Excerpt: "Going Gray"

The vast majority of American women dread the idea of letting their hair go gray and avoid it at great cost.

Anne Kreamer was one of those women until she turned 49 years old and decided to stop dyeing her hair and let it go gray naturally. Kreamer said the experience was eye-opening and she wrote about what she learned in a new book, "Going Gray: What I Learned About Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood and Authenticity Along the Way."

Click here to take the Fountain of Youth survey, which Kreamer says will tell you if you're a skeptic, doer, follower or preserver. You can also check out before and after pictures of women who have taken the plunge and gone gray.

You can read an excerpt of the book below.

Chapter 3: Hello? Your Roots Are Really Showing -- My Bad Hair Year

I'd made my decision to let my hair go gray, but that didn't mean I was brave enough simply to stop coloring and go cold turkey. I'd watched my good friend, the novelist Susanna Moore, do precisely that. She'd quit her dark-brown dye jobs when they simply became more of a hassle than they were worth. Susanna, almost six feet tall and a former model and occasional actress, has a highly individualistic, almost theatrical style. On a day when she feels she looks her worst, heads turn when she walks into a restaurant or down the street. She has a kind of presence that I would love to have but that in a million years I could never pull off . Characteristically, rather than cut her long hair to minimize the unsightliness of her roots growing in, Susanna instead chose to amplify her transitional phase with a flamboyant gesture, adding a dramatic reverse-Susan Sontag streak of black into her whitening hair. She performed a magician's sleight of hand by drawing attention to her shocking black streak and away from her roots. It was a bravado stroke and quite successful. Imagine a beautiful, whimsical Cruella De Vil.

I like to think I have a pretty distinctive personal style, but it's nothing like Susanna's. At 5'3", I find that my look tends toward the quietly severe -- traditional silhouettes, never a plunging neckline or flounce, minimal jewelry, little adornment. More Audrey Hepburn than Audrey Tatou. More architect than artist. My one deviation from austerity has been my creative use of hair color. Watching Susanna let her gray grow in in such a visible way helped me think about how I actually wanted to feel as my hair grew out. And thinking about that forced me to acknowledge that while I was happy to be quitting artificial color, I wanted the transition to be as invisible as possible to others. I realized that I was not comfortable drawing too much attention to myself and never had been. I have never thought of my looks as anything other than regular, relying instead on my competence or humor for my self-esteem. But at the same time, like most of us, I wanted other people to find me physically appealing. I knew that having a giant white skunk streak down my scalp as my hair grew out wasn't going to make me feel good. I was more timid than that. And since I'd always been identified with long hair, I was vain enough to refuse to cut it. So I had a problem. How exactly does a person who's timid yet concerned about her looks handle letting dark dye grow out? Aside from Susanna, I'd not observed anyone else doing it.

I worked with my colorist, Inge Pumberger, to manage the transition. In my wishful thinking, I'd assumed that I could just strip the color out. Inge convinced me that stripping would be a disaster, nearly impossible -- each inch of my hair had absorbed diff erent degrees of tint each time I'd put in the single-process color, so the end result of stripping would have been a ghastly, horizontally striped, porcupine-quill effect. So to minimize the thickening band of gray that was growing in near my scalp, Inge put in blond highlights that blended with the gray roots as they grew. And then she put a toner over the whole thing to blur the edges between the grays and blonds even more. I began to fully appreciate just how tricky going gray was going to be. I wasn't so sure about this transitional strategy -- I felt as if I looked like I was trying to go blond, not white, but I trusted Inge to know what she was doing. I had been addicted to color for a quarter-century, and if I needed the colorist's version of Nicorette or methadone to help liberate me, so be it.

As one of my tell-as-many-people-as-you-can-so-you-won't-back- out strategies, I offered to write about my experience for More magazine and to be photographed during the various stages of decolorization. When I made the proposal, I imagined photographers and stylists pampering me, treating me like "talent." I actually fantasized that I might be "discovered" through this lark; okay, I was way too old and the wrong gender to become a late-starting Beatle, maybe, but perhaps I could get a gig as a whitehaired model in ads touting cruise ships or fractional-ownership jets. ... In fact, the first shoot, when my hair had no discernible roots, was relatively fun.

The second shoot proved to be less fun. The anticipatory modeling fantasy had evaporated. My gray roots were visible around my ears and beneath the top layer of hair. This posed a serious challenge to the makeup artist -- a 6'2'' twentysomething Ethiopian and actual former fashion model -- who decided that the best way to reveal for the camera what minimal gray I had was to slick back my hair with a heavy-duty goo that smelled like shoe polish. I hated my greasy hair but felt too insecure to suggest we should try something different. My product-infused hair made me look like a cheesy "before" model in some late-night infomercial.

I've never worn much makeup. I had had makeup professionally applied once before, for a corporate photo in the '90s, and hadn't much liked that experience -- the heavy foundation and mascara, combined with my dyed hair, had made me look scary, like a younger Donatella Versace. With the best of intentions, my More makeup artist replicated that experience for me. The photographer's female assistant was an equally intimidating 6' former model -- chic, skinny, and twenty-nine. (Hmmm, memo to magazine: when shooting "real" women, using former models at the shoot pretty much guarantees an anxious, self-loathing experience for the subject.) Happily, Hazel Hammond, the More photo editor, was fifty-one and in the process of letting her own hair go gray, so we felt an instant bond -- but, like all the women in my vicinity that day, she was very tall, slim, and stylish. At 5' 3'' and around 130 pounds, I felt like a troll. I was blindsided by how uncomfortable the experience made me feel. As I began my dive into authenticity, I was being professionally painted up -- and felt authentic only in my dumpiness.

Hazel dressed me in a turquoise jewel-necked sweater, and since I was being shot only from the waist up, I wore my old baggy Levi's. As I sat for my first portrait, I felt the fifteen-pound tire around my waist spill over the top of my jeans, and as I tried to suck in my gut, hardly daring to breathe, my shoulders hunched and the snug sweater became sausage casing around every little pooch and sag in my body. Was there ever a more uncomfortable-seeming photo subject in the magazine's history? Worse damage to my psyche was coming. I didn't need glasses until my forties and have never acclimated to them, wearing them only for driving and going to the movies. Until the photo shoot, I didn't understand that the wrinkle-free face I saw when I looked in the mirror without my glasses wasn't how I looked to everyone else: my mildly defective vision naturally airbrushed the blotches, bags, and wrinkles.

When Chris Fanning, the raffish young male photographer (whom I imagined spent the rest of his time photographing Sports Illustrated swimsuit models in Fiji rather than middle-aged housewives in Brooklyn), handed me test-shot Polaroids so I could see how I looked, I nearly burst into tears. The pictures showed a crinkly, age-spotted middle-aged face covered with not-so-fine perimenopausal hair. My new gray hair would be just one highly visible calling card announcing my over-the-hillness! Every single thing about me was old and unsexy.

When the glamorous makeup artist, innocently trying to calm my obvious anxiety, started talking about her gray pubic hair, I just wanted to squeeze my eyes shut and make everyone go away. It was all too absurd and vain and trivial, and discouraging. Surrounded by all of those very young, beautiful women and the handsome photographer, I knew what old felt like that day. The struggle to reconcile my enthusiasm for the principle of becoming my authentic self with the dreary reality of my lengthening gray roots got worse. The toner my colorist chose to blend the root transitions turned my hair orangey, more reminiscent of Garfield the cat than Sarah Jessica Parker. The promotional self-encouragement did nothing to address how crummy my hair actually looked. In the first minute of social encounters, I developed a sort of Tourette's-like tic, talking about my "experiment" before anyone could comment. I was not just looking older but coming across as a little nutty.

The photograph on my driver's license is almost ten years old and shows me with long brown hair. Since 2001, before I even started going gray, whenever I've gone through airport security, I've felt compelled to make some jokey remark to the agents about how different I look from the ID picture. Returning from a trip to Washington, DC, early last year, I was required to show an Amtrak clerk a photo ID in order to buy a ticket. And for the first time since letting my hair go gray, I realized that my official identification image now truly looked nothing at all like me. When I showed my license to the Amtrak woman, she looked at it, looked at me, then looked back at the license. I knew I didn't appear to be a terrorist, but I didn't have any glib patter at the ready, so I sheepishly told the plain truth: "I know I don't look very much like my photo anymore -- I quit dyeing my hair." I was totally embarrassed by the difference in my appearance, as if I were using a fake ID.

She smiled and shook her head when I babbled my hair-color confession. "Honey," she said, "I'm never going to quit dyeing my hair." The ticket clerk was a large African-American woman with a neon stripe of purple sweeping off her right temple. I asked why she was so dedicated to dyeing her hair.

"Look, I'm fat, and with this purple stripe, people look at my hair and not my body. Besides, I've got a younger husband."


"If you don't mind my asking, how old are you?"

"Forty-two," she said.

"And how old is your husband?"


I'd gone to Washington for my book club (we were reading E. L. Doctorow's "The March" and decided to visit Gettysburg as a field trip), and I took the opportunity to interview hairdressers at George's Four Seasons, one of the salons that cater to DC's broadcast-news personalities and politicians.

"Most women," the owner's son and colleague, Sertac Ozturk, told me, "you can tell when they think they looked their best. It's usually their late thirties -- and nothing has changed for them since then, not their color, their cut, or their clothes."

My frozen-in-time driver's license image was a reminder to me of how very recently I had been like the women he was describing. Around the same time, during the first months after I'd quit dyeing, when I felt my hair looked particularly hideous, I had lunch with a fiftysomething male friend whom I hadn't seen in some time -- and he told me that I looked like a movie star. You couldn't beat that feedback, but then again, because of the toner, I was actually ash-blondish at the time, so I'm not sure what he was really commenting on. But he gave me a precious glimmer of hope to think that my gray hair could still be attractive to men, at least men of a certain age.

Days later at the gym, I was shocked to discover that one of my role models, a lithe and formerly gray-haired midthirties trainer, had dyed her hair a dark chocolate brown. When I first decided to go gray, I had found her long silver hair inspirational but had never discussed it with her. Now I asked her about it. She told me she'd started to go gray at seventeen and had colored her hair just to have fun and play around with her image in her twenties, but at twenty-seven she'd decided to embrace the gray.

"It was a wonderful experience. I called the grays 'my wisdom.' People always complemented me on my color -- they thought I dyed it gray because I looked young."

So ...why the backtracking now?

"I just got tired of looking old," she said with a shrug.

Ah, hell. If someone who had been that committed to her gray hair and who'd looked fabulous couldn't stick to it, what chance did I have?

I got more negative feedback at a party when a thirtysomething female friend remarked, "Oooh, how lovely -- you're going gray just like a man!" I began to imagine that the women who told me they liked how the lighter hair color showed off my blue eyes were, behind my back, saying I looked old. The paranoia started to feed on itself.

I was even more bummed out by an experience I had with a well-known Manhattan entrepreneur and author friend in her midsixties, deeply sane and authentic. Early on in my process, she told me that, inspired by what I was doing, she was planning to let her artificially dark-brown hair go gray, too. What great support at such a crucial moment! When she confessed to me a couple of months later that her liberal-minded, white-haired husband and adult daughters had strongly argued against it, and that she'd backslid, deciding not to make the transition for now, I had firsthand experience of how very hard it was for women to resist the antigray bandwagon.

T ree months into the process, when my hair was clearly coming in a mixed bag of minimal white and mostly steel gray, there was no doubt in my mind that I was actually looking older. I realized that when I'd started out I'd hoped my hair would instantly come in glistening white, not the salt-and-pebble effect that was actually happening. White to me was clean, fresh, and beautiful; gray, like rainy days, fog, and dirty laundry, was dreary, a downer. White was a color that women in their fifties didn't ordinarily have, so it would have felt almost like a new dye job rather than my natural hair. Gray was middle of the road, neither here nor there.

I asked my daughter Kate how she thought it was going. "Okay," she said. No, really, I insisted. "Well, with the blondish bits mixed in with the gray, it looks sort of like..." What? "Yellow teeth?" Oh, my God. Yellow teeth?

One night my husband and I and sixteen-year-old Lucy were late for our dinner reservation at a restaurant in Greenwich Village, and they went in first while I parked the car. When I arrived at the table, they were chuckling over what had just happened. The reservation had been for two, and the maître d' had evidently thought that non-gray-haired Kurt was out on a date with his very young blond girlfriend, and the waiter had even offered Lucy a glass of wine. They'd had to ask for a third chair to be brought to the table. "For my friend's mother, who'll be joining us," he had joked to the waiter. Ha ha ha.

I needed a fix from someone who had taken the plunge and who could urge me on. Ellen, a radiantly white-haired sixty-six-year- old friend, had started going gray in her forties. She told me that when she mentioned to her family twenty years ago that she might start dyeing her hair, her then ten-year-old son told her, "Don't do that, Mom -- you'll be changing who you are." And so she didn't. I asked her what emotional meaning, if any, having white hair had for her.

"That I'm different," she said, and I certainly knew what she meant -- Ellen is well-to-do and lives on Manhattan's Upper East Side. "It's liberating. It's about loving myself for myself." She paraphrased Freud's notion of the id, ego, and superego by saying that we all have three faces: what we actually look like (our id), what we think we look like (our ego), and what we think others think we look like (our superego). For Ellen, living authentically is an exercise in trying to exist as little as possible in the realm where we are concerned about what we think others think we look like.

Not long after that lunch with Ellen, I found myself focusing way too much on what I thought others thought I looked like. My sense of physical and intellectual self-esteem was put on the line when my husband and I were to attend a dinner party with about thirty celebrated people. On the afternoon of the party, my older daughter and I, in a teen-mom bonding outing, had gone to a movie together. On the way home, I was bemoaning how much I disliked my hair and how my current cut seemed to make the in-between color look even worse. "Mom," Kate said, "it's simple -- I can fix it for you." In the spirit of hope and trust and a sense that my almost-eighteen-year-old daughter was up to any challenge, I decided to let her trim my hair. The experiment started out swell, and I had one of the nicest just-us-girls experiences ever with her.

But as soon as I looked at her handiwork in the mirror, it became clear to me that there's a reason we pay professional hairdressers. (And, Joe, I hope you aren't reading this!) It is hard, really hard, to cut hair well. With the best of intentions, my daughter succeeded in creating a giant notch in the back of my hair. It wasn't quite Edward-Scissorhands-crazy-looking, but it was definitely weird. And I had to go to a fancy SoHo-loft soiree with a serious, change-the-world theme.

I went to the party knowing exactly one person aside from my husband and looking, in my mind, like Aunt Clara from Bewitched. I tried to keep my back to the wall and must have seemed awkwardly antisocial during cocktails. Once we all sat for dinner at a single long table, and the back of my head was no longer so visible, I relaxed -- for a little while.

Then, to my horror, the host asked each of us to share with the group what we were most passionate about at the moment. I panicked as the others began to speak -- thank God I was on the far side of the table from where they started! The first to go was Jacqueline Novogratz, the chief executive of the Acumen Fund, a global organization whose goal is to solve the problems of poverty. Jacqueline was passionate and articulate about a project that Acumen had developed to bring clean water to villages in Africa and India. Next up was Noah Feldman, the codirector of New York University's Center on Law and Security. I was familiar with Feldman's book "After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy" and was thrilled to have the chance to listen to an insider talk about the situation in Iraq. My husband, damn him, was able to talk about the social and cultural revolutions of 1848 (central to the novel he was writing). Majora Carter, the urban activist and a 2005 MacArthur "genius" grant winner, described the work that her organization, Sustainable South Bronx, had initiated to bring sustainable development to the inner city. Her enthusiasm and vision were dazzling. Brian Greene of Columbia University, the leading string-theory theorist, riveted me with his discussion about the frontier of physics. Another MacArthur genius, the actress, playwright, and first Ford Foundation artist-in-residence Anna Deavere Smith, practically moved me to tears describing her work on a new one-woman play about death that she'd been researching. And so on. I had the great good fortune to be included at a gathering that could easily have been an answer to the question "If you could invite anybody in the world to a dinner party, who would it be?"

And then, oh, god, it was my turn. I, the only nobody at the table, with my weird haircut, the guest who'd been acting sort of furtive, was terrified that my silly, self-centered explorations of aging and vanity would seem deeply unimportant, laughable. I mean, really. I wasn't solving international poverty or changing the way we see the world.

I had no choice but to speak, and I'm pretty shaky at public speaking under the best of circumstances, so you can imagine my fear to be following such accomplished people. I took the plunge and began to describe my "amateur social science" experiment with going gray. And amazingly, blessedly, almost everyone engaged in the topic. Maybe they were all simply too gracious not to appear interested. But after dinner three people approached me to talk further about the subject with genuine enthusiasm.

Several revelations emerged from that experience. First, my eccentric cut proved that no one really cares a whit about what anyone else's hair looks like. Second, and only somewhat contradictorily, even the most accomplished, serious people on the planet worry about aging and the way they look. And last, there are a lot of brilliant people out there who are tangibly making the world better. I went home inspired.

In some ways letting my hair go gray was a bit like an intensive five-day-a-week-on-the-therapist's-couch crash course, but with no shrink to guide me. In August, halfway through the growing in phase, the whole family went to Los Angeles to look at colleges for Kate. I found I couldn't bring myself to go for a swim at the chic Sunset Boulevard hotel where we were staying -- the Chateau Marmont. It was just too intimidating for me to appear in a bathing suit and to have gray hair in LA, land of the preternaturally young and buffed and blond. There's no question I'd have been the only person at the Chateau Marmont pool -- and maybe in a fifty-mile radius -- with gray hair and freakishly white, untanned skin. Later, at a party, I met a recently divorced woman from Malibu who confessed that she had actually bucked convention and been gray in her twenties and thirties. She confided that after her divorce she had had to dye her hair. Her reasoning? Simple. "It's LA."

Throughout this bad-hair period, I wanted to shout, Hey, everybody, I'm not any different than I was six months ago -- only my hair color has changed. If white hair was something anyone famous had, apart from British actresses, Storm in the X-Men movies, and Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada," then it wouldn't feel so weird -- it'd just be another color to try on and live with. But in Southern California, I didn't see a single woman with gray hair during my entire stay. It seems that almost everyone who can afford it really is absolutely, professionally, unapologetically, committed to artificial youth -- stereotypes and clichés can be true, can't they? I found my confidence faltering again. I felt really down. And it's not like I hadn't tackled hard stuff before. I knew how tough it could be to make a real change in one's life. In 1993, after two over-the-top challenging years -- both of my parents and my last grandparent died, my children were three and five, I had my big job at Nickelodeon, my husband was editing a weekly magazine -- I realized that I was drinking too much. I was not drinking in a check-myself-into-rehab kind of way -- I always accomplished what I had to do. But I was drinking in a way that numbed me to a degree that felt counterproductive and prevented me from fully appreciating the good things in my life. And I felt out of control. Through my own cobbled-together recovery program of willpower, yoga, acupuncture, and meditation, I stopped drinking. (For seven years. These days I allow myself to drink socially, very moderately, maybe once a week.)

While the choice to color my hair or not was a wholly different order of magnitude on the importance scale from rotting my liver or degrading my relations with the people I love, I realized that quitting booze and quitting hair color followed oddly similar paths: they both required me to face up to half-conscious fears and anxieties, to give up an easy and not unpleasant crutch, to reprogram habits, to accommodate myself to a new social identity, and to flout social pressure. Both forced me to spend time thinking seriously about how I wanted to live my life. If I wanted to be true to myself, which "me" was that supposed to be, exactly? Quitting hair color was the far more public act and provoked equally intense introspection. It wasn't harder than giving up wine, but it counterintuitively was much scarier.

Thank goodness that during my most discouraged time, I met Ann La Farge, a seventy-three-year-old book critic and former editor. Over tea one afternoon, she described her aha! moment of clarity when she decided to quit coloring her hair. At her fiftieth college reunion two years earlier, she had noticed that half the attendees were "got up" and the other half dressed for comfort. She realized that the ones who dressed for comfort were also nearly all the ones who didn't dye their hair -- and that they overwhelmingly seemed to be having a better time than the other women. It was an instant realization for her that she'd far rather be among the "fun" half. She quit coloring cold turkey.

"I wasn't originally sure I was going to keep it that way. But then, after my hair grew in, one day my hairdresser was telling me he loved it. And as I was telling him that my friends said I looked older, a sixtyish man walked over from his chair in the salon and said, 'Mike Bloomberg here -- and I think you look wonderful.' " Bloomberg, of course, is the mayor of New York City. La Farge went on to tell me about a Southern friend of hers who lectured Ann about her decision to go gray. The well-meaning woman urged her to keep coloring in no uncertain terms. "Everybody wants to look nice, Ann. I want to look my best. Why are you letting yourself go?"

This conversation made me wonder again at how choosing not to dye one's hair -- and, increasingly, electing not to have plastic surgery -- has become synonymous with "letting oneself go." Ann La Farge is the opposite of someone who has given up or stopped caring -- she is slim, full of life, crackling with wit and warmth, a woman in her prime.

My family and I spent the last week that Summer of My Graying as geographically distant from Los Angeles as one can be in the United States, on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. Archetypal LA and Martha's Vineyard residents share liberal political and cultural values, of course. People such as Bill and Hillary Clinton and even some Hollywood types spend a lot of time in both places. But there are striking differences -- on the Vineyard, more of the women over fifty have gray hair than not. Even though the majority of the people on the island in August live elsewhere full-time, the overwhelming sense on the Vineyard is that fussing too strenuously with one's external, physical self is shallow, almost sinful. It seems as if the Puritanism of Massachusetts' founders still informs the upscale, Volvo-fied ethos of the place.

On a walk down the beach where we were staying, I did a head count. More than six out of ten of the older women had gray hair -- roughly the exact obverse of the national fraction of women who dye their hair. And then I saw one woman, on the small nudist section of the beach, easily sixty-five years old, with a flowing mane of pure white hair set off against her almost tropical, old-school dark tan. She was as close to a real-life Botticelli Venus as I'd ever seen.

Her beauty took my breath away, and I practically ran back to grab my husband so he could also see her. "Are you suggesting a threesome?" he joked. Unfortunately, before we could make it back to her spot, she had packed up and left for the day. I compared her smallish, naturally aging breasts and white hair with the pneumatically enhanced boobs and blond hair I'd seen on the women poolside at the Chateau in LA -- and, for me, there was no contest. She radiated healthy beauty. That anonymous nudist immediately became one of my models for being attractive and old. I'm pretty sure I'll never have the courage to go nude in public -- honesty and authenticity have their limits -- but gray hair, that I can do.

Not long after the trip to Martha's Vineyard, I met Carmen Dell'Orefie. Carmen is today's only well-known white-haired model. She did her first cover shoot for Vogue in 1947 at age sixteen. She quit coloring her hair in 1973, at forty-two. "My third and last husband turned over to me one evening in bed. I thought he was going to caress my face -- but instead he plucked out a white hair! I kept the hair and got rid of the husband."

Carmen seems to have wisdom. "The only lie that's a tragedy," she told me, "is the lie to oneself. It took me half my life to begin to know myself and the second half of my life to be true to what I know of myself -- which is that I'm authentically screwy." Carmen staggered me with her energy and joie de vivre. On the day we spoke, she wore jeans, a crisp white shirt, little makeup, and her white hair pulled back into a ponytail. Carmen became another talismanic ideal -- if only I could be half as self-aware as she at seventy-six, I would be a happy woman.

At the summer's end, ten months after swearing off dye, even I was getting more upbeat about the gray-haired me, but I was still just becoming gray, and my stylist, Joe, decided that I should grow out and lose my bangs, which I'd had since I was a teenager. He suggested I would look more glamorous without them, and I was all for glamour to mitigate the plainness of the gray. But the disappearance of the bangs also added a whole different level of hating-my-hair-ness to my life. At home I ended up clipping the new, longer front hair back with little bobby pins, which further emphasized the gray and made me look twelve going on sixty. The processed ends were so different from the new smooth gray growth that I finally couldn't take it anymore. I decided it was time to take drastic measures and cut serious inches off. I should have just done it at the beginning, but I wasn't entirely certain I could bear hating both my radical color and my radically new cut.

I had cut my hair short twice in my life. The first time was in my twenties, early in my marriage, and it had elicited my husband's unenthusiastic response. (To this day he insists that "looks like a lady golfer" wasn't code for "not so sexy," and to this day I don't buy it.) The second time, I was thirty-seven. As I mentioned earlier, in the space of six months, my father; mother; and last surviving grandparent, my mother's mother, had all died. My mother and her mother within the same twenty-four hours. It was beyond overwhelming. In some invented ritual informed by my loose study of Asian and Native American traditions, I decided to honor my family's deaths by cutting my hair. I needed to look really different -- at least temporarily -- because my life was really different, a kind of different that my old, trusted change-art tool of hair color couldn't fix.

After those two short-term, short-hair experiences, I was happy to find that this time, in the twenty-first century, I loved my new, shorter gray hair. It felt sleek and light and sophisticated, and reflected the way I was starting to feel about it -- unencumbered and optimistic.

Finally, the feedback began to get more uniformly positive. My husband professed to love the new style (except when I clipped my bangs back, or tucked my hair behind my ears). In yoga class one day, a woman with whom I'd never spoken set her mat directly in front of mine, turned, and said, "Your hair looks fantastic. I've been watching as it's changed over the past few months, and you've given me the courage to think about quitting coloring my own hair." She made my day. Then, while I was waiting to meet one of my daughters outside a theater, a twentysomething guy stopped directly in front of me and said, "Hey, beautiful, what are you doing out here all by yourself ? "

Like all women who receive unwanted-yet-not-wholly-unflattering attention, I smiled at him dismissively as he walked past. He was a fairly unattractive guy, but he had passingly hit on old-lady me. Not so bad, I thought. Even the husband of my dyed-blond neighbor told me how much he liked my hair.

I also loved not being obliged to go to the salon every couple of weeks. I calculated: fifty or sixty new hours a year to read and see movies and plays, garden and ride a bike, or sit and talk with the people I love. And thousands of dollars saved.

© 2007 by Anne Kreamer.