Grey hair. Why does it matter?

This is the photo that Louise’s husband took

‘Does anyone else really care if your roots aren’t done?’

That was what my husband said to me the other day. I had to have a new photo taken for my publisher. She needed one of those author photos, pronto, for the back of my new book. ‘But I haven’t had my hair done for months’, I protested. ‘I’ve got that skunk thing happening on the top of my head, and the greys are all growing around my temples!’

‘Stop being so vain!’ M chided me as he whipped out our digital camera – although I had a sneaking suspicion that he just didn’t want me to spend any more money at the hairdressers. ‘Just give me a big cheesy smile and I bet you a hundred to one, no one will even notice your hair!’

Well, maybe he’s right, I thought, as M took a close-up shot of my head. Maybe I am being vain about my hair and maybe, for the sake of the sisterhood, it’s time to take one for the team. After all, I don’t believe that we all have to be perfect. I’m a real person. I’m forty-two years old. I wear reading glasses, I have three kids, I’m slightly overweight, and according to my latest Oprah mag, I have ‘cankles’ where my ankles should be.

But I also have a big confession to make. For all that I value authenticity, I am a bit precious about my hair. I’ve been dying it since I turned thirty because that’s when they began to appear. They being the grey hairs – which are actually white hairs – as my hairdresser once calmly informed me, each one produced when the pigment cells in that hair follicle irreversibly shut down.

The greying process can begin surprisingly early. It’s not unheard of to go grey in your twenties, or even earlier. But, apparently, there’s no going back once the greys start to come in. Then, the only feasible solution is a bottle of hair colour.

Not that I have a problem with looking like a grandmother – when I am a grandmother, which I’m not! It’s only that all those grey hairs keep reminding me that I’m straddling the bridge between youth and old age.

M says I’m just not brave enough to challenge the dominant youth obsessed culture. And, in a way, I know he’s right. Because it’s true, isn’t it? We live in a society that sidelines women who actually seem to look their age. Why else would we have a burgeoning cosmetic surgery industry in Australia? Why else would regular Botox injections be as acceptable to the women of our generation as the jars of Pond’s cold cream were to the women in the generations before? It’s all to do with the ageism inherent in our society, which brings me back, in a roundabout way, to colouring my hair…

Photo taken by Tasmin from Lightbox Studios in The Valley, Brisbane after a bottle of hair dye was used

M’s hair hasn’t gone grey yet and how’s that for injustice? Because what does it matter if a man has grey hair? Grey haired men look distinguished, don’t they? Just think George Clooney. He’s grey and he’s delicious! But name me a beautiful woman, who is happy to flaunt her grey hairs?

Okay, I hear you, already… How about, Helen Mirren, Judy Dench and Meryl Streep?

I do have a problem with my grey hairs. But, since M had somehow managed to convince me that my vanity about my hair was not actually a virtue, I downloaded the photographs he’d taken onto my computer (dark roots and greys showing) and sent them away off to my publisher with a sigh and a prayer.

My publisher didn’t take long to get back to me but I’m not sure that she quite knew what to say. ‘About your author photos,’ she emailed, tactfully not mentioning the dark roots or the grey hairs that were showing.  ‘Could you bear getting some more done? I don’t think these photos really show you at your very attractive best!’

When I showed the publisher’s email to M, he conceded that maybe I better go up to the hairdresser before the next photo shoot. ‘You women,’ he said. ‘You’re all the same. You’re always paying too much attention to the superficial things in life – like your hair and your looks. Just think of all the great things you could get done if you didn’t waste so much time on all that stuff?’

Well, to be honest, I thought M did have a point and, for a few hours, I actually believed M might have had the moral high ground as far as my hair colour was concerned. M’s moral victory was short-lived, however.  You see, later that night I gleefully caught him with a pair of tweezers, glaring into the mirror in the downstairs bathroom, frantically trying to pull out his very first grey hair by the roots!

Louise Limerick is a Brisbane based novelist and mother of three.

Do you colour your hair? Do you have a problem with grey hairs?