Thursday, June 30, 2011

No artificial colors or flavors

I made a Weighty Decision. I didn’t make it today; it’s been coming to me in stages, or really, if I’m being accurate, the Decision has been in front of me for at least four or five months. I had to come to it.

It’s a weighty decision and I’m going to tell you the What of it, and also the Why, and you’re not allowed to scoff at the end of the What unless you’ve also read through the whole of the Why.

The weighty decision, it is this:

I will no longer dye my hair to mask the gray members of my scalp.

I’m done. I’m 34 years old and I’m done and possibly at an age where many women (and men, too) are just getting started and I’m walking away. I’m done.

Hello, gray roots.
I’ve dyed my hair more or less constantly since I was 19. The damage thickens my fine, straight locks and makes them easier to style. I liked the change, flying between auburn and brunette and aubergine and medium ash. There were occasional white-blond streaks and sometimes it could best be described as brown-with-purple. And fine, I have old-gray-mare genetics and I found my first gray hairs really early. I didn't mind covering them.

My mother dyes her hair, and my mother-in-law, and dozens of friends. I don't criticize their reasons but I realized I don't want to share them. As dyeing my hair becomes less and less about the fun of changing my look and more about a tyranny of maintenance, I don't want to be constrained by a coloring schedule. Every eight weeks, then six, then four, for the rest of my life?

For what purpose?

Or I can just be me.

This is the problem with motherhood. There's all this accountability. I want to teach my girls that thinking about beauty is to make the natural you feel more good, not to be used as a weapon for self-criticism. I want them to believe in their selves, not their looks.

They see me put makeup on in the car on the way to work. They hand me the right tools, waiting patiently for the next red light. First, a little under-eye concealer. A little blush, to look a little brighter. Maybe a little lash tint, not even real mascara, to help the lashes that are as fine as my hair. Sometimes a sheer gloss. I'm not much of a lipstick girl.Why do you need makeup today, Mama? E asks and I say, "because Mama doesn't want to look so tired at work, honey."

Why don't you want to look tired?

"I'm tired because I don't always get enough sleep, but I don't want everyone at work to notice that I'm tired. I just want them to notice me." I always try to explain makeup in terms of noticing me; that is, not in terms of noticing my makeup. That's why I use sheers and translucents; I want to be the same woman with or without it. I want my very observant girls to know that.

In a world of mascara marketed to children, padded bikini tops in sizes for seven-year-olds, and half of teenage girls dieting regularly, I don't have the luxury of hypocrisy. I have to be forthright with my messages of beauty and vanity and self-confidence. In truth, I've been thinking about this awhile now. Remember the skinny jeans for toddlers?

Last summer, I read this post at Finslippy, and its updates. It resonated. Last month, Megan at SortaCrunchy asked the to-dye-or-not-to-dye question. I answered in a helpful way, I hope, but it made me consider carefully my stance. And this week, the lovely Sarah of This Heavenly Life linked to this post at Emerging Mummy, which is about way more than hair, and which won't let go of my thoughts. (Go read those links.)

All of which would and should be enough, but isn't the all of it: E's one gray hair - remember it? Her Indian teacher told me that it's good luck? It no longer stands alone. She has a second gray hair, and now L has one. What aggressive color-leeching genetics we've combined, I don't know, but I do know that the best thing I can do to combat future upsets is to model self-acceptance today.

So that's the plan. Operation Natural Head. Don't scoff, now that you've read the Why, because it truly wasn't an easy reconciliation. And don't tell me I look old, okay? Tell me I look great. Better yet, don't tell me anything about my looks at all. Tell me you value my opinion, or appreciated a moment of compassion, or hope that I'll write something powerful. Tell me I matter beyond my looks. And tell me in front of my girls.

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