KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Friday, September 07, 2007

Why Is Natural and Gray So Rare?

About 18 years ago, I stopped wearing makeup. And then about 15 years ago, I stopped coloring my hair. These days, American women who use makeup and who use hair color to cover up gray look unnatural to me, like painted dolls. They are dolls, toys for a society dominated by heterosexual males who deem feminine, and thus desirable, only those women with most of the "important" parts color-coded. You know: here are the luscious female lips, here are the big glittery eyes with extremely long lashes, here is the hair that's young enough not to have been touched by time.

I stopped wanting to be a doll in my thirties, so I dropped the camouflage. I wanted to be who I was (and still am) and for the true me to be accepted. Was I accepted? I don't know if my work experience counts in judging that, because I haven't been employed by anyone for the last 13 years. I've been self-employed all that time, and I'm certainly accepting of myself. As far as intimate relationships go, I was very much accepted, because when I started being my graying-haired self was when I met and then married the love of my life.

In the U.S., it's weird to see a gray-haired woman, unless she's in her eighties or older. We've been taught for so many decades that we must paint ourselves and cover our aging to be considered attractive, both in the workplace and as lovers. It's so weird that someone's written a book about what it's like to be a graying fifty-something, and that's news. Even all of the getting-back-to-your-old-self-after-pregnancy articles I've ever read hint or say outright that if you're not wearing makeup and coloring your hair in the postpartum period, you may be depressed.

Depressed? I don't think so. I think you may just have come to realize that it costs a lot of bucks to keep yourself brightly hued. Or that you were doing it for everyone else, not yourself. Or that all that camouflage isn't practical in real life. Or that if you go back to a paying job—or even if you don't—it just takes too damn much time.

I didn't have to write—or read—a book to figure all of that out. Next thing you know, someone will do a scientific study investigating the issue.


Anonymous said...

I'm 52, and I haven't worn makeup (except occasionally some lipstick) in years, partly because I haven't found anything that doesn't make me itch and partly because I can't be bothered. And I'm not putting anything on my hair, either -- it has developed an interesting stripe that I actually like. My husband is a whole generation older than I am, so there's no "he looks younger than she does" issue, which bothers some people. So hurrah for us!

Unknown said...

I'm working at getting used to my grey. Sometimes it bothers me, but I'm sticking with it!

Stephanie E. said...

How incredibly ironic. Three days ago, I started a post on this very topic and haven't gotten around to finishing it yet. I stopped wearing makeup about four years ago except for rare occasions a few times a year (and even then, "makeup" means some loose powder, a dab of eyeliner, and sometimes a thin coat of mascara), and I have no desire to ever dye my hair, even if gray starts coming in prematurely tomorrow.

So yea for you! And I love your hair color.

I'll be linking to this wonderfully written post when I finally finish my own. :)

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

How great to hear from 3 very cool graying and eventually graying women! I was expecting to hear from some annoyed women on the other side of the fence on this one; maybe I still will.

Bonnie, I'm thinking you're a Bonnie I know from the huge copyeditors' e-mail list I subscribe to. Songbird, you look beautiful with gray hair. And Stephanie, sometimes you and I think very much alike. That's so cool. So link away, my friend.

Anonymous said...


Yep, it's me from Copyediting-L!


Anonymous said...

Well, I'm "sort of" on the opposite side of the fence regarding the make up, but I'm definitely not annoyed. I'm actually encouraged when I hear that there are still people out there, regardless of gender, who do their own things. For me, make up is my own thing. I love it. Always have. In high school, I thought it was absolutely necessary in order for me to be "attractive," but as the years have passed I've learned that the sky will not fall if I go to Wal-Mart sans the paint, haha.

Now, I just wear it when I have time to put it on and when I want to. Sometimes full face, sometimes just a bit here and there.

As far as dye jobs go, I used to dye my hair whenever I got bored, haha. It was a well-known fact about me. "Oh, Alicia's getting bored, she'll dye her hair." I stopped that mess a few years ago when a box of Revlon Color Stay labeled "Coffee" was actually JET BLACK and I spent seven hours (literally) in a salon having it stripped out.

My hair started turning gray in high school. (I got that from my father's side of the family.) I've never cared - whenever I colored my hair it was a creative outlet. It's getting more and more gray and I still don't care. Will I dye it as I get older? I don't know. I do know that I love both silver and salt-and-pepper hair - two colors that luckily seem to run in my family.

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Thanks for chiming in from another point of view, Alicia—and with grace, as always.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that I'll choose to go gray naturally. I haven't gotten there yet, so I honestly can't say for sure how I'll feel when I find my first gray.
There are several women in my office who work the silver; it makes older women look wiser and more distinguished, I think. Plus, they aren't exposing themselves to the chemicals!

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

The possibility that some of the chemicals in hair dye are carcinogenic is one of the reasons I don't color my hair anymore.

Lisa S. said...

I have barely ever worn make-up. Even in my "wild teen years" all I wore was some rebellious eye shadow. These days, all I wear is a smudge of eye shadow to perk up my eyes and that's it.

My hair is all natural, greying patches & all! I found I started getting grey hairs after my son was born 6 years ago (hmm, that's weird!) and at first I was mortified. At 27, you shouldn't be worrying about greys! But now, at 33, I don't have many, but there are enough. My husband says he loves them. We met when we were 19, so he claims the greys are just a symbol of all we've been through in our 14 years together.

And you know what? I think he's right!! I wouldn't color my hair for the world!

Anonymous said...

I kind of quit on the makeup thing about 5 or so years ago, not a decision, just drifted off as my life filled up with a ton of stuff which, finally, I have to say have been higher on my priority list.

I do color my hair. This is how it began. I was in my twenties, had very long, thick blond hair. I was born that way (except for the length). This was the seventies. In summer, my hair would turn much lighter if I left it out in the sun much. So by December and January, as it grew, it looked like I'd bleached it and it was growing out.

Now this is technically true, but the inference I drew was of disapproval, and while disapproval needn't be a damaging on a steady diet, it also can keep people in the fold. Well, I'd had enough disapproval, so I took to bleaching it at the roots so people wouldn't think I bleaced it. How nutty is that?

My eldest sister (turned 64 last week) let her hair turn grey sort of early, and it looks lovely. My other sister swears her hair has no grey but she's lying through her teeth because she has dark hair and turns sixty a week after I turn 56.

So, it takes all kinds, as my mother used to say. Then she'd look witheringly around the table and say, "And we've got ';em."
Oh, and my still-towheaded brother at 62 has a good deal of grey but you have to look realy really closely to see it, so well does it mix in with the super blond.

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