A very interesting trend has re-emerged in the world of fashion and female beauty, and it’s picking up speed. Women, young and old, are suddenly and in increasing numbers embracing their gray, silver, or white hair. As the Huffington Post announced in early March 2015, “Gray Hair is White Hot,” and it shows no sign of slowing down – in fact, quite the opposite.
This is not the first time in history that white hair has been all the rage. For most of the 18th century, people could not get enough of white hair. White powdered wigs in outrageous styles were the height of fashion and a key symbol of the aristocracy. However, for anyone alive on the planet today, and for generations leading up to now, white hair has traditionally been shunned, frowned upon, and obsessively covered up, seen as one of the weaknesses of aging rather than a mark of beauty.
A few years ago it was virtually impossible to dye one’s hair gray or white as such formulas didn’t exist. To do so depended on the expertise of individual colourist’s chemistry experiments, but now it’s widely commercially available. Young women and even teenagers are flocking (well, maybe “flocking” is a strong term) to salons to trade in their pigmentation for colourlessness. And this new development is definitely a great assist to older women trying to buck the addiction of dying their natural silver hair for decades, enduring the agonizingly slow process of growing out their roots.
However, it is important to remember that it is just a trend. Young women are not going to dye their hair gray and touch up their naturally coloured roots every 4-6 weeks until their own hair catches up. They will do this en masse for a few months or even a few seasons until the next trend pops up. This is just another fun experiment in the beauty of youth; it is not at all comparable to the natural process of going gray, or moreover, the overall process of aging.
It’s easy to “rock the gray” if your skin and your body are in their twenties. But a common refrain from women who have always covered their gray, or those who embraced their early silvers but then later on started to dye their hair, is that they “weren’t ready to be    [etc.].”
Because it’s not about whether or not gray hair is cool, which it most assuredly is. It’s about accepting the fact that one is getting older, getting old; it’s about being further from birth and closer to death; it’s about a whole a new frontier that most of us do not feel we have the tools to properly deal with. It’s about facing all of this in a culture that no longer respects or reveres the aged, so singularly focused as it is on the bounty of youth.
So most of us don’t deal with it, or not well. Denial is a wonderful place to hide until one can hide no longer. There are women, and no shortage of them, who dye their hair right up until their deaths in their 80s or 90s. Think about that for a second.
Without criticizing others and while understanding we’re all in the same boat, or at least coming from the same port, one must still ask, why is the fear of truly facing one’s age so strong that it inevitably leads to the realm of absurdity? Why do so many women chase their youth so far into their aging and elderly years? Why do so many women prefer to douse themselves in chemicals or get work done than to do the work of facing, appreciating, and accepting their own self? What sort of young person should listen to any advice that tells them to work on their self-esteem, when it’s more common than not to see a lack of self-esteem all around them, at every age?
When I was a young child, I met an “older” woman who couldn’t have been more than 45 years old, with long white hair in a big thick braid down her back. She didn’t wear makeup, or if she did it wasn’t obvious, and she was entirely comfortable with herself. That was almost 35 years ago and she was easily the only person I met like that for most of my life. I instantly admired her and pledged to myself that I would follow that path. Had I been a youth of this era I likely would have jumped on the white-hair dying bandwagon with gusto.
But now that I’m here, I see it’s not just about the colour of hair or application of makeup that I had admired so instinctively in this woman, despite my very young age. It was that she embodied an archetype that is rare. It was that she was experiencing the next chapter of her life not as a re-write of the first half, but as its own completely independent thing, as a completely independent character.
It was the maturity, the wisdom that shone from within, that I had admired. It was that end to which I pledged myself, and you can’t put that in a bottle.
– R.K. Finch