I don’t think there are many of us out there who when that first rogue hair rears its silvery head, apparently completely alone (after a frenzied search) and sitting there like an icy beacon, doesn’t experience just the tiniest measure of shock. It’s immediately plucked to be held aloft for intense inspection. It’s not so much the presence of this imposter amidst an otherwise blooming head of colour that troubles us – we know that grey in all of its glorious shades can be beautiful – but more the realisation that the time has come. We are at an age when, alongside other irritating reminders, we are beginning to exhibit the sneaky signs that time is marching on. I love grey. I have no problem with it, but I can’t help but wonder why the ‘to be grey or not to be grey’ question is an area of debate that never seems to lose steam.
It’s a hot topic that gets endless media attention. Open any magazine or tabloid newspaper and you’ll find stories of yet another celebrity ‘embracing their natural hues’. It’s not just older women either. There are infinite Instagram pictures of younger celebrities like Kim Kardashian, Lily Allen, Cara Delevigne and Rhianna, all experimenting with colour to flaunt an icy platinum look. And if older celebrities haven’t actually embraced their grey, they’re publically opening up about silvery streaks creeping in. In L’Oreal’s TV commercial for itsExcellence Crème hair range we see Eva Longoria grimacing in horror as she runs her fingers through unwanted grey roots for all the world to see – almost as if the notion of a celebrity going through what is essentially a very natural process is going to make us all feel better.
We have to ask – are we guilty of feeding this frenzy around the grey debate by endlessly highlighting it as such a big issue in the first place? We talk about embracing our age, fume against ageism, outlaw words like anti-ageing and age-defying, yet we create this massive arena for discussion around something that is simply about naturally ageing. Surely this attention only serves to perpetuate the concept that we live in a looks obsessed culture – and largely for women, when you consider that the same process for men goes virtually unnoticed. Their hairlines recede and it’s considered distinguished. A full head of steely grey hair and out trots the silver fox. Of course there are racks of hair tints for men – and I’m sure many who do – but you would never see swathes of social media pictures of George Clooney #embracingmygrey! It all happens without comment.
It seems to me that we are living with imposed standards of beauty and that society is dictating how we should feel about it, arguably with a patriarchal lead. But perhaps it also partly comes down to our own internalised subconscious ageism and childhood memories of the stereotypical ‘little old lady’ – who realistically was probably barely in her sixties. Tightly curled steel hair, billowing cardigans, voluminous handbags, whiling away her days baking and knitting. This is not an image that fits with today’s older women at all and heaven forbid we should look like that now. If somewhere deep down inside us going grey still faintly represents this impression then naturally it creates a reluctance to ditch the dye, without our even realising it. Of course we’re going to talk about it and sit over coffee with friends asking the question ‘should I, shouldn’t I?’ We fuel the debate.
Our changing hair colour is a beautifully natural process and what we choose to do about it is entirely up to us. We should be able to step beyond the imposed standards of beauty without unleashing endless column inches in magazines. If it’s about coming to terms with our own feelings of growing older then let it be about just that, and not deeply ingrained cultural attitudes that keep this debate alive with the dilemma it creates. Personally I love seeing grey, sliver, white or a fabulous Cruella de Vil combination of all three. There is something sassy and rebellious about a woman who is not afraid to be herself in a world where we still have to fight to be exactly that. So maybe the core of the matter lies right there. To be ourselves. If we stand up and talk about how beautiful grey can be, posting our pictures across social media, then we are examples of women who are redefining beauty – and in order for it to stay redefined, to become an unnoticed norm for future generations, perhaps this is the reason why we are all still talking about it. Like everything else we still have to contend with, I guess we’ll just have to keep on talking after all – until there’s no longer a need.