This year I took the plunge; just before turning 60, I gave in to old hair.
I was inspired by Janet Weil whose essay on going gray was one of WOW’s most popular posts in 2016. My story is of course a bit different. A history of my hair would go something like this.
Long braids with plaid bows tied to them lasted through kindergarten in Maine but fell to the scissors when we moved to Los Angeles. The “pixie” cut angered me but my mother insisted; ironically, it’s precisely the style I returned to this year.
As a teenager I let my hair grow and grow. We were letting our freak flags fly, remember? Of course it looked much more revolutionary on my brother than on me.
In college I succumbed to a fashionable layered shag. This required a lot of blow drying and I couldn’t keep up. Later a French “gamine” cut took years to grow out and as I was traveling in Asia I wore it tied up in a cloth most of the time.
A bad perm in Tokyo burned my henna-protected hair and for a while I had a bob with frizzy ends. I was pregnant anyway so hair was not a big priority.
Back to Los Angeles. This time I willingly chopped it short to keep the sweaty strands off my neck. Continued nudging my natural color toward auburn with henna and, as more hard to color gray came in, commercial dye. Every once in a while I went platinum just for the fun of it.
Began wearing a towering pink wig for political street theatre. Got in the paper and on TV a lot looking like Marge Simpson but carrying peace and justice messages. Let my hair go gray underneath.
Succumbed to family pressure to stop looking so old and began letting professionals dye my hair a light shade of auburn that covers gray well.
Also started growing my hair out and was surprised at how long it could still get, reaching halfway down my back. Chopped it to shoulder length as it took an eternity to dry. Let others flat iron it into “good hair” i.e. shiny and sleek. Began noticing that my wrinkled neck, crows feet and saggy jaw line did not match my hair. (And never would.)
Fast forward to Easter 2016. I’m in a hotel with family and we’ve already been to the pool twice. I’ve washed, dried and ironed my hair back from a matted snarl when my 11 year old grandson says, “Let’s go swimming again!” My first thought: But I just did my hair! My second thought: Screw that! If my hair is standing in the way of saying “yes” to an invitation to play with the grandkids, it’s time to lose the high maintenance hair.
My grown children have adjusted to my new old look well, and teasing that my husband and I now have the same hair style doesn’t faze me.
Unexpected consequence: I work with adolescents, and they respect my authority more than they did when I still looked like their mom. Now I look more like their meme whom they defy at their peril.
Another unexpected consequence: A fall hat is a necessity, not a fashion item.
I’m lucky to have been alive when women embraced self-definition amid multiple choices rather than rigid gender requirements. Also lucky to have had parents who did not focus on their daughter’s appearance. They communicated that what was under my hair was more important.
Now I’ve learned that a wise heart is much more important than either intellect or appearance. I’m happy to look like a grandmother, because elder women work to uphold life all over the planet. I’m blessed to be on this team and not have hair that gets in the way.
Lisa Savage is a political activist, educator and author. She leads the Maine Natural Guard campaign and blogs at Went 2 the Bridge.
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