October 9, 2005

"Gray is nature's way of whispering 'You're dying.'"

Anderson Cooper talks about his gray hair. He says it can be cool for a guy to go prematurely gray. But:
When was the last time you saw a sexy gray-haired woman in a movie? Rogue and Storm don't count; they're cartoon characters.

"It's not fair," says Diane Harris, a media image consultant, "but men see gray on a woman and they think she's old."

My friend Cathy went gray in her early thirties. She was attractive and successful, but guys backed away.

"Men instantly assumed Birkenstock-wearing, protest-rally-organizing cat lover," Cathy says. "You could see it in their eyes."

Needless to say, Cathy's no longer gray.
Gray and white are flattering colors. We wear clothes in these colors all the time. But the meaning of gray/white hair is just too deep. I started getting white hairs when I was a teenager and had so many by time I was in my late twenties that my naturally red hair didn't read as red anymore. It just looked dull. And when I ran into friends I hadn't seen in a while the horror would show on their faces! You have to color. Anyway, most women color their hair even when they aren't going gray, don't they? Gray hair? It's just not done anymore. Completely white hair? That might be cool, but it takes a while before it's completely white, and by the time it is, you've probably been coloring so long that it's hard to think of how you could do it. Let the roots grow over the summer, then cut it so only the new uncolored part is left. Then waltz into work in September with very short, absolutely white hair. That would really shock people. I'd do it. But only if they made a reality TV show about me doing it.


Jack Roy said...

Someone's never seen a picture of Emmylou Harrissss......

nappy40 said...

You have to do it.

EddieP said...

Or Shirley Jones

Simon said...

My wife is paranoid about finding a couple of gray hairs. Personally, I think, it's fine, and I don't think it's per se unattractive on any woman. It's the same as makeup. All the makeup and gray hair in the world won't make an ugly woman beautiful or a beautiful woman ugly. One has what God gave one, and if one isn't satisfied, too bad.

Brendan said...

Real men don't dye their hair (unless you're an actor and it's for a role). To hell with Grecian Formula. Btw, seen Suzanne Pleshette lately? Totally white.

Jake said...

Its a moot point for women.

Unless you hang around a food co-op or go to an anti-Iraq demonstration, you rarely see a woman with grey hair.

MD said...

You know, men often say they prefer women without makeup a more natural appearance, but it's been my experience that what they say and what they respond to isn't necessarily the same thing! The eyebrow shaping and manicures and pedicures and makeup (as long as it's not Tammy Faye-ish and over the top) and hair coloring seem to get results, so hence, an entire industry for women is born.

Alternatively, because I'm a total contrarian and like to argue even with myself, make-up and hair coloring and grooming and Manolos's shoe blog and chick lit are all ways to feel part of a deeply feminine and exclusive club, so it's not all about the boys, necessarily, but a way to create a separate and unique identity. I seem to remember someone (can't remember who) arguing that high fashion serves that purpose. High (couture) fashion models are more for women than for men. Look at the difference between the runway and Maxim, for instance. Why such an insistence on a sort of beauty that doesn't always appeal to men (or gay women)? And one so strict and 'cutting' for most women? Odd phenomenon.

My mother has let her hair grow gray at 60 and it is really beautiful - it almost shimmers. She got tired of coloring it black, which is her natural color and mine too. I suppose I'll let it go gray eventually(or maybe not, it's surprisingly scary to think about), and if I do let it go gray, I plan to continue to eyebrow shape, manicure, pedicure, and hope to have lots and lots of hermes scarves and dolce bags, and all kinds of lovely experience to make up for it. A shallow gal can dream, can't she?

PS: I'd see that reality show. But then, I do watch Filthy Rich Cattle Drive which is the lowest of the lowest of the low. Fabian Basabe is enough to drive Milton Friedman to socialism and class warfare.....

Jake said...


You are right.

I once said to a woman co-worker that I was surprised that the women in our office didn't wear makeup. She replied, "Yes they do. They are skilled at putting it on so you are not aware of it.

XWL said...

direct quotes form Mr. Cooper's article:

"Going gray is like ejaculation. You know it can happen prematurely, but when it actually does, it's a total shock."

"Think Bill Clinton. Huge head of gray, not to mention a monster-truck tire around his waist, and he had an intern pizza-delivery service."

"The other thing that happens when you start getting gray: You begin checking out every other gray-haired guy."

(why resort to satire when the original does a much better job than you can ever do)

lindsey said...

Anderson shouldn't call it "gray". He should call it silver.

bearing said...

Oh man, Ann, this is depressing. Does one really have to color?

I always said I never would do it. My hair is still brown all over at this point, but I wonder how much time I have left, and I really don't want to "have to" color my hair when the time comes. Yuck. It makes me think of makeup, which I also hate.

Are you sure that one can't pull it off? Maybe if I started hanging out at the food co-op more.

in_the_middle said...

oh geez, i thought it said that he was talking about going prematurely GAY...

actually...i'm not sure which would be less of a surprise. (only the hair seems premature)

Bruce Hayden said...

You don't have to do it. I was at the funeral of the father of one of my best friends recently and ran into his sister. She went from moderately attractive as a blonde to extremely attractive as silver. Her hair was in some sort of helmet cut down to the tops of her shoulders, and it was stunning. Add to that, perfect skin in her early 50s, and it was a very attractive result.

I think that the way to make it work is for a woman to look like she is proud of it, and takes good care of it. Tonight, saw the stereotype of the aging hippie on TV - long hair, a little scraggly, with obvious graying. That is not nearly as attractive. That look works ok for younger women, but not for older ones.

My first thought when meeting women my age (54) who have the skin and body appropriate for their age, but no gray hairs, is that they dye their hair - because most seem to by that age. And personally, I prefer the woman who doesn't.

But then, as you can probably tell from my picture, I never did dye my hair, and have been gray for better than a decade. But, then, I am a guy. Under pressure from my girlfriend, I did (over) dye my mustache a year or so ago, and liked it. Too much trouble to maintain.

Finally, there are people who do not go gray. Ronald Reagan was one. His barber revealed that he did have gray hairs, just so few that anyone else besides him (and Nancy) wouldn't notice. Ditto with the mother of friends of mine, who turns 84 this week. Same Irish genes maybe. Her youngest daughter is 50, and is notably graying - which is interesting, having gray hair when your mother doesn't, naturally.

Bruce Hayden said...

I don't think that women really fear aging itself any more than we men do. After all, on average, they are going to live longer than we are.

I think though that it is more that being a women, and in particular, an attractive woman, opens doors, literally and figuratively.

At some point, this goes away, at least the figurative opening of doors. I read one woman this year telling that all of a sudden she went invisible. And for awhile, it really bothered her. And then, she got used to it, and has come to enjoy it.

In any case, women, esp. attractive women, have a power over men. And it is the worry about losing this that I think drives a lot of their desire to look younger than they are, whether it is coloring gray hair, covering aging skin with more makeup, face lifts, tummy tucks, etc.

Ruth Anne Adams said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan said...

Women are fortunate that their gray hairs generally remain on their heads instead of migrating down to their eyebrows, backs, ears and noses.

Judith said...

"I think that the way to make it work is for a woman to look like she is proud of it, and takes good care of it. Tonight, saw the stereotype of the aging hippie on TV - long hair, a little scraggly, with obvious graying."

Exactly. The birkenstock look comes from a lot more than grey hair. I think a sense of style in clothing and haircut, that acknowledges current fashions without trying to be trendy, is attractive whatever your hair color.

Ann Althouse said...

We're supposed to believe Reagan didn't dye his hair? There's just a certain type of person whose hair does not gray? Yeah, that's the type of person who lies about dyeing his hair.

bearing said...

Ann said: "We're supposed to believe Reagan didn't dye his hair? There's just a certain type of person whose hair does not gray? Yeah, that's the type of person who lies about dyeing his hair."

I don't know about Reagan, but I can vouch for my grandmother (who has black hair); she did not start to go gray until she was in her seventies. She did not color it, I'm sure, partly because she says so and I believe her, and also because when she did start to go gray it happened gradually and naturally, beginning with a few silver strands here and there. She has lovely silver hair now with a few black strands among them (at age 84). I guess you'd call this type "salt-and-pepper?"

I always figured I'd take after my mother, who had the same hair color as I. She started coloring her hair somewhere between 35 and 40.

Bruce, thanks for the hope.

All: Do you think women color their hair to influence how they're seen by men, how they're seen by other women, or how they see themselves?

Paul said...

So funny.
I heard nature speaking to me quite clearly when my hair turned gray but to be very certain I understood, she took most of it too. Now, that is depressing.

knoxgirl said...

If you're female, your hair has to be perfectly, beautifully silver to get away with it.

With that said, I think women are much harder on themselves than men, and hold themselves to a much higher standard. Most men don't seem to mind if a woman dyes her hair or wears makeup, as long as she's not too overweight or slovenly... or has the "Hag Hair" that some of the comments here refer to.

bearing said...

knoxgirl: "If you're female, your hair has to be perfectly, beautifully silver to get away with it."

Hmmmm. Maybe, after I go gray, I'll dye my hair perfectly, beautifully silver.

That almost doesn't count. Right?

knoxgirl said...

bearing: yes, but that's how little old ladies end up with blue hair.

tommy said...

Going grey before you're 20?
Try being a man GOING BALD before you're 20. We didn't have 'spray on hair' back then.
Bitter? Yep, but I got 'dignified' as I aged. HAH!
And you just got more MILFish.

howzerdo said...

I don't wear make up or dye my hair. It is still more black than gray, but the gray is there, in fact there is quite a lot of it in some places. I love my hair, especially the gray patch at my left temple. It makes me resemble my beloved late paternal aunt even more than I did before. I've always thought that it has to do with perception, denial, self-confidence, how you define yourself, and buying into the more shallow (and sexist?) elements of our culture. I didn't buy it at 18 and don't at 44. To me, the look of dyed hair framing an aging face is ridiculous. Even more ridiculous, the look of dyed hair framing a surgically altered face (the hands don't lie). My mother has never dyed her hair, and is the most actualized person on the planet. Yes, I love cats (although I love dogs more) and grow organic food but you won't see me at protest rallies. Birkenstocks? Well, I do have to wear orthopedic shoes and had to at 18 also. Trust me, "pulling it off" is not a big deal.

knoxgirl said...

amendment: everyone who's not self-actualized: dye it.

amba said...

Unless you spend a LOT of money, a middle-aged woman with dyed (sorry, "colored") hair just looks like a middle-aged woman with dyed hair.

I have gray hair. I have never colored it. I don't go to protest rallies or wear Birkenstocks, I just could never be bothered. (It was already salt-and-pepper when I was interviewed by Howard Cosell back in the '80s. He asked me if I' ever colored it and I said no. He and a colleague both said approvingly, "Don't.") It has silver and pewter tones in it. It's very thick and wavy and I get compliments on it. On the other hand, I also get asked if I want the senior discount, about 6 years early.

I think people, especially young people, don't know any more what an actual 50, 55- or 60-year-old woman looks like. Dyed hair and having "work done" are becoming so widespread (and universal on the large and small screen) that people think that's what a 50-something woman looks like. Can't raise her eyebrows, has horizontal stretch marks ringing her neck . . . I can tell that Nicole Kidman and Ann Coulter and even Oprah have already had cosmetic surgery. You can tell because they don't look quite like themselves any more.

I am fit and have a good body, so I cause people a certain amount of cognitive dissonance. I recently took part in a karate training, and also got bored watching a tournament and did a cartwheel. The people around me were as shocked as if I'd ripped off my little-old-lady disguise and turned into Catwoman. I don't know if I'd rather take drastic steps to look more like I feel, or whether it's more fun to shake up people's expectations. On good days I go one way, on bad days, the other.