[Note: This post, in a slightly different form, appeared previously in my other blog, “Tightly Wrapped.” Since this blog has basically turned into that blog, I am in the process of moving everything worth saving over here. I apologize if you’ve seen this before; in response to an impassioned comment from my friend Claudia on the original posting, I am not, as of now, a white-haired crone and I do not have a stylish geriatric “do”].
For women of a certain age, hair becomes an issue. When I was a child, my hair was cut into a blunt bob until I was old enough to beg for long hair. Despite my ineffectual use of a brush, it was a look that worked for me in elementary school. In high school, I affected the same Farrah Fawcett wings of hair worn by every other girl in my school, and during my years as a young professional woman I had a “Rachel.” In between, I flirted with layers, grew out layers, straightened, permed, highlighted, and bleached. At one point during college I had a somewhat bizarre asymmetrical cut, and a failed blonde-ing which resulted in hair the same color as an apricot.
To my surprise, my hair is now getting old. It is turning not gray, but actually white, and this alien old lady hair is growing in at both temples and along my part. A Hair Care Professional has informed me that I have a number of options, including highlights to blend the gray, or all-over permanent color to cover the gray. (White hair, for some mysterious reason, is always referred to as “gray” in this context). Both of these choices involve large sums of money, standing appointments for maintenance, special color-preserving shampoos, and large-denomination Pottery Barn gift certificates at Christmas for all stylists, colorists and wandering hand massagers. They also involve the cycle of colored hair characterized by three days of too much color, two weeks of great color, and four weeks during which the color fades daily until it looks wrung out and drab. This last stage is, of course, followed by the shock of newly applied color, which makes one’s hair appear to be seven shades darker or two shades blonder than it was only hours earlier.
I liked the idea of hair color when it was optional, but I bitterly resent the notion that I “should” color it to obscure signs of advancing age. I admire women with beautiful gray or white hair, like Heloise or the model in the J.Jill catalogs whose beautiful, young faces contrast stunningly with their, long silver hair. The problem is that my hair isn’t silver, it is reddish brown with white bits at the temples and near the part. It looks very much like a bathtub with hideous rust stains. Currently, I color it with temporary color that washes out in twenty-four shampoos (or, more accurately, it washes out in about fourteen shampoos and I get around to re-doing it at twenty-four), and leaves big dark stains on my pink bath towels. Every twenty-four shampoos I reevaluate whether I should let it go white, have it professionally colored, or go another twenty-four and see if I have a hair-related epiphany. So far, I have gotten as far as making and canceling two appointments at the salon, and buying one more box of temporary color.
Coupled with the issue of color, is one of length and style. My mother, a former Wellesley girl, has a number of rules regarding a woman’s appearance. Prohibitions include tattoos and piercings of any kind, “vulgar” amounts of gold jewelry, and long hair on women “of a certain age.” (When she really gets on my nerves, I remind her that in her day, Wellesley girls rolled hoops once a year). I believe myself to have passed that age about two years ago, but I cannot bring myself to get either the short, wash-and-wear “old lady” cut or, the longer and slightly fluffier variation, the “fat lady” cut. I am also avoiding the “suburban mommy cut,” which generally involves long layers that can be tucked behind the ears. I have had this cut in the past, and it actually looks pretty good, but makes me feel vaguely Stepford. Add beige highlights and a pair of khaki Capri pants and I’m interchangeable with every mom at the grocery store.
At the moment, my hair is growing past my shoulders, an awkward amalgam of ancient layers, split ends and seasonal frizz and curl. Last summer I let it get grayer and grayer, and allowed it to curls as it saw fit. Right now it is long, pretty much reddish brown, and straight. One day, I may see a magazine picture, or have a conversation, or see someone on the street, and be seized by the sudden, desperate need for a haircut and highlights. In the alternative, I may wake up one morning at peace with the decision to be permanently finished with coloring and “styling.” For now, I am looking a little suburban, a little Lady Godiva (although always fully dressed in public), and a bit confused.