Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Defiantly aging gracefully

I was sort of taking a nap on the floor on Saturday afternoon, as some Saturday afternoons are made for sort-of nap-taking of the flavor that comes from reading or playing on the floor with your littles and then just closing your eyes and finding yourself sort of asleep. This has happened to you, yes?

I was in that blissful state of nearlyasleepshhhhhhh when E started pulling at my head.


"I know, sweetie."

But that means you're getting old! And dying! And you're not allowed to have gray hair because you're not allowed to die!

"I'm not dying, love. Promise. It's just hair. I'm going to live for another 200 years at least."

Only old people have gray hair.

Ah-hah. Here we are. It's only hair, I said. And she agreed, after I talked so long that she lost interest in her indignation. But then I was awake.

I had a lot to say. Let's start here: I'm 36 years old, 36-and-a-half if you ask my kids. I have gray hair. I also have lots of brown hair. Brown, in fact, still clearly wins, but the gray is a vocal minority. Enjoy my sidebar of cell-phone selfies as I try to show you my gray hairs. They're there. I like them.

I love them. I love my gray hair. This is a thing I wanted to be able to say years ago, and I realized on Saturday that I can say it. This is my body. It is short and a little round and grew three kids and takes me running and freckles in the sun. It bears a unicycle scar and an IV scar and some stretchmark scars. It is left-handed, blue eyed, and crowned with some gray. This is my body, and that's the hair on top of it, and why would I not own that?

More women that she knows have visible gray hair than E has thus far noticed, but it is a truth that many women dye their hair and as such my visible gray is a misleading rarity. I'm not the only aging woman. We're all aging. But I'm allowing this aspect of aging to continue on without masks. And this was an upsetting revelation to my girl.

She asked me to dye it so I don't look old. I said no, and told her why. And she accepted that I'm proud of this body as a good reason not to dye my hair. But isn't that something that she can't think of another example? What message are we sending our daughters if we don't model how our bodies change, what age looks like, what happens at every next stage?

I will tell you that I feel prettier since I've stopped dyeing my hair, as the cessation has done much for my self-acceptance. I will tell you that three husbands of female friends have told me that gray hair is sexy and expressed a general wish that their wives (my friends) would go natural. I will tell you that both those things are nice, but don't really matter. This is me. I like that to be a simple statement. I like that to be something my kids understand.

And if you dye your hair and it brings your pleasure or boosts your confidence or is wild red or streaked with purple (especially if your hair is wild red or streaked with purple), I say carry on with your regime. But if you dye your hair and think it's a pain and think it's a hassle and think it's expensive, maybe think instead about all our young girls growing up, bombarded with messages about beauty and conformity and too few messages about confidence in our natural bodies; and our young boys growing up bombarded with messages of beauty as a narrow ideal and an objectifiable one at that.

Nothing negative has happened as a result of my decision two years ago to stop dyeing my hair. And my growth in confidence has been slow, quiet, unremarkable. But talking with E on Saturday and in subsequent conversations since have confirmed every minute of these two years as correctly played.

And that's the grand hair update I've felt naggingly I've owed you. And that's the most challenging and honest part of parenting: it's not just that I've been forced to define my ideals, but I'm forced to examine them, defend them, and explain them.  This one stood up perfectly under unanticipated scrutiny, and that felt great.

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