I've always thought that a woman's natural hair is her crowning glory. It tends to have a whole shaft of luminous and subtle tones that shift around her face and flatter her complexion in perfect synchrony. No salon 'highlight' jobby can mimic the way natural hair carries the light.
It was with a heavy heart then that, at the ripe old age of 26, I decided to start colouring my lovely chestnut hair to cover up the wiry grey hairs that had started springing up from my parting. I shouldn't have been surprised because my mum had premature silver streaks in her early twenties but nothing had prepared me for the panic I felt. I hated the way they looked; leering at me from the glossy red-brown like a call from the grave. And so, ironically, I started dyeing.
For 12 years I've been dyeing my hair, experimenting with different hair dye brands and various shades of brown; copper, mahogany, chocolate, iced coffee, I've tried them all. As soon as I spy the ghastly grey roots emerging I immediately smother them with chemical gloop. It's a messy process which often leaves your furniture, clothes, pillow cases and skin stained with little brunette blobs.
Some of the dyes look quite nice, I am relieved at their uninterrupted block colour, but none of the shades match my natural brown - they all look fake, especially in sunlight. Often they emanate a brassy glow that reminds me of Lucozade. And, as the dye wears off after a few weeks, my hair takes on a dull faded vibe, like an old teabag.
This continual dyeing clearly damages the hair's texture, even though the advent of root touch-up dyes means I can now go nearly 8 weeks without having to do my whole head. The problem with root cover-up, however, is that there are only a few colour variations that don't always match exactly with the existing dye, meaning you end up with a sketchy reverse-ombré effect which is definitely NOT on trend.
For those of you who don't need or want to cover up your grey hairs with hair dye, you're probably thinking "Gosh this all sounds pretty tedious". Well, you're right, it is.
Yet somehow I've put up with it all this time. Until now. The other day, I was examining the dreaded regrowth at my parting, my dye all mixed and ready to go, and I realised I didn't actually have any clue as to what my real hair looks like underneath.
I am suppressing an essential part of my physical identity because I'm afraid. How shit is that? I'm supposed to be an empowered and happy feminist! There are two main reasons why I'm hiding behind chemical dye.
Why Am I So Terrified Of Grey Hair?
1) Because It Is Old
Because in our ageist society we are afraid and ashamed of any signs of ageing - bad backs, birthdays, having an early night, not understanding how smart phones work - we constantly rib each other for being 'old' and we mean it as an insult. Old is not cool, old is not fashionable, old is largely ignored by mainstream media. Old is a vague term which can refer to anyone aged between 50-100 years, dumping them all in the same box with a label that says 'Smells Of Wee'.
2) Because It Is Unattractive On A Woman
In our society, growing grey or 'old' has more impact on a woman's perceived attractiveness than on a man's. This is usually the point where people say "Aha but what about Helen Mirren?" And, yes, this attractive older actress is marvellous but unfortunately she is an exception to the rule - I'm talking about the rule.
The rule is that younger women are more attractive, right? The botox and wrinkle-free beauty serum industries can testify to that. Studies have shown that once a woman passes the age of 22 she becomes exponentially less attractive to men - which is a particularly heartening stat.
Men, on the other hand, are allowed to look older. Their 'salt and pepper' hair is a sign of sophistication, maturity and confidence.
If I'm honest, and this is turning out to be quite an honest post, I'll admit that in my 20s I actually used to reassure myself that when I met a life partner and settled down I would finally be able to go grey because he'd already love me! This is wrong on so many levels it makes me want to weep.
Admittedly grey hair has seen a recent surge in popularity in the fashion industry, with the likes of Rihanna, Cara Delevingne and Lady Gaga sporting artificial 'granny' shades. But they are young and famous so of course they're admired for it. They could shave their heads and wear a greasy toupée and still feature on the front cover of Vogue. What would be exciting is to see a bunch of middle-aged women who have made no attempt to halt the ageing process appearing in mainstream media. Can you actually imagine?!
It's Time To Own It
The stupid thing is, I don't look at other women with naturally grey, white and silver hair and think they're ugly. Silver is one of my favourite colours - the way it twinkles and shimmers is unlike any other hue on earth.
My mother has been silver for as long as I can remember and I love her look. She has always received compliments for her stylish silver-white bob. Here she is looking lush when she was just a few years older than I am now:
Why can't I rock silver locks in the same way? Perhaps it is time to embrace my grey, all 50 shades of it. Maybe I'll be mistaken as older than 38, so what? Maybe I'll never pull a guy under 50 years old again, but at least he won't be shallow and I won't be hiding anymore. Shall I do it? Shall I stop dyeing and start living?