It is the first bony tap of the crone’s crooked alabaster finger on a woman’s shoulder. What me? Is it that time already? The questions spin through the air as we tumble down into an oubliette landing hard and where upon we spy the shadowy outlines of the goddesses Lachesis and Atropos who huddle in cahoots measuring and shortening the fragile threads of life.
There are those who may think that the timely arrival of the first grey hair is nothing, a mere trifle or a rite of passage to be stoically endured. They may think that it is just vanity and a fruitless refusal by women to accept Mother Nature: wake up folks it’s the first chilling whisper from Old Father Time that the same fate awaits us all.
For three months this past winter I decided to take the wizened, scrimshaw hand of my inner crone in a brief dance of entropy. In short I cancelled my hair colour appointments and decided to try this grey malarky. Oh dear. All that “kool aid propaganda” about silver strands being Mother Nature’s nurturing little gift against a fading skin tone is balderdash: I looked like an anaemic tapeworm. Facing the day required The Only Way is Essex amounts of spackle to stop people from asking: “You look awfully washed out, are you feeling OK?”
Society has currently taken a Janus-like attitude to grey hair with both young and old attempting to embrace the experience. It was reported last week that a growing number of young women were deliberately going “grey” with Amazon reporting that sales of Renbow hair colour cream in silver had risen by 200 per cent and Stargazer Silver was up by 60 per cent. Celebrities such as Rita Ora, Ellie Goulding and Cara Delevigne have all chosen to dye their hair grey, even if only for a short period of time and “Grannyhair” has now been used 30,000 times as a hashtag to describe Instagram pictures. If this is supposed to be a comfort to us, an attempt to walk in supportive lockstep with their elder sisters, it is surprisingly ineffective.
When a young woman experiments with grey or silver hair it is an entirely different proposition than for an older woman. For one she has a degree of choice in deciding whether to turn her dark, brown or blonde hair grey, for those of us of a certain age nature has made that choice for us. Our choice is whether or not to accept the changing of our follicular season to snowy winter or to try to maintain our summery hue with the aid of chemical hair dyes.
Yet in both cases money is a factor. Last week the UK colour director at Vidal Sassoon Edward Darley was quoted as saying that young women were going grey partly for the striking effect of grey hair on a young woman but also partly as a conspicuous display of wealth, explaining that it was “aspirational” as “you do need to have some disposable income to achieve it”. For the young woman who dabbles in grey the cost may be expensive but its finite and limited to a season or two but for the rest of us with grey hair, we’re in for a long and expensive haul.
There are some women who have had enough and sing that they are glad to be grey. The American journalist Anne Kreamer went grey at the age of 25 and said that she spent over £30,000 on salon colour treatments over the next 20 years before deciding, at the age of 49 to stop and write a book on the experience called; take a deep breath, Going Grey: What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity and Everything Else That Matters.
She was quoted recently as saying: “Look at an Anderson Cooper or a Steve Martin or men who have historically gone grey early. I think they look terrific and it becomes almost an iconic differentiation for them.”
She argues that women can also look good grey and that we have been socialised into the view that grey is undesirable.
The author Diana Jewell, who wrote Going Grey, Looking Great said: “The myth that grey hair makes you old is just that – a myth. If you were young, vibrant, active, healthy pre-grey, you’re still going to be that way. It’s all in the attitude you bring to it. If you think of it as merely another colour choice, you won’t be afraid of grey.”
I’m just not sure that we can think of grey hair as “merely another colour choice” for it comes so weighted with images of age and withered decay. I’d love it if it was otherwise as then I wouldn’t view the monthly trip to the hair salon as an expensive necessity but this is not to say that I don’t have huge admiration for those women who are at the vanguard of attempts to change our attitude, women such as Sarah Harris, the fashion feature director of Vogue magazine who said she started going grey at 16 and now, aged 34, can easily be described as a “silver fox”.
Christophe Robin, the famous French, “hair master” recently shared his thoughts on grey hair and explained: “It takes guts to make that decision [to go grey]. It requires attitude. It’s part of an emotional dress code. Going grey or white is another affirmation of femininity and, of course, deciding not to be a slave to your hair.”
I support those strong, determined women who are intent on reframing our attitude towards grey and maybe in a generation or two we’ll see grey in a new, brighter light, but for now I still see it as a sullen squatter who evicted the natural hue I so loved. There may indeed be 50 shades of grey but on me personally none of them look good.