Notes on the journey of motherhood

Under An Auburn Veil: Aging and Identity

Looking in the mirror has not always been an easy thing for me. Growing up, my family (mostly my dad) have said things that have distorted the way I see myself (intended or otherwise). I have always struggled to have a healthy view of my appearance. I have always felt apologetic for my weight, my skin, and in dark times, my whole face. Somewhere between being a cute little girl and becoming a woman, everything went terribly wrong. It wasn’t one thing in particular, but as a teen I grew to feel like an outsider within my own family: like I had taken the basic ingredients they had given me, and then grown up wrong.

Perhaps to make the best of a bad situation – or perhaps just to embrace my difference – I started to dye my hair auburn. It started when I was a 14 or 15 and suffering with bad skin and oily hair: dying my hair dried it out, but it also made my hazel eyes look more green, my skin more porcelain than pale, as though turning up the colour and contrast somehow made me more animated, more feisty.

The auburn covered up my plain-Jane mousiness. People remember red heads: I could name every red head I’ve ever been to school with. They stand out, for good or for bad. As a brunette you’re one of many, and as a short, book smart girl, you’re practically invisible. I wanted to be noticed, even if sometimes that notoriety was for being that weird girl with the red hair. After some brief flirtations with blonde and then black in high school – and a shaved head at the start of university – I have been auburn half of my life.

Last year, many things in life took a back seat to my third pregnancy: hair included. Boy 3 was five months old before I finally managed to see my hairdresser. By that stage, my auburn hair had faded to dark bronze and my entire fringe had grown out to my natural colour. The greatest surprise was that it was not mousey brown, but a deep, rich, chocolate brown. It framed my face in a new light. At my age, I never expected to be surprised by my own reflection, but somehow that chocolate brown fringe brought me back to my roots. I wanted to see how I would look as the brunette I was made to be.

I went to the hairdresser and asked her to dye the rest to match my natural colour (ironic, yes). When we returned to the mirror after the shampoo, she began to cut and then dry. I watched myself come into view, snip by snip. My face grew red – this level of curiosity in my appearance felt a lot like vanity, only I assure you, this was not an exercise in beauty. I wanted to meet my true self, to look her in the eye. To confront the real me, pared back and exposed in the harsh fluorescent light of the hairdressers.

When she had finished, I didn’t look like the 14 year old, awkward me I had been trying to cover up: the one that hid under heavy jumpers so no-one could see her shape. My face was different. I had grown up. And I had never seen grown up me with dark brown hair before. Looking in the mirror, I could see me, but also my brothers, my mum, maybe even my dad. It felt like meeting myself for the first time. I was overcome by a feeling that I wasn’t plain or in need of covering up with auburn. I was just me. A mum and a girl and a woman. I saved the tears for the car trip on the way home.

I have been so comfortable in my brown hair: dark and shiny and silky. It’s tiring not being at peace with yourself, spending half a lifetime living under an auburn veil. I never imagined I could be so content as a brunette after a lifetime of holding up a strained reflection.

Last week amongst all that silky chocolate coloured hair, I found one grey hair. Just as my eldest boy was off to start pre-school, there it was, coarse and silver and not at all brown. Shit! I looked at my early morning face in the mirror, and it suddenly seemed more wrinkled than normal, the circles under my eyes darker and my cheeks hollowed. Am I ready to be old? I have only just come to terms with being a grown up, but now a grown up with grey hair?

This is what life does: it gets you when you’re peaceful. Just when you think the bay has calmed and the water is flat, there comes a ripple and all of a sudden you are in white wash and everything is displaced. The first thought that occurred to me was that I had spent the last half of my 20s pregnant or breastfeeding: that my three children had sucked the colour out of me. Whatever beauty I had left, they had devoured it along with my energy, my time, and my youth.

I had a shower and sobbed pathetic sobs into the drain. Then I got dressed and made breakfast for everyone. While buttering toast I decided rather than waste the rest of my lifetime worrying about grey hair – as I had wasted my youth worrying about my looks – I decided I would just get over it. That grey hair grew not because of kids: my kid-less friends have greys too. This is life. The grey hairs will come, but hopefully I will be too busy living my life to notice. But if I do spot one, I will pull it out, because deep down, I am still that feisty red head.

How do you feel about your hair? Do you chop and change? Do you keep it the same?

{Image Credit}

15 Responses to “Under An Auburn Veil: Aging and Identity”

  1. Michelle J

    I can’t remember what my natural hair colour is either!
    PS – love this post….xx

  2. Maxabella

    Such a beautiful, heartfelt post. So well written. I am still feeling a little sad at young-you hiding under her magnificent hair. It’s sad that you were made to feel that way. I think many girls are.

    The happy ending is that I know what a strong and lovely woman that young-you became. Happy with her naturalness. Happy even with a grey hair.

    You will prevail! x

  3. Cat

    A brilliant post. Your turn of phrase, “It was just me” is very powerful. You should lose the “just” part though. You’re pretty awesome in fact.

    I was SO much more adventurous with my hair in my 20s. I’m not anymore. I go with boring natural brown with the greys growing in for good measure. I don’t prioritise the hair thing as much as I used to. Child free time is so precious I don’t want to waste it on hair which is daft I know. I AM going to do something now though. I have been thinking about a blunt bob for about a year but with the upcoming b/maid duties I have I think I’ll wait til after that and do it. You’re totally right, life gets you when you’re peaceful….and for me, hormonal!

    And in reply to your comment over at my place – I love that you’re a similar shape to me – the jeans I grabbed are from Jag and were $38 – bargainola!!! Alison talked me in to a size 9 and I really do think going a size down is worth it as even after one wash they’ve stretched a lot.

  4. Jodie

    Hi Karen – firstly – love this post.

    I too was devastated to find my first grey hair at about your age. I used to pluck them out for the first couple of years. Now there are too many to keep up with, so I just keep up the dye. With darker brown hair it’s also easier to notice them because of the contrast. One of my closest friends went dark brown after 20 years of dying her hair blonde and was shocked to see all the greys she had but had never noticed. You can’t worry about what you can’t change!
    Hopefully we both have a while before they get quite prevalent. I always think back to Grandpa and my Dad who at 60 had hardly a grey hair amongst the black – hopefully we get those genes :)


    • the rhythm method

      I told mum and her response was “Well, I didn’t get greys until I was well into my 40s …” I just hope I don’t take after dad, who was silver for as long as I can remember. Eeek!

  5. Life In A Pink Fibro

    Well, I am a feisty redhead with a whole heap of greys. So what do I do? Cover those buggers up, of course. I’m not ready to embrace old just yet. Particularly as I got my first grey at 28! 28! Who’s ready to be grey then?

    Yes, life throws you curve balls, but it’s up to you whether you decide to take a swing or let them go through to the keeper. I’d pull those suckers out – and when there are too many, cover, cover, cover. You’re never too busy to colour. :-)

  6. Michelle Higgins

    I have so much grey. I started getting them far too young. So have been busy wasting time colouring them in. Not as devotedly as many – so I will often be found with roots showing through. I don’t care quite enough!
    I really loved this piece. It was very much stripped naked! And I very much related to not feeling happy/comfortable with the real me. It is such a waste of energy. I have hope that my own daughter will not have this same sense. She seems to have alot more confidence in her “look” (not looks) than I ever did.
    Beautiful beautiful heartfelt piece. x

    • the rhythm method

      This was a raw one. And yes, so much time wasted worrying about appearance. If I ever have a daughter, I hope she feels great in her own skin. Because we all deserve that.

  7. MultipleMum

    What a great post! With two red headed sisters, there was no way I was going to dye my hair red/auburn. I’m glad it helped you though. I have been blue, purple, pink, blonde and brown. I was mostly a blonde (natural) but the pregnancies turned me darker (and gave me waves/curls where I was once dead-straight). The greys are making a stealth attack on me too – I pluck when I can but I think the battles are getting harder to win :(

  8. In The Meantime

    Beautifully written, loved this post. Hard not to cry when I over empathize with the pain of your youth felt inadequacies. I’m so sorry that through poor parenting you grew up feeling that you were so much less than you are. I had to go look at photos on your page to assure myself that my impressions of you were not wrong. You were and ARE beautiful – you really are!!! My way of accepting is to focus on one’s good points and doing the best with one’s bad ones. Greys galore I have now – not that anyone but me knows how much, I dye the regrowth every two weeks RELIGIOUSLY. Consider yourself lucky if you do go silver early, it certainly beats dishwater grey! Silver IS GORGEOUS, muddy grey has to be covered.

  9. the rhythm method

    It’s not about what I look like though – everyone has the right to healthy self esteem. Dad was a bully, and while mum did everything she could for me, it wasn’t enough.
    Thanks xx

  10. Lucy

    Mouse brown here too. It was long – very very long, once. It was hacked off and I then kept it short for 30 years.

    The greys started when I was about 36. The texture of the greys annoyed me, so I started colouring my hair.

    As I have lost weight over the last fews years, I have let my hair grow longer and greyer. But I feel OK with it now.

    Isn’t it odd, how our hair is somehow linked to our self esteem, somehow?

    Lovely post.


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