First of all, I can already answer the question, “Will I be a mother with gray hair?” because I already am. I’m a mom with white hairs. There are enough now that although I can hide them when my hair is down, I can’t when it is up.
For some people, asking a question like this is of no consequence, just evidence of vanity and the refusal to acknowledge the passing of time, the beauty of aging, and the wonder of the body. For other people, this question can be answered with a command: dye your hair, you idiot. I don’t know what I want to do yet and I think about it every day.
My mother’s grandmother didn’t dye her hair and when she became a grandmother, she looked like a woman who was not trying to disguise her age. Growing up, we had a few photos hanging on our walls of ancient grandmothers on both sides of the family, none of whom seemed to give a shit about whether they looked their age or whether they should smile for the photographer. (They didn’t.)
It’s refreshing to think of them now with their placid – and in one case dour – expressions and their simple blouses. The fact that they were sitting down alone when they were photographed, not showing off a grandchild or grinning on command, is bracing.
But my grandmothers did dye their hair, well into their late seventies, and shopped at the Estee Lauder makeup counter. They sometimes showed lipstick on their teeth when smiling for pictures. I’ve certainly never seen anything but seamlessly colored hair on either of my son’s grandmothers’ heads.
I live in Park Slope, which means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but I do find myself comforted to see slivers of white dusting the hair of other mothers of young children or to see entirely gray heads belonging to moms less than a decade older than I am.
Reading this, it might sound fairly apparent to you that I would like to let my hair go gray, as they say, and I’m pretty sure that’s true. Hair coloring is expensive and time-consuming and, as someone who gets exhausted by more than two minutes of blow-drying, sounds like a lot of work.
But the tricky part is, I don’t just write; I’m also a sometimes actor who sometimes auditions for commercials. Because I still look like I’m in my late (real late) twenties, gray hair doesn’t fit me yet and it doesn’t match the kinds of ads I read copy for. So maybe there’s my answer, maybe professional necessity ought to dictate my aesthetic choices for the time being. And maybe it will, as the strands without color slowly outnumber the dark ones.
Actually, let’s hold on a second. If studies actually show that by 30 years old, gray hairs are likely appearing on your scalp only to multiply as the years go on (depending on your country of origin), why shouldn’t we see people my age in commercials with wisps of gray in their hair? Why must we so quickly and frantically cover up the gray?
A friend of mine told me that even women who let their hair go gray or white still get salon treatments to make it shiny because hair with no pigment doesn’t look as pretty as the hair of our youth. Wait, really? Isn’t that just an idea we – cough, cough, hair color companies – have about how we should look as we get older?
Being young is great and also terrible, and so is growing up and getting older, but in different ways. I’m still so green on my own aging journey, so what do I know about how I’ll feel about my looks in 10 or 20 years. All I know is that right now, I don’t feel like dyeing my hair. I don’t feel like trying to look the way I did five years ago. I don’t feel like pretending I’m not 34 years old. I know I am so, so lucky to be 34 years old and to have lived this long. There are plenty of women who have not.
So maybe soon you’ll see someone like me on your television, handing a yogurt to her kid or rolling her eyes about somebody’s disaster of a room. Or maybe you’ll look in the mirror tomorrow and see a gray hair and instead of saying, “ugh,” you, like Frances McDormand, will remind yourself that it is just part of the map of your own wonderful, peculiar, beautiful life so far.