To dye or not to dye – that is the question.

I was reading’s blog post the other day about whether or not a woman should have long hair after 40. It brought me back to to a conversation I had some weeks ago, with a small group of internet friends I have, all in their 30s and 40s, about what they were going to do when their hair went grey. It turns out that some have already ‘dealt with the situation’ and I just had no idea.  Even the ones who don’t wear make up have balked at letting any white hairs see the light of day.   I don’t know many women who go ‘au naturel’ at this age.  It got me wondering what I should do when I have to accept that there are more than a few twinklers threaded through the chestnut.

Grey hair, if you look at a single one on its own, is actually quite beautiful. It’s reminiscent of starlight. It glitters and sparkles. A whole head of grey though on a young (or youngish) woman, unless you can do a glamorous Vidal Sassoon bob, worn with elegance, confidence and expensive clothes, is hard to pull off. Throw curly hair into the mix (mine is) and what you have is a look that says less ‘attractive older woman ageing gracefully’ and more ‘wicked witch of the west’.  I really don’t want my children suggesting I lose my current wardrobe and replace it with the Halloween dressing up clothes – and I wouldn’t put it past them. They can be scarily blunt.

I found my first grey hair last Summer on the way back from a holiday with my family in France. I nearly choked on my croissant. I was not happy. I am not comfortable with the whole ageing process, inside, outside, in any kind of way. I am seeing the older generation in my family slowly fading out at the moment. My paternal grandmother is in her 90s, living in a nursing home, slowly becoming demented and already almost completely bedridden. She hasn’t liked people photographing her for a long time, her skin is paper thin, her hands claw like. She’s not giving up easily though, singing ‘Onward Christian Soliders’ at the top of her voice in the middle of the night, still retaining the upper class airs of someone who had has a less than average life, and demanding that she’s kept in an adequate supply of chocolate biscuits. Whilst I have to admire her spirit, she’s clinging on rather than enjoying life.  Grey hair, rather than wrinkles, seems to signifiy the start of a long road in that direction. And I plan to be the woman in the well known poem ‘Warning’,, rather than taking old age lying down.

If I eventually dye my hair though, which I suspect I almost certainly will, am I not contributing to the ongoing beauty treadmill that women get on from their teenage years? Should I make a statement and try having my hair grey? Caryn Franklin of seems to have it right. Daphne Selfe at 83 looks pretty amazing. And Helen Mirren always looks like she is having a pretty good time. But unless anyone can prove me wrong, there are far less of the women more towards my end of the age spectrum who’ve bucked the trend and not reached for the hair dye.

My little sister (she’ll always be that) while holidaying in Milan in her twenties, sat in a square with her friend and later re-counted to me the number of ‘silver foxes’ walking past. She was not talking about the women. Growing silver (note, not grey) is fine for a man. It’s distinguished, it seems to emanate gravitas and a deeper understanding of life. It’s a little bit Sean Connery and it looks good with a dinner jacket. On women though? I’m not sure the world has moved on that far yet. I’m not ready to be put out to grass, for people to assume I can’t run a marathon, or that my brain doesn’t work just as well as someone twenty years younger. So I suspect the #634 chestnut honey creme gloss will be hitting my bathroom shelf at some point in the next few years. In the meantime though, I will be retaining the right to change my mind. After all it’s a woman’s prerogative. 


15 thoughts on “To dye or not to dye – that is the question.

  1. I think you’re right, it’s all to do with other people’s perception. I’m proud to say that I care less and less about it. I will certainly keep my greys (which in the last year have arrived ”en masse”), and not worry about it.
    I find the fact that soooo many women dye their hair (usually the blond highlights) quite boring and unoriginal. Everybody looks the same!! But that’s just me. I’ve always loved the ”natural look” in any case, and always will. I so wish I lived in a hippy commune sometimes! 😉

    • I think you’re right and I wish I could say I will happily follow down the same path. If I dye my hair, I will be conforming to expectations, or trying to stay in the game. My work colleague is a dyed blonde though because she’s pure white otherwise. However beautiful a head of white hair is, she said to me if she didn’t dye it, she’d be treated like a Granny, and she’s not ready for that yet!

  2. That’s quite sad though…my grandmother has pure white hair, very beautiful I think, and the way she lives her life often wrongfoots people who try to treat her like a granny. She dyed her hair for years – jet black. It looked increasingly bizarre (this was back in the day when off the shelf dyes were all deeply unsubtle).

    I suppose I’m fortunate not to have found any greys or whites yet, but I’d like to think I won’t automatically reach for the cover-up when I do. Or perhaps I’ll use it as the excuse to get the bright pink dye out again.

    • Yes, I think the trouble is the woman I’m thinking of is a senior NHS colleague. If you’re living a more unconventional lifestyle, I think it’s easier to buck the trend. I quite like the mad old ladies who still wear makeup and dye their hair a ridiculouslly unnatural shade though – it’s like they are saying they’ll never give up on life. Just another way of looking at it I suppose.

  3. Enjoyed the post. And you’re right about the paradox women often embody. I rarely wear make-up, and even then it’s just mascara, but I plant my bottom firmly in a stylist’s chair every 6 weeks to keep the grey at bay. I’m highlighted and proud.
    By the way, love the poem “Warning.” I make my students read it 🙂

    • Thanks Traci. I feel caught between wanting people not to assume I haven’t lost brain cells with my hair colour and feeling that it shouldn’t matter. It’s a bit like the comments Hilary Clinton gets. If she wore make up more and worried about her hair then people would listen more to her ideas and stop focussing on her looks; I admire that she doesn’t give a damn regardless of what I end up choosing to do myself.

      • I think we’re the modern slaves. Slaves to our looks. That’s western society all over. I think it’s a shame and it’s sad. But it is how it is at the moment. I find some older women with grey hair really beautiful. But that’s just my opinion 🙂

      • No Pascale you’re right – I think you have to be strong to cope with the change in perception that happens when you get grey hair though.

  4. When I turned forty in January, I chopped off my super long dyed red hair, got a platinum Mohawk, and ran a marathon. Hail to the hairdye- I have no problem with natural, and respect the choice completely- but my personality is bold and I feel like myself with a constantly changing rainbow on my head! Course, I’ve been chopping it, dying it and growing it back au natural back and forth since jr high, so the choice has nothing at all to do with my age or my grays. Although, the revolving hair lifestyle does pretty much “cover” the issue! Wonderful post, I especially enjoyed the Vidal Sassoon bob with expensive clothes bit; exactly spot on and well put.

  5. I haven’t dared to go grey yet. When I start to (ie towards the end of my 5/6 week wait between dyes) I do look five years older. My sister is salt and pepper and she does look old-ish. And yet, it can be done elegantly, evidently. Mind you elegant and me..hmmm.

    • I’m lucky I don’t need to dye – yet. I was in total shock when I saw the first grey though and realised that yes, one day, I would be old. Somehow I seem to have had the idea I was the female Peter Pan….

  6. Well, my greys are coming in more and more now–strange short thick silver beauties mixed in with my fine, light brown hairs. Now I’m getting a little Bride of Frankenstein spray at the front of my part. I used to dye my hair just for fun, but now, now that I see these, I’m kind of curious what will happen next. Of course, I’m 46, so I feel maybe I’ve earned them… Like a badge of courage or something.

    Two of my friends in their 40s have gone totally silver–one after losing her hair to chemo. They both dyed their hair for years and found it tedious. They often showed silver roots which looked pretty bad. Now they both look fabulous. SILVER FOXES!

    • I’m glad your friends look good – maybe there is hope! My step sister’s hair has gone due to chemo and she says it is coming back grey too. I suspect she’ll reach for the dye bottle but we’ll see…

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