By Gillian Harrison
I found my first grey hair when I was 17. I remember plucking it in disgust and disbelief before obsessing over that little grey strand, and the next that arrived in its place.
Crazy as it sounds, finding a cure for grey hair became my secret obsession, like searching for gold at the end of the rainbow. I experimented with black hair dye and red henna. I coated the greys with brown mascara. I tried Chinese Medicine and B6 supplements. I cursed my genes. Nine years ago, I eventually found my rainbow in a hair salon in the North of England and my gold came not in a pot, but a bottle. Blonde foils worked nicely, the grey blended well and although I had not found a cure, I had found a way to (almost) forget.
I’ve touched up the highlights every 12 weeks since.
Then, yesterday, ironically while at the hairdressers, I read Anna Johnson’s article in Australian Vogue, ‘Dodging the Silver Bullet’. Johnson found her first grey at 21 and like me, has dyed her hair ever since. I handball Johnson’s question to my hairdresser: “Is it okay to go grey?”
The response came quickly: “It’s okay for some”.
Who are the ‘some’?
Sarah Harris, Director of Fashion Features for British Vogue, is one of the some. Harris noticed her first grey at 16. By her twenties she had embraced her silver streaks. (Harris refers to her colour as silver, not grey, the latter being a colour she admits carries connotations).
Sarah Harris combines grey with grace.
But what are the connotations Harris speaks of and why are they so important? The pre-conceived ideas that plague our attitudes towards beauty, body image and ageing are deep-rooted. So deep-rooted I realize as I watch my hairdresser chop away at my split ends, that I wonder if my ideas about my hair colour are not my own but instead the suggestions from the collective consciousness: Grey is dreary. Silver is special. These connotations must have a deeper impact than we imagine as this is the only reason I can think of for me hating my grey without being able to explain what it is I hate about it. I can understand why Harris chooses to sidestep the implications of grey.
Besides, the word “fake” carries its own connotations. The online world especially enjoys its inhabitants upfront and honest. On-line, we cheer for the women who share shots of their post-baby bellies or speak openly about everything from plastic surgery, weight, body image and beauty to the removal of pubic hair. So why can’t I can’t accept a few grey strands? Why am I embarrassed by the lack of pigment in my hair?
Bill Cosby said grey hair is God’s graffiti. The bible called grey hair a crown of glory. I like Sarah Harris’ description best;