Tuesday, 4 February 2020

I am going grey, goddammit, not into a nursing home

Such a youthful brown haired person. 
Part One

For years I pretended that my hair was dark brown.  How well you are looking, people would say to me, and how young.  Oh, I would say, surely not!  And inside I would feel smug.

This delighted me for a long time, and every six weeks I made appointments at the hairdressers to keep up the show.  Not a single grey hair, and a very clever mingling of high lights into the brown as I got older so that the original dark brown did not clash with my skin as I gently aged.  It did not occur to me that I could have grey hair, or white hair, and there was a wonderful disconnect between my age and hair colour, and that of my friends who were as old as me and their naturally grey and white hair.  That was them, and this was me.

Can I be like you, Miriam? x
There was a great deal invested in keeping my image going as an energetic, creative and youthful fifty eight year old.  When someone showed surprised that I dyed my hair, on the one hand I was surprised that they were surprised - they must surely realise that someone my age couldn't have no grey hairs at all, and on the other hand it affirmed my decision to be brown haired and full of youthful bloom.  I did not exactly articulate it like that, part of the deal was that I did not think too deeply about what I was doing, and it did not matter really, in the great scheme of things.  But I would not have liked the idea of keeping a youthful bloom, because that would have conflicted with me being happy with ageing, and not into the "being young and beautiful" thing.  After all, I do not wear make up at all (except for lipstick.  And later, eyebrow pencil when Eileen pointed out that my eyebrows had disappeared.)  So actually, already, I wasn't really the spring chicken I liked to think I was.

Then I turned fifty nine and I visited my friend Deb on her houseboat.  Deb greeted me in the hot August sunshine from the deck of her boat, happy and brown, with a head of glorious naturally sun bleached white hair.  I am older than Deb.  She looked utterly fabulous.  Damn, I thought, it is time.  I want to take off my brown hat and put on a white one.

And Deb didn't look old!  She just looked like Deb.  I was actually jealous.

Part Two

I began to look at my friends who had unashamedly grey and white hair.  I had not really noticed before, but each of them looked lovely and their hair colour was nothing to do with it.  These ladies, I thought, had it sussed all along.  They did not look young, but they did not look old either.  They looked like themselves, and I began to tot up the amount of money I would save by not going to have my hair wrapped in foils and thick brown gunk for a whole afternoon every six weeks.  Millions of pounds, I thought.  Millions.

(A small word here about my excellent hairdressers over the years.  They do a wonderful job, they have made me very happy and I salute their hairdressing skills.  They only did what I asked, and did it brilliantly.)

I am going grey!  I told my friendly psychic hairdresser, Craig.  I am going grey I told all my friends, and then, I waited.  I stared hard at the mirror, trying to imagine what I would look like as an old lady.

Back, mother. 
A long, slow five months later, there is only about two inches of white around my face and two inches of grey on the rest of my head.  The rest is still a jolly all-over brown.  If I put my fringe back, I am a different person.  Then, I am white haired.  If I take the hair clips out, remove the headband, I am brown again.  The grey growing out at my roots does not show too much, it is only the white hair around my forehead and temples that is so different. When  Psychic Craig finally cuts off the last of the brown, I will have to think about what look to go for now.  This is taking a huge amount of time, and I simply have to wait and let my hair grow out at its own pace which feels like an eighth of an inch every six years.

The problem is, when I pull back my fringe, I look like my mother.

This leads onto part three.

Part Three.

Don't make me into my mother.
I know.  You can hardly see it. 
And this is a very nice photo, you
can't see the lipstick on my teeth or
the nail varnish on my tights.

The psychological journey while growing out dyed hair and embracing the white and grey has been a surprise.  Nothing changes, I tell myself but actually, much does change.  In surrendering to my natural hair colour at the age of fifty nine I am bound to be confronted with my own ageing.  With this has come a re-evaluation of who I am.  There is a real sadness about parting with how I have looked for so many years, and letting go of the youthful bloom that a head of carefully maintained brown hair has given me.  In keeping the dye going, I was stalling the moment when I would have to recognise that I am older now. Waiting for the rest of my hair to grow out, I feel stuck between two identities.  I can still keep my brown hair near my face and look as I always have looked, until the wind blows it just a little bit and then the white come out.  Then I wonder if I look like someone who is trying to hide her real hair colour and not able to afford to cover it up.  Or the sort of person who smudges her lipstick onto her teeth and doesn't care and goes out with holes in her tights with bits of nail polish to stop the laddering.

I am transitioning into a new version of myself.  When I look in the mirror with my hair taken back and all the white hair showing around my forehead and temples, with no lipstick or eyebrow pencil, I see my mother looking back at me.  Begone Mother! I say.  I want to be me! But there is a long slow re emerging of me, and I have no idea of what that will be.  And actually, my mother was a very chic, well dressed and beautiful old lady who had white wavy hair that looked like a Mr Whippy ice cream. She was known for it.
Grace Jones as me.

I will be sixty in August.  By then this slightly depressing growing out of my brown hair to my new white and grey hair will be done.  I am not my mother, but I do still look like her.  I do not have to buy navy jumpers and matching navy slacks with sensible shoes, I can continue to shop in Oxfam and go for the 1970 geography teacher look that I like so much.  I can continue to wear sparkly Indian type skirts and look like a gypsy.  Or can I? I have no idea of how I will actually look, so it is all a bit uncertain. I will just have to get through this and have fun at the other end.  I may choose to look like Grace Jones.
Part Four

I will go back to see Deb in August in the hot sun, on her boat, and let it all hang out.  I am sixty in August, and even if I go looking like Miriam Margolyes it won't matter.  Goddammit, I am going grey, not into a nursing home.  Move over mother, there's a revolution brewing.

The revolution.  Me, Mum and all my friends. 

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  1. Welcome to the club!!!! xxxxxxxx

  2. Wonderful! I've been 'Platinum blonde'& proud for 6 yrs now - saved a fortune & really embrace mh natural colour after 25 yrs of tinting! You will look naturally buddhaful too 😘

  3. Antonia, you are the most beautiful 50-something woman I know, whether brown or Mr Whippy colour. Personally I much prefer the latter look anyway. T’is classy & chic. X

  4. I so understand what it is like to look into the mirror for the first time when your mother looks back at you! I like to look at my darling mother in photographs not in the mirror! I must say I still haven't quite got used to it so I will be interested to read how you get on..
    By the way I personally love your new look. Your mother was a beautiful women who grew into old age with such gentle grace. Wonderful genes Antonia!