Beyond black and white

I remember my first one clearly. The embarrassment. I was twelve. I was at netball practice and a classmate saw. She made a comment and I couldn’t deny it, though I made a half arsed attempt. My first grey hair.

A couple of years later in teenage turmoil I attended a counsellor. Everything to you is black or white, she said, there’s a lot of shades of grey in the middle.

Well dear reader, you know me, grey just isn’t me. I have opinions. Lots of them. Big shouty ones. I don’t do grey. Wishy washy. Blah!

And I like to do everything. Or nothing. There is little in between.

But life is teaching me acceptance, the liminal state of in-between. I have learned that I am what I am. And that is actually just fine. Rather wonderful in fact. And so I have chosen to embrace my whitening locks – even though I am only 30. I am have nothing to hide.

But there aren’t that many of us about. It is quite bizarre to be standing next to a woman ten, twenty, thirty years older than me, and they have not a single grey hair… on show… it is all covered up in glossy hair dye. For me it is about acceptance of who I am and what I look like, not covering it up. But for most grey hair is a failure, a loss of youth, fertility, a fading of looks, a reminder of death.

But only for women it seems.
You see, it’s perfectly OK for men to go grey – see Brad Pitt and Mr Clooney. They are employable, attractive, suave, authority figures and experts. Yet grey hair on a woman – my God, she’s let herself go. Quick wheel in the leggy 25 year old to replace her.

In a recent cover feature in The Guardian’s Saturday magazine seven high profile female TV personalities were discussing how aging women are treated in the world of media. Their ages ranged between mid forties to mid seventies. And not a grey hair between them. But not one mentioned grey as an issue.

These double standards are not OK with me.

In fact the majority of my mentor figures are silver, white, grey, steel. Wise, accomplished, creative, intelligent. And beautiful. Very beautiful.

And so in part my grey streak, which gets wider by the day, is a courageous political statement of beauty being far wider a spectrum than our culture currently allows for. And also that women’s deep, inherent value lies far beyond youthful looks.

And a statement it is. I find a lot of people have conversations with the top of my head, in the same way that people have conversations with one’s cleavage. It makes them very uncomfortable.

It’s hair people. And this is the colour it goes.

The last time I dyed it was the last time I wanted to run away from being me. I have been tempted a couple of times since, but each time it was coming from a place of non-acceptance of myself. Of shame. Of trying to be someone else. Of trying to be acceptable on somebody else’s terms. No more.

The same is true of this body which I wear. It has been a long journey of acceptance and overcoming self-disgust.

Often I find myself in a crowded room thinking – ha, everyone in here is naked under their clothes. I wonder what they look like, without their carefully tailored trouser legs and cinched in waists and push up bras. We all hide under our clothes. They make us seem so much more different to each other. We lose the continuum of all of our funny shaped, wobbly, skinny, hairy bits – our shared humanity. For that reason I love those photos of huge numbers of naked people by Spencer Tunick. Waves of wonderful human flesh in all its unique, beautiful, strange loveliness.

A dear friend sent me a wonderful birthday card last year, welcoming me into my my silver sealskin, the moonlight in my hair. I like that a lot.

And so the streak is becoming less isolated. A gentle shimmering of moonlight is sprinkled through my locks. Black and white are co-mingling. I am learning to live grey with a deeper understanding. And I wear my wisdom with pride.

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