Image is a powerful thing here in the United States, and my issues of 'self-image' have been manipulated by the media for as long as I can remember. Back when I was in late elementary school, I didn't want to admit that my eyesight wasn't as good as it should be, because wearing glasses was 'geeky' and uncool.... I spent 5th and 6th grade sitting in the front of the class so that I could see the board rather than acknowledging there was a problem and finally broke down and told my Mom I needed eyeglasses when I started 7th grade, but only because one of the coolest girls needed them in class.
In high school I began to worry about my weight, and though I never became anorexic, I have dealt with concerns about not being skinny enough ever since. Much of the time, it was more in my mind that in reality, though middle age has led me to appreciate the body I used to have a lot more.
Middle age has also led me to confront another image issue... why Americans don't want to look old. Everywhere you turn, there are ads promoting anti-aging foods, cosmetics and other products. Diet and exercise along with modern medicine, have created the potential to live far longer than our grandparents did. However, it is the young look that is revered in our culture. Love of youthfulness is now competing with a longer lifespan, to the further detriment of having a healthy self-image.
While I was pondering how to keep a healthy body the past few years, and noticing that I had to exercise more simply to lose less ground, while not really getting 'better' (meaning trimmer, firmer, stronger, etc.), I didn't notice that those highlights my hairstylist had started putting in my hair when I thought it would be fun to change my look in my late 30s, were now being used to cover a steadily increasing amount of gray.
I have been very faithful about keeping my hair well styled for the past two decades, and my hair was never, ever growing out, so it wasn't until I read Going Gray last fall that I watched more closely the next time I had my hair painted.... oblivion can be such a comfortable place to hang out in!
This photo was taken in the summer of 2004, at the height of my 'blondie' period, and even my stylist and I could agree that it was 'over the top'... to artificially blond for me to be comfortable wearing.
I realized that I had been eating up all those compliments I had received for the past five years about how young I looked to have grown children, etc. What I knew that others didn't was that was just genetics, which is pretty much the same as saying I was just lucky. Over the course of 2007, as I was turning from 52 to 53 in years, I was also watching a streak of white grow in over my left temple, which my stylist was highlighting a blondy-white to blend with the rest of my fakey-colored hair. Here's a nice, but grainy photo of me from last September...
a more natural look, and those good genes sure don't hurt in promoting the myth that I might be much younger than that number on my driver's license, but, hey, I'm all about authentic living and integrity in the other areas of my life, and I suddenly didn't want to be lying, covering up gray hair, trying to appear younger. I am proud of much of the experiences of my 53 years, and humbled by the rest of them. I also don't work in any of those youth-driven industries, and didn't need to think about going out and finding a job, so I decided back in November to give up coloring my hair and 'go gray'.
I was worried about having roots that looked awful. I was anxious about my stylist and if she would 'fire' me as a customer and be unwilling to go through this journey with me... she might not want people to know I was a customer if I went around looking bad. So, partway through the past several months, I decided to have her cut my hair shoulder length, so that it would look even more well-groomed each and every day.
By the time I modeled my turquoise Ballet T shirt in late March, my hair was tidy, but growing more gray. It was interesting to learn that the top of my head has the most in the way of light gray hair, while the undersides and back were more darkish. My haircolor in childhood varied from the bleached dishwater blonde of summer to the chestnut reddish-brown mix of hippie longhair in college.
The line between colored hair and new growth was becoming more pronounced. My hairstylist had suggested a few months back that if I allowed my hair to dry naturally rather than blow-drying it straight, the line would be less pronounced due to the unevenness curliness produces, so I tried that and was reminded once again how lucky I am to have the possibility of wild, curly hair. So, about a month ago I took the radical step of cutting my hair shorter still, to reach the length of maximum curliness....
This photo taken on Mother's Day, with oldest son Cody, in the light blue cap, and youngest, Jesse, on my other side shows me as I am today, with shorter, curlier hair, a middle-aged woman with grown children. I miss having long hair a bit, and once I have shed much of my color-damaged hair, will probably let it grown longer once again.
I am lucky not to need to go out into the bigger world and try to convince someone I am 20 years away from retirement and will work myself into the ground for them. I am luckier to have the love of family and friends helping me to live my authentic self.