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Live or Let Dye: When Should I Let my Hair Go Grey?

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I’m not a vain person, per se. I can quite happily do the school run in yoga pants, without a scrap of makeup on. But something is up. My greys are getting greyer every month. Basically, I’m too young to look so old. I’ve heard other women talk about it, so I know I’m not alone.

It’s a kind of existential hair crisis.

Is this the year—my *sharp intake of breath* 41st—the year I give in and quit colouring my hair? I’ve been wrestling with this quandary for a while now. Admitting it is embarrassing; in the grand scheme of things, the decision is so frivolous. People lose their hair all the time, through age and disease, and I should be thankful to still have a strand left on my head. But I’m not naïve, either. Whether it’s the yellow comedy coif of the President or the balding middle aged woman on the subway, hair matters.

The more I agonize, the more I realize the dilemma goes deeper than the roots sprouting on my scalp. It’s not about looks or youth, not really. So I decide to seek the advice of my hair stylist.

“God, no!” she says, completely aghast, when I ask her if it’s time for let Mother Nature do her thing.

When I quiz her on the ‘right time’ to go grey, she meets my eye in the salon mirror, her expression grave. “Not until you’re 70.”

I smile weakly, fairly sure that I won’t be able to hold out much past my 45th birthday. Clearly my stylist has a vested interest in my continuing to colour. If all the women in the Western world suddenly went au naturel, salons would be seriously out of pocket.

I knew if I wanted a more objective opinion, I’d have to look elsewhere. My art teacher’s silver bob belied her youthful features. How and when did she take the plunge, I wondered. Maybe artists possessed a fortitude of character that enabled them to eschew aesthetic and cultural norms. I longed for the courage to pull her aside and ask, but alas grey hair remains a taboo topic among relative strangers.

It was only when my son asked to go down ‘memory lane’ one evening that the switch finally flicked.

Even though her clothes and glasses and even her body had changed over the years, the raven-haired woman in the photographs was instantly recognizable. She was the version of the self I held to be the most true. When I think about myself—at 15 or 35—she is the ‘me’ I see.

Ultimately my uncertainty stems from clinging to the person I used to be, the dark-haired person I still believe I am. The truth is, I’m not ready to see that woman disappear, never to come back. I’m not ready to see her grey-haired replacement when I look in the mirror. I’m not prepared for my son to have a granny for a mother. Nor am I prepared for how that granny will be treated when she steps out in the world.

I’m not ready to meet that woman just yet. Eventually I may be—but not yet.

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