Let me start with a confession. The truth is … I’m not a natural blonde!
There, I’ve said it. But you probably knew that already. If you’re a forty-something woman like myself, you’ll realise that at our age we’re all hiding the ravages of time with one of the greatest age-defying inventions of all – hair dye. The question is why?
Why Do Women Need to Dye Their Hair?
The debate over whether women need to dye their hair was in the news recently when BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce admitted,
Age is definitely an issue for women in TV….I have a few grey hairs. I dye them. I don’t let my grey hair show when I’m reading the news.
In an article in The Telegraph, Bruce said,
Of course, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation if I was a 48-year-old man. I used to get cross about that, but what’s the point?
And that’s the crux of the matter right there. Men who go grey are said to look ‘distinguished’. But women are just thought to be old. And no woman wants to be thought of as old, or, as in the case of ex- BBC Countryfile presenter, Miriam O’Reilly, lose her job because she is thought to be past her prime. So we dye our hair.
But, as I found out through personal experience, it’s not only external pressure that forces women to dye their hair. It’s the way we feel about ourselves – our self-image – and how that reconciles with the image we see in the mirror every morning.
The First Shades of Grey – A True Story
I used to be a natural brunette, with hair so black it used to have a navy blue sheen in sunlight. But those days are long gone. I first started noticing grey hairs when I was about 25. At the time I was teaching in a high school and put it down to stress. Two years later, after a particularly stressful back-packing trip around Europe with an ex-girlfriend, followed by a move to London, the grey hairs started coming thick and fast. I blamed the ex-girlfriend.
At first I experimented with semi-permanent colour. The results were embarrassing and could have qualified me for early membership of the so-called ‘Blue Rinse Brigade’. When I opted for a shade of black the grey hairs came out purple, while the more coppery brown tones resulted in grey hairs turning orange. It was time to take the plunge and start using permanent colour.
At first I loved permanent colour. My hair shone in sunlight and I could experiment with shades of brown. For many years I had no idea how my greying was progressing. In my mind, using permanent colour had stopped the greying process in its tracks.
Going for Grey
Except it hadn’t. It took a bout of serious illness for me to realise just how much I had been greying beneath my hair dye during my thirties. Within weeks of falling ill my grey roots were showing and the difference between the hair colour and my natural colour was very marked.
I was too ill to go to the hair salon or lift my arms to colour my hair myself and so, just a few weeks after my 40th birthday, I decided I was going to go grey. Mostly out of necessity, but also out of curiosity.
If you are going to go grey and let your dyed hair colour grow out, I recommend going into hiding for six months. Failing that, it might be a good idea to invest in brightly coloured headgear. Whatever you do, it is not going to be pretty.
It also helps to be slim, with beautiful skin and fantastic bone structure. With lots of make-up, you might just pull it off.
The Love Affair I Never Had
And so I watched in morbid fascination as my grey hair continued to grow through. Eventually, I was well enough to hobble down to the hairdressers and get most of my dyed hair cut. A couple more months’ growth and finally I was completely grey and still only 40! I can’t say it was my proudest moment, but it was certainly an interesting one.
I wanted to love my grey hair but the truth is I never did. From the very first time I saw myself completely grey, my one and only thought was, ‘I look so old’. But I was still struggling with my health and didn’t want the hassle of colouring it, so I left it grey.
Also, it felt like a good, old-fashioned feminist thing to do – to be au natural, as nature intended, and accepting of myself as I was rather than trying to conform to some media convention of what a forty-something woman should look like. Yet I couldn’t help thinking that maybe the feminists had got it wrong.
As it turned out, most people thought I looked old too. Or maybe just odd. As luck would have it, not only did I have a ‘moon face’ from taking high doses of steroids, I also needed to wear silver ‘railtrack’ braces during this period as part of the treatment for Temporomandibular Jaw Dysfunction(TMJ), so my introduction to my forties was nothing if not traumatic.
I got used to seeing looks of surprise (aka veiled horror) on people’s faces when meeting me for the first time. Elderly ladies took to chatting to me on the bus as if I was a long-lost friend. ‘Is it your knees, dear?’ became a common conversation starter.
One friend made a point of telling me, ‘In this day and age, nobody needs to be grey’ while my sister kept on about how much l reminded her of our grandmother before she died. I felt hurt and insulted, but not enough to reach for the nearest bottle of peroxide.
There were a couple of friends who were supportive of my grey hair and were always telling me how much it suited me and how much they liked it. But I never really believed them.
Fifty Shades of Blonde
Finally, after almost three years of being grey, I decided it was time for a change. My health had improved and my TMJ treatment was coming to an end. Two days after my braces were removed I walked into the hairdressers and asked to go blonde. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Immediately I felt and looked 10 years younger. My skin looked better against blonde hair. When the grey hair grew back the roots weren’t as noticeable as they were with darker hair dye. It was a whole new me. And best of all – people didn’t recognise me. It was as if the old, grey Angie had disappeared forever. Bleached out of existence.
So, I for one, will not be letting my hair go fifty shades of grey any time soon. Been there, done that. I’m doing fifty shades of blonde now. And it’s way more fun!