silver strands were once seen as a symbol of wisdom and power, but in the 20th century the perception shifted from respecting and appreciating the wisdom and experience that earned us gray hair to wondering how we can best maintain a fountain-of-youth appearance. The $83 billion hair-care industry thanks us!
Aging brings us changing hormones, retirement revelations, and weird body anomalies, plus the pressure to dye to stay relevant and employable. When my father’s hair went completely white at 45, it wasn’t an accident that he was replaced with a spry 30-something. The experience spurred him to start his own consulting business, but he never forgot the sting, and for a time dyed his hair brown.
Recently, Huffington Post posted photos of “our favorite people” who are embracing silver hair, including celebrities (all were men, I noted) and everyday people (one woman). At the same time, many Millennials have embraced gray hair as a fashion choice. What’s going on?
“A young face can get away with anything, even that awful matte gray finish without any shine,” celebrity hair colorist Jo Hansford told The Guardian. “It works as a trend because it’s fun and temporary, and they know they can move on.” Yet older female celebs including Helen Mirren and Jamie Lee Curtis look glamorous and sexy with gray locks, just as many men who go gray get a “silver fox” reputation.
Like most of us, I want to step in and embrace all that comes with the aging process, but I admit I’ve been a perpetual hair dyer for decades. Bleach and tone have been my hair’s mantra, and from punk pink to chartreuse, I’ve hosted a rainbow ’round my shoulders. Yet not long ago, when gray went vogue, my hairdresser convinced me to let my “natural gray” grow out. I was so proud of my silvery locks, I made the silly mistake of telling people I was going to stay natural forever.
That lasted for exactly two haircut cycles, at which point my hair reverted to its Slavic roots and curled into one big Marge Simpson frizz ball on top of my head. In an attempt to please both my hairdresser and myself, I dyed just the top purple for a cycle. The next time, much to the dismay of my wife, Julie, I went all purple. After that, and with a smile, I went back to my blonde roots. Frankly, I’m convinced blondes do have more fun—especially in my case because who has ever spiked a curl? No one. The truth is, my hair is part of my brand: bold, bright, and colorful.
I’ve wondered if men worried about aging as it relates to their hair, so I began polling those unlucky enough to sit beside me on the plane. All said they don’t want to lose their hair, but those who have often shave their heads to feel “more hip.” Most of them have let their beards or goatees grow and go gray, but it’s clear that worrying about our aging looks cuts across gender lines.
Looks like until our Western society values its older members for the experience and wisdom we bring, the status of our hair as a cue for instant value judgment seems destined to continue. But that shouldn’t stop us for bucking the status quo. Recently I had to buy a couple of wigs for a show I was in. That was so much fun, I realized I was going to keep them around and wear them as an everyday fashion accessories.
Why not? Why not have fun with your hair? You’re old enough to do what you want, when you want. There are plenty of us who will be right beside you cheering you on (or willing to loan you a wig or two).
Patti Dobrowolski, author of Drawing Solutions: How Visual Goal Setting Will Change Your Life, is founder of Up your Creative Genius, a consulting firm that uses visuals and creative processes to help companies and individuals around the world make powerful and positive change. A critically acclaimed comic performer, internationally recognized keynote speaker, writer and business consultant, she has brought innovative visual practices to Fortune 500 companies, NGOs and small businesses. Her TEDx talks Draw Your Future and Imagination Changes Everything have inspired hundreds of thousands of people around the