Excerpt: "Going Gray"

Author learns surprising lessons after letting her hair go naturally gray.

ByABC News via via logo
September 11, 2007, 4:07 PM

Sept. 12, 2007 — -- 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'tmean I was brave enough simply to stop coloring and go coldturkey. I'd watched my good friend, the novelist Susanna Moore,do precisely that. She'd quit her dark-brown dye jobs when theysimply became more of a hassle than they were worth. Susanna,almost six feet tall and a former model and occasional actress, hasa highly individualistic, almost theatrical style. On a day whenshe feels she looks her worst, heads turn when she walks into arestaurant or down the street. She has a kind of presence that Iwould love to have but that in a million years I could never pulloff . Characteristically, rather than cut her long hair to minimizethe unsightliness of her roots growing in, Susanna instead choseto amplify her transitional phase with a flamboyant gesture, addinga dramatic reverse-Susan Sontag streak of black into herwhitening hair. She performed a magician's sleight of hand bydrawing attention to her shocking black streak and away fromher roots. It was a bravado stroke and quite successful. Imagine abeautiful, whimsical Cruella De Vil.

I like to think I have a pretty distinctive personal style, but it'snothing like Susanna's. At 5'3", I find that my look tends towardthe quietly severe -- traditional silhouettes, never a plunging necklineor flounce, minimal jewelry, little adornment. More AudreyHepburn than Audrey Tatou. More architect than artist. My onedeviation from austerity has been my creative use of hair color.Watching Susanna let her gray grow in in such a visible wayhelped me think about how I actually wanted to feel as my hairgrew out. And thinking about that forced me to acknowledgethat while I was happy to be quitting artificial color, I wanted thetransition to be as invisible as possible to others. I realized that Iwas not comfortable drawing too much attention to myself andnever had been. I have never thought of my looks as anythingother than regular, relying instead on my competence or humorfor my self-esteem. But at the same time, like most of us, I wantedother people to find me physically appealing. I knew that havinga giant white skunk streak down my scalp as my hair grew outwasn'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 vainenough to refuse to cut it. So I had a problem. How exactly doesa person who's timid yet concerned about her looks handle lettingdark dye grow out? Aside from Susanna, I'd not observedanyone else doing it.

I worked with my colorist, Inge Pumberger, to manage thetransition. In my wishful thinking, I'd assumed that I could juststrip the color out. Inge convinced me that stripping would be adisaster, nearly impossible -- each inch of my hair had absorbeddiff erent degrees of tint each time I'd put in the single-processcolor, so the end result of stripping would have been a ghastly,horizontally striped, porcupine-quill effect. So to minimize thethickening band of gray that was growing in near my scalp, Ingeput in blond highlights that blended with the gray roots as theygrew. And then she put a toner over the whole thing to blur theedges between the grays and blonds even more. I began to fullyappreciate just how tricky going gray was going to be.I wasn't so sure about this transitional strategy -- I felt as if Ilooked like I was trying to go blond, not white, but I trusted Ingeto know what she was doing. I had been addicted to color for aquarter-century, and if I needed the colorist's version of Nicoretteor 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 forMore magazine and to be photographed during the various stagesof decolorization. When I made the proposal, I imagined photographersand stylists pampering me, treating me like "talent." Iactually fantasized that I might be "discovered" through this lark;okay, I was way too old and the wrong gender to become a late-startingBeatle, maybe, but perhaps I could get a gig as a whitehairedmodel in ads touting cruise ships or fractional-ownershipjets. ... In fact, the first shoot, when my hair had no discernibleroots, was relatively fun.

The second shoot proved to be less fun. The anticipatorymodeling fantasy had evaporated. My gray roots were visiblearound my ears and beneath the top layer of hair. This posed aserious challenge to the makeup artist -- a 6'2'' twentysomethingEthiopian and actual former fashion model -- who decided thatthe best way to reveal for the camera what minimal gray I hadwas to slick back my hair with a heavy-duty goo that smelled likeshoe polish. I hated my greasy hair but felt too insecure to suggestwe should try something different. My product-infused hairmade me look like a cheesy "before" model in some late-nightinfomercial.

I've never worn much makeup. I had had makeup professionallyapplied once before, for a corporate photo in the '90s, andhadn't much liked that experience -- the heavy foundation andmascara, combined with my dyed hair, had made me look scary,like a younger Donatella Versace. With the best of intentions, myMore makeup artist replicated that experience for me. The photographer'sfemale assistant was an equally intimidating 6' formermodel -- chic, skinny, and twenty-nine. (Hmmm, memo tomagazine: when shooting "real" women, using former models atthe shoot pretty much guarantees an anxious, self-loathing experiencefor the subject.) Happily, Hazel Hammond, the Morephoto editor, was fifty-one and in the process of letting her ownhair go gray, so we felt an instant bond -- but, like all the womenin my vicinity that day, she was very tall, slim, and stylish. At5' 3'' and around 130 pounds, I felt like a troll. I was blindsidedby how uncomfortable the experience made me feel. As I beganmy dive into authenticity, I was being professionally paintedup -- and felt authentic only in my dumpiness.

Hazel dressed me in a turquoise jewel-necked sweater, andsince I was being shot only from the waist up, I wore my oldbaggy Levi's. As I sat for my first portrait, I felt the fifteen-poundtire around my waist spill over the top of my jeans, and as I triedto suck in my gut, hardly daring to breathe, my shouldershunched and the snug sweater became sausage casing aroundevery little pooch and sag in my body. Was there ever a moreuncomfortable-seeming photo subject in the magazine's history?Worse damage to my psyche was coming. I didn't need glassesuntil my forties and have never acclimated to them, wearingthem only for driving and going to the movies. Until the photoshoot, I didn't understand that the wrinkle-free face I saw whenI looked in the mirror without my glasses wasn't how I looked toeveryone else: my mildly defective vision naturally airbrushedthe blotches, bags, and wrinkles.

When Chris Fanning, the raffish young male photographer(whom I imagined spent the rest of his time photographingSports Illustrated swimsuit models in Fiji rather than middle-agedhousewives in Brooklyn), handed me test-shot Polaroids so Icould see how I looked, I nearly burst into tears. The picturesshowed a crinkly, age-spotted middle-aged face covered withnot-so-fine perimenopausal hair. My new gray hair would be justone 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 calmmy obvious anxiety, started talking about her gray pubic hair, Ijust wanted to squeeze my eyes shut and make everyone go away.It was all too absurd and vain and trivial, and discouraging. Surroundedby all of those very young, beautiful women and thehandsome photographer, I knew what old felt like that day.The struggle to reconcile my enthusiasm for the principle ofbecoming my authentic self with the dreary reality of my lengtheninggray roots got worse. The toner my colorist chose to blendthe root transitions turned my hair orangey, more reminiscent ofGarfield the cat than Sarah Jessica Parker. The promotional self-encouragementdid nothing to address how crummy my hairactually looked. In the first minute of social encounters, I developeda sort of Tourette's-like tic, talking about my "experiment"before anyone could comment. I was not just looking older butcoming across as a little nutty.

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

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

"Look, I'm fat, and with this purple stripe, people look at myhair 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 readingE. L. Doctorow's "The March" and decided to visit Gettysburg as afield trip), and I took the opportunity to interview hairdressersat George's Four Seasons, one of the salons that cater to DC'sbroadcast-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 themsince then, not their color, their cut, or their clothes."

My frozen-in-time driver's license image was a reminder to me of how veryrecently I had been like the women he was describing.Around the same time, during the first months after I'd quitdyeing, when I felt my hair looked particularly hideous, I hadlunch with a fiftysomething male friend whom I hadn't seen insome time -- and he told me that I looked like a movie star. Youcouldn'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 hewas really commenting on. But he gave me a precious glimmer ofhope 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 ofmy role models, a lithe and formerly gray-haired midthirtiestrainer, had dyed her hair a dark chocolate brown. When I firstdecided to go gray, I had found her long silver hair inspirationalbut 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 coloredher hair just to have fun and play around with her image in hertwenties, 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 Idyed 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 grayhair and who'd looked fabulous couldn't stick to it, what chancedid I have?

I got more negative feedback at a party when a thirtysomethingfemale friend remarked, "Oooh, how lovely -- you're goinggray just like a man!" I began to imagine that the women whotold me they liked how the lighter hair color showed off my blueeyes were, behind my back, saying I looked old. The paranoiastarted to feed on itself.

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

T ree months into the process, when my hair was clearlycoming 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 instantlycome in glistening white, not the salt-and-pebble effectthat was actually happening. White to me was clean, fresh, andbeautiful; gray, like rainy days, fog, and dirty laundry, was dreary,a downer. White was a color that women in their fifties didn'tordinarily have, so it would have felt almost like a new dye jobrather than my natural hair. Gray was middle of the road, neitherhere nor there.

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

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

I needed a fix from someone who had taken the plunge andwho could urge me on. Ellen, a radiantly white-haired sixty-six-year-old friend, had started going gray in her forties. She told methat when she mentioned to her family twenty years ago that shemight 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 soshe didn't. I asked her what emotional meaning, if any, havingwhite hair had for her.

"That I'm different," she said, and I certainly knew what shemeant -- Ellen is well-to-do and lives on Manhattan's Upper EastSide. "It's liberating. It's about loving myself for myself." Sheparaphrased Freud's notion of the id, ego, and superego by sayingthat we all have three faces: what we actually look like (our id),what we think we look like (our ego), and what we think othersthink we look like (our superego). For Ellen, living authenticallyis an exercise in trying to exist as little as possible in the realmwhere we are concerned about what we think others think welook like.

Not long after that lunch with Ellen, I found myselffocusing way too much on what I thought others thought Ilooked like. My sense of physical and intellectual self-esteem wasput on the line when my husband and I were to attend a dinnerparty with about thirty celebrated people. On the afternoon ofthe party, my older daughter and I, in a teen-mom bonding outing,had gone to a movie together. On the way home, I was bemoaninghow much I disliked my hair and how my current cutseemed 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 hopeand trust and a sense that my almost-eighteen-year-old daughterwas up to any challenge, I decided to let her trim my hair. Theexperiment started out swell, and I had one of the nicest just-us-girlsexperiences ever with her.

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

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

Then, to my horror, the host asked each of us to share withthe group what we were most passionate about at the moment. Ipanicked as the others began to speak -- thank God I was on thefar side of the table from where they started! The first to go wasJacqueline Novogratz, the chief executive of the Acumen Fund, aglobal organization whose goal is to solve the problems of poverty.Jacqueline was passionate and articulate about a project thatAcumen had developed to bring clean water to villages in Africaand India. Next up was Noah Feldman, the codirector of NewYork University's Center on Law and Security. I was familiar withFeldman's book "After Jihad: America and the Struggle for IslamicDemocracy" and was thrilled to have the chance to listen to aninsider 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 urbanactivist and a 2005 MacArthur "genius" grant winner, describedthe work that her organization, Sustainable South Bronx, hadinitiated to bring sustainable development to the inner city. Herenthusiasm and vision were dazzling. Brian Greene of ColumbiaUniversity, the leading string-theory theorist, riveted me with hisdiscussion about the frontier of physics. Another MacArthur genius,the actress, playwright, and first Ford Foundation artist-in-residenceAnna Deavere Smith, practically moved me to tearsdescribing her work on a new one-woman play about death thatshe'd been researching. And so on. I had the great good fortuneto be included at a gathering that could easily have been an answerto the question "If you could invite anybody in the world toa dinner party, who would it be?"

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

I had no choice but to speak, and I'm pretty shaky at publicspeaking under the best of circumstances, so you can imaginemy fear to be following such accomplished people. I tookthe plunge and began to describe my "amateur social science"experiment with going gray. And amazingly, blessedly, almosteveryone engaged in the topic. Maybe they were all simply toogracious not to appear interested. But after dinner three peopleapproached me to talk further about the subject with genuineenthusiasm.

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

In some ways letting my hair go gray was a bit like an intensivefive-day-a-week-on-the-therapist's-couch crash course, but withno shrink to guide me. In August, halfway through the growing inphase, the whole family went to Los Angeles to look at collegesfor Kate. I found I couldn't bring myself to go for a swim at thechic Sunset Boulevard hotel where we were staying -- the ChateauMarmont. It was just too intimidating for me to appear in abathing suit and to have gray hair in LA, land of the preternaturallyyoung and buffed and blond. There's no question I'd havebeen the only person at the Chateau Marmont pool -- and maybein a fifty-mile radius -- with gray hair and freakishly white, untannedskin. Later, at a party, I met a recently divorced womanfrom Malibu who confessed that she had actually bucked conventionand been gray in her twenties and thirties. She confidedthat 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 -- onlymy hair color has changed. If white hair was something anyonefamous had, apart from British actresses, Storm in the X-Menmovies, and Meryl Streep in "The Devil Wears Prada," then itwouldn't feel so weird -- it'd just be another color to try on andlive with. But in Southern California, I didn't see a single womanwith gray hair during my entire stay. It seems that almost everyonewho can afford it really is absolutely, professionally, unapologetically,committed to artificial youth -- stereotypes and clichéscan 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 stuffbefore. I knew how tough it could be to make a real change inone's life. In 1993, after two over-the-top challenging years -- bothof my parents and my last grandparent died, my children werethree and five, I had my big job at Nickelodeon, my husband wasediting a weekly magazine -- I realized that I was drinking toomuch. I was not drinking in a check-myself-into-rehab kind ofway -- I always accomplished what I had to do. But I was drinkingin a way that numbed me to a degree that felt counterproductiveand prevented me from fully appreciating the good thingsin my life. And I felt out of control. Through my own cobbled-togetherrecovery program of willpower, yoga, acupuncture, andmeditation, I stopped drinking. (For seven years. These days Iallow myself to drink socially, very moderately, maybe once aweek.)

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

Thank goodness that during my most discouraged time, I metAnn La Farge, a seventy-three-year-old book critic and formereditor. Over tea one afternoon, she described her aha! moment ofclarity when she decided to quit coloring her hair. At her fiftiethcollege reunion two years earlier, she had noticed that half theattendees were "got up" and the other half dressed for comfort.She realized that the ones who dressed for comfort were alsonearly all the ones who didn't dye their hair -- and that theyoverwhelmingly seemed to be having a better time than the otherwomen. It was an instant realization for her that she'd far ratherbe among the "fun" half. She quit coloring cold turkey.

"I wasn't originally sure I was going to keep it that way. Butthen, after my hair grew in, one day my hairdresser was tellingme he loved it. And as I was telling him that my friends said Ilooked older, a sixtyish man walked over from his chair in thesalon and said, 'Mike Bloomberg here -- and I think you lookwonderful.' " Bloomberg, of course, is the mayor of New York City.La Farge went on to tell me about a Southern friend of hers wholectured Ann about her decision to go gray. The well-meaningwoman urged her to keep coloring in no uncertain terms. "Everybodywants to look nice, Ann. I want to look my best. Whyare you letting yourself go?"

This conversation made me wonder again at how choosingnot to dye one's hair -- and, increasingly, electing not to haveplastic surgery -- has become synonymous with "letting oneselfgo." Ann La Farge is the opposite of someone who has given upor stopped caring -- she is slim, full of life, crackling with witand warmth, a woman in her prime.

My family and I spent the last week that Summer of My Grayingas geographically distant from Los Angeles as one can be inthe United States, on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts. ArchetypalLA and Martha's Vineyard residents share liberal politicaland cultural values, of course. People such as Bill and HillaryClinton and even some Hollywood types spend a lot of time inboth places. But there are striking differences -- on the Vineyard,more of the women over fifty have gray hair than not. Eventhough the majority of the people on the island in August liveelsewhere full-time, the overwhelming sense on the Vineyard isthat fussing too strenuously with one's external, physical self isshallow, almost sinful. It seems as if the Puritanism of Massachusetts'founders still informs the upscale, Volvo-fied ethos of theplace.

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

Her beauty took my breath away, and I practically ran back tograb my husband so he could also see her. "Are you suggesting athreesome?" he joked. Unfortunately, before we could make itback to her spot, she had packed up and left for the day. I comparedher smallish, naturally aging breasts and white hair withthe pneumatically enhanced boobs and blond hair I'd seen on thewomen poolside at the Chateau in LA -- and, for me, there wasno contest. She radiated healthy beauty. That anonymous nudistimmediately became one of my models for being attractive andold. I'm pretty sure I'll never have the courage to go nude inpublic -- honesty and authenticity have their limits -- but grayhair, that I can do.

Not long after the trip to Martha's Vineyard, I met CarmenDell'Orefie. Carmen is today's only well-known white-hairedmodel. She did her first cover shoot for Vogue in 1947 at agesixteen. She quit coloring her hair in 1973, at forty-two. "Mythird and last husband turned over to me one evening in bed. Ithought he was going to caress my face -- but instead he pluckedout 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 beginto know myself and the second half of my life to be true to whatI know of myself -- which is that I'm authentically screwy." Carmenstaggered me with her energy and joie de vivre. On the daywe spoke, she wore jeans, a crisp white shirt, little makeup, andher white hair pulled back into a ponytail. Carmen became anothertalismanic ideal -- if only I could be half as self-aware asshe at seventy-six, I would be a happy woman.

At the summer's end, ten months after swearing off dye, evenI was getting more upbeat about the gray-haired me, but I wasstill just becoming gray, and my stylist, Joe, decided that I shouldgrow out and lose my bangs, which I'd had since I was a teenager.He suggested I would look more glamorous without them, and Iwas all for glamour to mitigate the plainness of the gray. But thedisappearance of the bangs also added a whole different level ofhating-my-hair-ness to my life. At home I ended up clipping thenew, longer front hair back with little bobby pins, which furtheremphasized the gray and made me look twelve going on sixty.The processed ends were so different from the new smooth graygrowth that I finally couldn't take it anymore. I decided it wastime to take drastic measures and cut serious inches off. I shouldhave just done it at the beginning, but I wasn't entirely certainI could bear hating both my radical color and my radicallynew 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'sunenthusiastic response. (To this day he insists that "lookslike a lady golfer" wasn't code for "not so sexy," and to this day Idon't buy it.) The second time, I was thirty-seven. As I mentionedearlier, in the space of six months, my father; mother; andlast surviving grandparent, my mother's mother, had all died. Mymother and her mother within the same twenty-four hours. Itwas beyond overwhelming. In some invented ritual informed bymy loose study of Asian and Native American traditions, I decidedto honor my family's deaths by cutting my hair. I neededto look really different -- at least temporarily -- because my lifewas really different, a kind of different that my old, trustedchange-art tool of hair color couldn't fix.

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

Finally, the feedback began to get more uniformly positive.My husband professed to love the new style (except when Iclipped my bangs back, or tucked my hair behind my ears).In yoga class one day, a woman with whom I'd never spokenset her mat directly in front of mine, turned, and said, "Your hairlooks fantastic. I've been watching as it's changed over the pastfew months, and you've given me the courage to think aboutquitting coloring my own hair." She made my day. Then, while Iwas waiting to meet one of my daughters outside a theater, atwentysomething 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-unflatteringattention, I smiled at him dismissively as he walked past. He wasa fairly unattractive guy, but he had passingly hit on old-lady me.Not so bad, I thought. Even the husband of my dyed-blondneighbor told me how much he liked my hair.

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

© 2007 by Anne Kreamer.

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