The Honest Hair Club (Or: “I’m 45, if you must know, of black Irish heritage, and I spotted my first gray hair at 16.” )

Last year, I was walking downtown in the mid-sized Southern city where I live, in one of those rare moods where you don’t feel the need to suck in your belly and your clothes hang just right. A man — easy on the eyes, I don’t mind saying — stopped dead in his tracks and said, “Wow. Your hair is amazing. Don’t dye it ever. I mean it. Please.”
I had just been thinking about covering up the gray, authenticity be damned and to hell with Emmylou’s inspirational locks and so what if my husband claims to love my hair. (He let it slip once that he also loves that it’s easier to spot me from across a crowded grocery store.)
Like a lot of women, I still get wishy-washy about my hair, usually after a new acquaintance compliments me on it and then tiptoes into the real topic on her mind: “Uh, and, if you don’t mind my asking, how old are you?”
I’m 45, if you must know, of black Irish heritage, and I spotted my first gray hair at 16. REO Speedwagon was on the turntable, and my dark-brown hair was 1980s-big.
It’s always the women who want to know, and it’s always the same: A whispered confession — I’m thinking about doing it too — followed by a litany of concerns.
They worry it will make them look old (read: non-sexy) to their husbands, boyfriends or potential beaus. They worry their silver locks will count against them in the cruel corporate world.
They share my concern that some day someone will ask if my teenage sons are my grandkids or — fightin’ words — if my husband is my son.
It hasn’t happened, yet. But people do say strange things — in interviews, at the grocery, at my kids’ schools.
A drunk old pal at a party — someone I’d known from an old volleyball team (during my walnut-brown, $100-a-month hair-dye days) — actually grabbed a handful of it. “It’ssss gray now?” he slurred.
Yeah, Barry.
“Hell, it’sss not just gray, it’sss WHHHHITE!?”
Thanks, Barry. I didn’t know.  

The hardest thing about being gray at my age is you never know when somebody’s going to feel moved to share their reaction to it.

It can go either way. Not long ago, an old friend apologized profusely when she ran into me , as if she’d let down the Sisterhood of the Premature Gray.
Her hair was blonde now, and she felt the need to confess, half-blushingly: “Divorced. Back on the market again.”
Go for it, Jane. Seriously! (Although I still think the silver was a better compliment to her beautiful, crystal-blue eyes.)
During a talk I attended a few years ago, the narrative writing guru Jacqui Banaszynski exclaimed mid-lecture the moment she noticed me: “Welcome to the Honest Hair Club!”
“Not everyone gets it, you know,” she said later, explaining that people from southeast Asia constantly stop to ask why a woman her age would not dye her hair. Was she being cheap? Groovy and all-natural? Or just stupid?
How about: Maybe she just likes it gray.
Five years ago, when I endeavored the painful raccoon phase of letting the dyed-hair grow out, I went online searching for “gray hair.” I wanted to know if anyone had written about middle-aged women who don’t dye their hair.

I found loads of Clairol ads and the like — and exactly one blog posting on the subject. (Happy to report, there’s been at least one book written about it since, by magazine editor Anne Kreamer, and many essays as well.)

I also found a few articles about the elegant J. Jill model Cindy Joseph, who in her mid-50s really is one of the most beautiful women in the world.

A while back, I noticed that Joseph had disappeared from the pages of the catalog. Then, in a few months, I saw her on TV . . . in a Boniva commercial, of all things. Whether it was by choice — or whether the clothes company just decided she was too old-looking to suit their image — I don’t know.
But I tell you: Every time the catalog comes in the mail now, I toss it in the recycling. . . even, sigh, the one with the killer after-Christmas sale. Sisters gotta support the Honest Hair Club.
A few months ago I was walking past the same place downtown, when the very same guy said, “Hey, I love your hair!”
I had already passed him and, though I was mid-conversation with a coworker, I turned around to acknowledge his remark.
“How’d you know I was talking to you?” he said, a sly grin on his face.
 The truth is, I just did. That day I was happy with who I was, and how I looked, and if he was, too, well then let me say in all honesty:
 Thanks for sharing.

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22 Comments

  1. Evelyn

     /  June 23, 2009

    Love it! You reminded me of that other famous model with silver hair. She’s usually in high-fashion ads and magazine layouts and she’s been around forever. Now I want to know her name.

    Reply
  2. bethmacy

     /  June 23, 2009

    Thanks, Ev. Is it Cindy Joseph? Click the link on the blog entry – and you’ll see a story about her… I bet it’s her.
    I saw her as an extra in a movie once – in the background.
    Her beauty stole the scene!

    Reply
  3. Beth, I’ll never forget the Mexican’s comment….it’s true though, here, they don’t stop dying their hair until age 80 I think!! even the men too! But i’ve got a few for a few years now, more each one too.
    Great to see your blog!
    Un abrazo
    -Josh

    Reply
    • bethmacy

       /  June 23, 2009

      Joshy, I almost put that in: I remember when we were in Mexico working on that story and someone asked you why your wife didn’t dye her hair.
      You were like, um, she’s not my wife.
      I was like, I’m just glad they don’t think I’m your mom!!
      Glad to hear you’re catching up with me, my salt-and-peppa pal.
      Hang around me long enough. . . .
      Miss you guys – and can’t wait to see you IN PERSON next month. Twice, actually, counting Calif.!

      Reply
  4. susan urano

     /  June 23, 2009

    Hey Beth, I will look forward to reading your postings. I don’t think my honest hair looks as good as yours! See you in august

    Reply
    • bethmacy

       /  June 23, 2009

      Get out, Susan! your hair is the coolest! Can’t wait to see you guys again soon. Hope the W&L trip was worthwhile. Just think, if Hannah ends up going there, we can see you even more. Now THAT’s a reason to pick a college, I say!

      Reply
  5. christina

     /  June 23, 2009

    Wonderful words, Beth. Thanks for inviting me along for the ride and thanks for writing!

    I joined the Honest Hair Club after becoming pregnant with Niav. I figured if I shouldn’t be highlighting while pregnant, I really shouldn’t be highlighting at all. Stay strong sister! I, for one, love your locks.

    Reply
  6. At 57 I still have brown hair, as does my sister, thanks to my mother’s genes; she died at 75 more pepper than salt. So I’ve been spared the to-dye-or-not-to-dye dilemma, and often wondered which way I would swing. As is (since there’s always *some* way to disparage how we look) I actually wish I had more gray hairs so that people wouldn’t assume I’d seceded from the Honest Hair Club.
    Delighted to know about your blog, and hoping to see you in Boston not too long from now.

    Reply
    • bethmacy

       /  June 24, 2009

      Ok, HASHton, but i still think you’re lying about your age.
      Not a day over 40, I say!

      Reply
  7. Terry

     /  June 24, 2009

    Hey there, Beth- As your grayer older sis I say, “we’re all right!” 🙂 Now just be sure to keep that young face…..

    Love ya!

    Reply
  8. Nancy

     /  June 25, 2009

    Hey Beth,
    Our mutual friend Aïda told me about you a few months ago when I sent her a new pic that reveals to the world I had been dying my hair all these years (red, black, sienna, chestnut, it was a crap shoot what color I would be each month). I didn’t want to scare her when we next met…or get the reaction I got when my sis saw me after a 3 year gap. (A little scream, then a hand clapped over her mouth while she waited for me to take off my silver wig.) I am 49, and sometimes I love this bright new monochrome of mine. But other times I think, oh no! I have joined the granny ranks way too soon! But mostly I am happy not to have to goo up each month, and feel pretty good about finally having ‘honest hair.’ So glad to find a compatriot. Congratulations on the fellowship! Your writing is fab, and your hair looks gorgeous!
    🙂

    Reply
    • bethmacy

       /  June 25, 2009

      Nancy, thanks so much! We can be in two clubs together now: the honest hair club and the Aida Rogers Fan Club! (isn’t she the best? oh, how i miss my former roommate and coworker.)
      I do know what you mean: every now and then i still catch a glimpse of my own monochrome in the mirror and go, who IS THAT?!
      thanks again for writing and following along, your sistah —
      beth

      Reply
  9. Siobhan

     /  June 25, 2009

    Beth –

    I LOVE the hair!! honestly. Not many women can carry it off – I think it is gorgoeus.

    Reply
  10. Like you I was grey very early…21 which I attributed to all the radiation I received working behind tv monitors. I always dyed my hair black then when I moved to Roanoke I eventually let it go natural. My family loved it. Then one day I went into Kroger on a Tuesday and they gave me the senior discount. That was hit. I hit the bottle, no not wine, dye. I went red. Hated it. Went black. Hated dying it every two weeks, because I couldn’t stand the skunk stripe, so grew it back out and wound up going as light blond as possible, only because I don’t have to dye it as often. Now I know why my mother did too. Frankly now that I hit 50 I would go back to natural but for some reason you could see my pink scalp when I don’t dye it and it freaks me out. You look marvelous, dahling! Psssst…Emmy Lou was my inspiration too.

    Reply
  11. Nancy

     /  June 26, 2009

    Beth,
    So glad to be with you in both clubs. I am sure the Aïda Rogers fan club has more members than the HH club, though. Especially here in Germany, where little old wizened up ladies are still sporting coal black do’s. Nobody here has mentioned the health risk of permanent hair color, so I won’t either. Will mention to Roanoke RnR though, that the pink scalp thing was what made me quit coloring in the end. Seemed to me it was worse when I colored… the other thing is, the more you dye, the more likely it is you may zap your follicles and start losing hair. Making more pinkness inevitable….Yikes!
    I had to laugh when an old male friend saw me on FB and wrote ‘hey, when did all your hair go white? Not that you are not still attractive, blah blah blah.’ I wrote back: ‘not to worry. I bought me a silver wig, and wear it whenever I go out, to cover up my bald spots…’

    Reply
  12. Margaret

     /  June 26, 2009

    Beth,
    Your hair is beautiful! Some day I will go au natural as well, but for now… Clairol is my best friend!!
    Margaret

    Reply
  13. Leslie

     /  July 7, 2009

    Been gray since high school, when a slightly salt-and-pepper Afro was my signature ‘do. (Mom claims I was born with a few gray strands on my little head.) Have never really done the dye thing and don’t intend to. But gotta confess, when I was out recently with a mid-40s friend (I’m 52) and a well-meaning fellow commented “You must be mother and daughter,” I nearly burst into tears. I’ve recovered; gray it is, gray it will be. Great blog Beth. Have missed your lovely way with words…

    Reply
    • bethmacy

       /  July 7, 2009

      Leslie, you know you’ve always been my role model in this!!! 🙂
      Great seeing you today. And catching up with all your great news.
      Love you — Beth

      Reply
  14. Lizza

     /  August 1, 2009

    I just found out about your blog last night, and am so glad to be reading it!!! I, too, am a member of the HH club, which is probably better than what I’ve been calling it- NOT DYING!!! (pun intended) A while back I was wedding dress shopping with a slightly younger friend, and the shop clerk thought I was the mother of the bride!! ugh. and a couple days later the checkout girl at Kroger asked me if I get the senior discount!! that was one tough week!!!

    Reply
  15. GrayGoose

     /  March 18, 2010

    I say “There’s strength in numbers!” I am proud to be a member of the Honest Hair Club. I’m only 42 and, as you all know, society is ‘confused’ when they see a ‘young person’ walking around with gray hair! Sometimes I go out just to entertain myself by other peoples reactions to my shock of gray-n-white! Cheap thrills…life is good!

    Reply
    • bethmacy

       /  March 18, 2010

      Love your story, GrayGoose. Nice of you to write to share your cheap thrills! 🙂
      All best, Beth

      Reply
  16. I recently started a blog called The Grey Hair Club. This is my first post. I would love for you to join me in my blog and share your reflections on the simple choices we make and what they say about us.

    To Dye or not to Dye?
    In 2005 when I made a simple New Year’s resolution to be more environmentally accountable little did I know that in 2011 it would result in lots of grey hair. I am sure many of them had been around long before 2011 but I couldn’t see them, or if I did, I quickly pulled them out or covered them up.
    When I made the decision last year to stop colouring my hair I announced it on Facebook. Why is the fact that I decided to stop colouring my hair at 40 news worthy? Is it my ego driving me to explain to the world why my hair is grey? Was it my ego 8 years ago when I was sitting in a salon, just before I gave birth with my scalp burning, urging me to persevere so I looked good for my birth photos?
    So why did I stop dying my hair? Was it because of the millions of litres of toxic dyes going down the drain into our treatment plants? Was it because it wasn’t safe for me and my baby? Is it safe for you whilst your pregnant, breast feeding, anytime? Are the new organic dyes safe? I am sorry but I can’t tell you. There is so much conflicting information out there and so little research. In the end we only have our own wisdom.
    My little voice had been gnawing at me for some time. Logically I knew it was my vanity driving me to dye my hair. I know that true beauty comes from within, that the people who truly love me don’t care what I look like. When I made my 2005 resolution I realised how tough being accountable is. I expect my government to be accountable for how it spends my taxes but being accountable myself is another matter. It is so easy to be seduced by the trappings of our society because ‘I’m worth it’. I knew that when I was choosing to spend $60 every six weeks to have my hair dyed that it was money I was choosing not to spend on feeding a starving child, or sponsoring an endangered animal, or working less so I could spend more time with my children.
    So do I want you to join me in the grey hair club… yes I do.

    Reply

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