'The repercussions of going grey weren't immediately obvious ...'

The consequence of my decision to quit was not immediately obvious.

It wasn’t like I’d slammed the door on a career or stopped smoking or anything significantly life-changing and admirable. Mine was a determined decision to join a different tribe of women.

The motivation was to seek to be more authentic, to be confident, without the need to present a younger version of me. My goal has taken more than a year to achieve, but I’ve done it.

Grey hair. No dye.

Author Amanda Berry.

Several incentives propelled me along this path. The expense and time commitment to maintain a certain hair colour were obvious reasons, but they were not why I quit.

Several years ago, I changed hairdressers ... virtually a crime. But we’d moved, so I had an excuse. I was able to escape the eye-watering chemicals that I needed to steel myself to endure. Stinging, weeping eyes were the price to pay for the compliments and attention that a new colour and style brought.

My new hairdresser, to whom I have remained faithful now for many years, suggested streaks. Partial colour avoided the horror of dark roots and regrowth. This process had clearly been developed as an instrument of torture to determine just how much pain a woman was willing to endure for vanity.

With a headache-inducing, too-tight, holey swimming cap firmly in place, I was then pecked, as if by a couple of magpies, to remove evenly spaced tufts of hair. My head looked like a closely-examined Barbie doll’s scalp.

Helen Mirren.

Less toxic products were then applied and I settled back with a magazine and a cup of tea. It was blissful to have time to myself, until my personalised timer went off.

Streaking is now done with sections of hair folded in aluminium foil and the dye applied with a paintbrush. Less painful, certainly, but somewhat humiliating, looking like I should be baked at the end of that process, or join the set of a space-age sitcom.

I do miss certain aspects of more regular visits to the salon … the heavenly head massages most of all. I miss the friendly chit-chat and local gossip.

I have forsaken the celebrity magazines and the chance to be horrified at what people will do to themselves, succumbing to cosmetic surgery and botox, in the pursuit of beauty and eternal youth. I miss the opportunity to talk about myself.

Hairdressers definitely undergo psychology training, in addition to the artistic techniques of hairdressing. They make you feel special, as well as doing your hair.

Judi Dench in the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

These are all things I am prepared to give up. My bleached and lifeless hair has gradually grown soft and shiny, with a gentle curl. I had forgotten what my healthy hair felt like.

With luck, I am ageing gracefully rather than ‘letting myself go’. I am old enough now not to worry about what other people think. I have earned this grey hair, along with the lines on my face.

This is the real me.

This post originally appeared on the ABC and was republished here with full permission. Amanda Berry is a regular contributor to ABC Open who lives in Scone, NSW, and works as a casual primary school teacher.  She started going grey last year. Amanda’s story was originally published as part of ABC Open’s writing project, “500 Words: I Quit”. 

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