MARY DROGE: A bit of a gray area
I’ve often thought there should be a camp a woman could attend where she would be gracefully eased through some of the minor beauty transitions in life. She would drop out of society for as long as it takes, with no questions asked. The talk around the office would be matter-of-fact: “We planned to use Mary on this assignment, but she’s at Camp Godiva growing out her bangs.”
But alas, for the average noncelebrity woman, there is no such place, and she is forced to live through her metamorphosis in full view of the public. So when I decided to stop coloring my hair, I knew I would be out there, brutally on my own.
For 55 years I had tricked everyone into thinking I’d always been a brunette, with “natural” red highlights. But the gray hairs got more and more stubborn as I aged, and eventually I realized I was only fooling myself. So where could I hide while I went au naturale? Would I look really bad for really long so that I could look ... older? This was going to be a real test of my vanity. I needed a strategy.
Step One: Get a short haircut. Mine was white at the roots and ended in dark brown at the ends like a porcupine. Young women (with pierced eyebrows) stopped me on the street to inquire about how I dyed just the tip of each hair. “It’s easy! Color your hair for 30 years, then suddenly stop.”
Step Two: Repeat step one as often as necessary. Eventually, for me, the porcupine effect morphed into a kind of mottled fur look. Picture a neglected Chia Pet.
Step Three: Grow it. The short gray hair look is not for everyone, so now I needed to find a style. I didn’t try to grow out the bangs while growing out the rest of it. Each time my head started to look like a bad science experiment, I leaned forward and lopped off anything that fell in my eyes. Only when the back turned into something workable did I start growing out the bangs. Now, I moved ungracefully through the headband stage, the hair-clip stage, the maybe-I-need-a-perm stage and of course the gel-mousse-fixative stage when my hair could best be described as “crispy.”
I’m happy to report that my hair is almost there. Almost white, almost not sticking to my eyelashes, almost a style.
The reaction has been mostly positive except for the relative who greeted me with, “You got old!” I’ve heard a lot of women say they wish they could stop coloring their hair, as if they have no say in the matter.
I no longer panic at the sight of gray roots. I no longer schedule social events around salon visits. I even feel healthier and a bit richer. But there still ought to be a camp.
Mary Droge is a part-time educator and full-time wife and mother who lives in Charleston.