Sun-Herald & Sunday Age column: Occasionally, I’m reminded that I’m not 22 anymore*

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*But hey, neither is Barack Obama


Like when I’m having dinner with a bunch of friends and we’re talking about grey hair. How did this happen? When did I stop complaining about being hung-over and start complaining about grey hair? This is a sobering development.

When you’re a kid, dreaming about all the ‘firsts’ in your future (first kiss, first love, first drink, first time you shave your legs), your first grey hair is not something you lie awake imagining. When the day came, there was just me, the mirror and a bastardly grey strand, protruding mockingly from my scalp. Startled, I flinched.

I’m not in the habit of peering at myself too closely in the mirror. I find a respectable distance is helpful – nay vital – if one wants to stay chipper about oneself after 30 and avoid thoughts of Botox. So I have no idea how long the hair had been there.

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My first instinct was to destroy the evidence. Tweezers? Check. Please don’t tell me two more grey hairs will grow back in their place. My hairdresser and hairfinder.com assure me that grey hairs do not grow in anger. They don’t sprout to seek revenge for the execution of their follicular comrades. If this were true, balding men would be madly pulling out all their remaining hairs in the hope of cashing in on a two-for-one deal. It’s bull. So pluck away your grey if you must. I must.

Ever since my tweezers were diverted from my eyebrows to fight a new battlefront located on my head, I’ve looked around and noticed the funniest thing. Grey hair is no longer an identifying feature of old people. It used to be. But these days there are very few old people living in Grey Town because they’ve all buggered off for a dye job. Even my grandmother-in-law who is 99 does not have grey hair.

Nannas generally, are at the forefront of Not Being Grey. Nannas are a tasteful riot of carefully toned and natural-looking shades of blonde, caramel, amber and brown. As I’ve noted here before, nannas are hot.
Meanwhile, some Grandads are still grey, but rarely if they’re rich and never if they’re millionaires or billionaires. The hair of really rich granddads is a disconcerting shade of auburn. It’s compulsory.

So really, the only people with grey in their hair are relatively young and mostly male. Women get busy with dye and tweezers early on. We’re familiar with the desire to smack signs of aging on the head quickly and proactively. Men are puzzled by their grey hairs at first. They take a while to work out what to do and then mostly decide to do nothing. “I’m only 37 so I’m not going to dye my hair,” scoffed a guy friend when I asked him about his salt-and-pepper head (an aside: why are women never described as having ‘salt-and-pepper’ hair? Women are just grey). “And even if I did, my stubble is now grey so it would look ridiculous.” Yes it would.

I have girlfriends who have been covering their grey since they were in their twenties. I never knew this until I began raising the subject at every available opportunity. “Do you have any grey hair?” I quizzed everyone I knew, eager to make myself feel better. “Why yes,” they invariably replied “Yes, I do.”

My brunette friends are a better source of sympathy because grey is not only easier to spot when your hair is dark, it’s also harder to disguise. “I was looking in my rear view mirror a few weeks ago and I noticed one sticking out of my head,” confessed one 32-year-old friend with a dark brown bob. “It was quite short and coarse and it was pointing straight up at the front like an antennae. I yanked it out at the next traffic light. Do you think two will grow back?”
Sigh. At least my friend and I didn’t cry. Jennifer Anniston did. "I found a really long grey hair and it kind of flipped me out,” she told Ellen de Generes. “It's not my first but it's the fact that it was so long. I was like, 'Oh, how many others are there and what does that mean?' It actually brought me to tears slightly."

Lordy, how is she going to feel when she starts going grey downstairs? I’m thinking Prozac and possibly grief counselling.

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Bonus points for honesty, though. That’s rare among celebrities.  Like every other aspect of ageing, Hollywood is rubbish at providing us with context or calibration for grey hair. George Clooney aside, most male and female celebrities over 35 dye although Nicole Kidman and Jennifer Lopez did provide a rare glimpse of grey roots a while back, which was breathlessly interpreted as proof of pregnancy. But their publicists insisted they were just busy, not knocked up.

Thank God for Obama. I say this on many levels but superficially, thank God Obama is also going grey and therefore infusing the aging process with coolness for the rest of us, one strand at a time. It started for him during the election campaign, which ran for approximately 100 years. “The grey is coming quick,” Obama admitted to the media last year “By the time I’m sworn in, I will look the part.” And he does.

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