Curling up to Grey: Letting my Freak Flag Fly
Changing your hair can change your life.
BY: Carol Orsborn, Ph.D., Fierce with Age
A year ago, I made the bold decision to go grey. My hair hasn’t been cooperating, however, mixing grey with brown, tan and white, giving me more the appearance of my dog Lucky, a Yorkshire Terrier/Maltese mix, than the gracefully aging woman I’d envisioned.
That said, I’m far from unhappy. In fact, I’d embarked upon the color change as a kind of grand experiment. In brief, like an increasing number of women at midlife and beyond, I wanted to see what I “really” look like at my age. And, I have to admit, I was hoping somewhere down deep that this wouldn’t turn out to look exactly like my mother, who I didn’t particularly want to resemble.
My going grey was a symbol of not just my curiosity about my real hair color, but about what my real life could look like as I transited into my sixties. How would it be for me if I made my decisions from this point going forward not on the basis of either defying nor surrendering to age and other people’s opinions, but returning to my 1960’s roots—literally—by “letting my freak flag fly.”
I dreaded talking about this with my regular hairdresser, who had both a major investment in as well as judgment about my hair color. When it came time for my next visit to a salon, I followed my intuition into a pleasant enough shop with which I had no history. I relished the freedom of not needing to defend my decision to the young stylist who had a decidedly green strip down the middle of her hair. In fact, her only question to me had nothing to do with my hair color. “Have you thought about going curly?” she asked.
Curly? Not on your life. Not since curly hair had gone out of style some decades back (think Meg Ryan in the 1980’s). Since then, I’d taken extreme measures to ensure that my hair towed the line by going mostly straight, occasionally wavy but never curly. My hair obeyed, but reluctantly. Given the amount of work it endured over the years, pulled straight by rigid brushes beneath the punishing heat of hot irons and fried by chemicals that required rubber gloves, no wonder my compliant hair had finally gone dull and limp.
“Actually, I hadn’t,” I finally replied. “But why are you talking about my curls? Aren’t you, rather, supposed to be talking me out of going gray?”
“Why?” she responded. “Both your curls and your natural color are pretty. Look at how pleasant a shade your ashy roots are, and how nicely they blend into the dyed dark blond hair that is growing out. Your hair is begging us to let it be.”
“Let it be?”
The hairdresser was not to be deterred. To “go curly”, all I had to do was let her snip the ends off at new angles, put on a little conditioner, then fluff, fluff, fluff. No torturing, pulling, punishing. I said yes.
For a few weeks, I was alternately worried that either everybody was whispering about me behind my back, or I was getting away with something. Then I, along with my hair, finally relaxed. This curly hair, going grey thing, was something I’d never anticipated: it was fun.
I started doing things out of character for me. I bought a colorful head band and dared to run my fingers through my very own hair, haphazardly, randomly, just because it felt good. I rode in convertibles and didn’t worry about messing up my curls. I felt free! And that was just the hair part.
Somewhere along the way, between walking up to the decision to go grey, lucking into a permission-giving hairstylist who really got me, and surrendering to the urge, it was not only my hair, but my life that went wild. And that’s a very, very good thing.
I wonder now why it took me so long. And I’m still curious as to how many years it will actually take to “go grey.” But never mind. Neither my hair nor my life look anything like my mother’s. I have broken free from limiting expectations about the past and the future, and have bounded into the freshness of my own fully lived experience. Like me, even my hair is becoming fierce with age.
Carol Orsborn is Founder of FierceWithAge, the Digest of Boomer Wisdom, Inspiration and Spirituality. Dr. Orsborn is the best-selling author of 21 books including her newest book: Fierce with Age: Chasing God and Squirrels in Brooklyn. (Spring 2013) With a doctorate in religion from Vanderbilt, Dr. Orsborn is a sought after speaker/retreat leader and spiritual director.