The importance of being gray

by Lorin Michel Thursday, March 24, 2011 9:28 PM

I have very dark hair. I have since I was a little girl, though I didn’t actually have hair until I was just over the age of one. I had a simple little curl tuft on top of my head. I looked like a bird. But once it came in, it came in dark and wavy. I got bored in my 30s and tried to go on the red side. It didn’t work for me. Then I went blonde, not bleached blonde, but very light, light brown with bleached highlights that made me look blonde. I liked it very much, especially in the summertime, but the upkeep was difficult because my roots were so dark. If I let it go too long between colorings, I ran the risk of looking like a reverse skunk.

I had gone from Tweety to Pepé Le Pew.

I eventually got bored with being blonde and went back to my natural color, and decided it was a much better shade on me. There’s a reason we have the hair color we do.

Lately, I’ve noticed some gray popping up here and there, mostly visible along my natural part line when my hair is wet, not so much when it’s dry because of that wavy/curly thing. But my right temple is where I notice it the most. It’s very odd and I have a theory that involves the whole right brain/left brain phenomenon. Because I tend to be more creative than not, I’m considered to function primarily from my right brain. And since that side gets so much more work, and stress, the hair is grayer.

Gray hair happens to just about everyone, which is why most women are so thankful for hair color. My college roommate had very dark hair, darker than mine, bordering on black. She had a lot of gray even when we were in school. About once a month, we’d get ourselves a bottle of wine and some nice bright light, and as we drank, I’d find the grays and pull them out. It wasn’t very efficient, but it did temporarily get rid of those nasty little white hairs that were twisting through her beautiful dark tresses.

She’s since given up entirely and is completely gray. I say, more power to her. But give me my hair color any day.

Gray hair is a natural occurrence, especially since all hair starts out as white. It gets its natural color from melanin, the production of which begins at birth. There is either dark or light, and they blend together to form a wide range of natural shades. As hair grows, melanin-based pigment cells called melanocytes inject color into each individual hair. As we age, melanin production is reduced, and hair turns gray and eventually back to white.

Having a teenager may also be to blame, but that’s just a theory as well.

For some reason, gray hair symbolizes old, but what is old? Is it really a function of hair color? Is it the lines around the eyes? The aches and pains that didn’t used to be there? A particular state of mind? Probably all.

Last year, when Sandra Bullock won the academy award for The Blind Side, the running meme was how incredible it was that she had won at 45. Because evidently 45 is very old. This year, when Colin Firth won for best actor for The King’s Speech, at 50, no one said anything about his age.

Interestingly both of them have lovely dark hair, with hardly a hint of gray.

Personally, my gray hair doesn’t bother me. I’m a bit intrigued by the graying temple. I still cover it all once every 5 or 6 weeks. Not sure why, other than the fact that I can. And I suppose because I don’t want to look older than I am, or certainly older than I feel.

I celebrate my gray hair. I’ve earned it; it’s important to have it. It symbolizes a basic human truth and wonder. But I’m a brunette, since I was one, and I also plan to celebrate that for quite some time to come.

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