Shades of Grey, Revisited

Dear Readers. If we have your attention, then either you’re returning to Permission Slips after our very long absence, or you have found us for the first time. Either way, you won’t be disappointed with today’s post. Earlier this week, a friend of ours distributed an email announcing a very important, life-changing decision. To protect her privacy and to keep her friends from “un-friending” her on FaceBook (in truth, she isn’t much of a user), we have changed the names. However, you will soon see that names are not integral to this hilarious, yet poignant, story:


What I’m about to share is something that I have grappled with for many, many years. It’s extremely personal, and the decision to share it did not come easily, so I would greatly appreciate your full and complete understanding.

I’m almost 52 years old and I have decided that I am going to let my hair go grey. Yep, after almost 15 years of trips to the salon every four weeks, I’m going au-naturel. No, I’m not going to crawl into a cave and start eating granola, so you can pull your jaws off the floor.

Why, you ask, in today’s hyper-social environment of “50 is the new 40 and 40 is the new 30” am I choosing to take this drastic step in my life? I can only answer with this I’m tired. I’m tired of fretting over those first few grey roots that seem to pop up just days after visiting my stylist. I’m tired of buying those stupid little mascara wands to “paint away my grey” in between salon visits. I’m tired of the exorbitant expense of coloring, and I’m tired of not wanting to look my age just because it’s some sort of social taboo.

As I get older (and more tired), I’m finding it harder and harder to keep up with the rest of the world. When I look at those celebrity magazines that I used to devour when I was younger, I don’t even know who half the people are. Who is that child in the see-through gown hanging onto that dude with the eyeliner who appears twice her age? And why doesn’t HE have to dye HIS hair? Why do men get more distinguished looking with a little silver at their temples, but women just look old? When did we agree to this universally accepted understanding of the inequality between men and women and growing old gracefully? Can’t we women just BE?

Why is it that every time I go to the salon (which is often, remember), 98 percent of the clients are women in various stages of wraps, extensions, straightening, curling, highlights, and dye jobs? Sometimes when I’m in my stylist’s chair, being spun around this way and that, I feel a little like a lab rat alongside a bunch of other lab rats spinning in their stylists’ chairs. Who are we trying to impress? The men with the silver on their temples, or all of the other lab rats in the world?

We seem to be on this never-ending quest of trying to look younger, hotter, skinnier, and sexier. Which then opens up a whole other can of worms about women and their insecurities and why we feel a need to one up each other so that we can feel like we are the prettiest Disney Princess in the room. C’mon, admit it. You’ve all either given, or been given, the head-to-toe-to-head once-over by another woman before. And who the hell naturally looks like a Disney Princess in real life anyway? I digress. Sorry.

The point is, I’m an average, middle-aged brunette. Even if the brunette part of me is “re-grown” every four weeks at the cost of $150 bucks a pop. Average is not a dirty word. I’m not super intelligent, but I AM smart enough to know that I’m not super intelligent. I’m not stunningly beautiful in a Halle Berry-Jennifer Lopez kind of way, but I have been known to turn a few heads back in my day. I’m not artistic, but I like dabbling in arts & crafts and rearranging the furniture every six months just to drive my husband crazy, and I’m not a fantastic cook, but I can follow a recipe without giving my family food poisoning. So why can’t my average-ness, grey hair and all, be enough? Because society says it isn’t? This is the question that I’ve been struggling with lately.

The first time I approached my then-stylist about going grey was about 12 years ago. I was in her chair embracing my lab-ratness and casually stated, “Hey, I’m thinking about letting my hair go grey.” I’m telling you, it was as if all the oxygen was sucked out of the room. Blow dryers stopped, laboratory beakers imploded, conversations shut down mid-sentence, and all heads whipped around to glare at me. The owner of the salon literally came running over to me and looked me dead in the eye. “Rachel,” she said, “you are much too young to even think about that and you are not allowed to even broach the subject again for another 10 years.” Hand to God, Girl Scout’s honor, that’s how it happened.

The other night I was at a Board of Director’s meeting. About 15 of us were present and we were going over policies and procedures for the organization. Needless to say, my mind started to wander. As I looked around the room, I noticed there were many, many shades of “color.” I’m guessing the average age in the room was tipping toward early to mid-40’s and/or early 50’s. Of all the shades of “color” in the room, only one woman was embracing her grey and she was ROCKIN’ IT! I wanted to shout, “You Go, Girl! I’m with you!”

One of my BFF’s has refused to color her hair from the get-go. I’ve known her for more than 20 years and never understood why she was so firm in her belief. I totally get it now. I should have followed her lead years ago, because we would be blue-haired bosom buddies now!

On a recent trip to see family, I paid close attention to women’s hair color as I was walking through the airport. Again, many, many shades of the rainbow, but only TWO women rockin’ their grey. Clearly, they were in their 80’s, but they were still rockin’ it!

During a Girls’ Night Out with my mother, sisters, niece, and oldest daughter, I announced that I had something important to share. The questions started to fly: “You’re moving back here?” “You got a new job?” “You are going on a fun trip?” “No,” I replied, “I’ve decided to let my hair go grey.” My niece just laughed. My mother stared at me blankly. My daughter asked if I was still going to wear mascara, and my sister, totally deadpan, said, “I’d rather you moved back here.” Thanks, Fam. Love you, too.

My husband, who God put on this earth just for me (although sometimes I think the devil had a little hand in the matter, too), says I should go through with it because he would love me no matter what. Yeah, right. He likes to look at pretty things (read: women), so we’ll see. He thinks I’m obsessed with some kind of anti-establishment soapbox, which is probably a little true. However, if he can’t accept my grey hair after over 30 years of our being together, then something is seriously wrong. After all, he is responsible for more than half of the grey on my head. If he promises not to make derogatory comments about my grey hair, then I won’t make snide remarks about his lack of hair. Besides, I can always go back to coloring (insert shit-eating grin emoji).

Don’t get me wrong; if you’re a lab rat and choose to color your hair, I’m not going to judge you. Well, maybe just a little, but seriously, it’s your prerogative. To be honest, the only reason I’m sharing this information is because it holds me accountable. Will I actually go through with it? Who knows? My resolve gets a little stronger each day. And, yes, I promised my daughter to continue wearing mascara and shaving under my arms. Right after I slip on my Birkenstocks.

I’ve already notified my stylist, who is all for it. First, she has to “research” how to approach it because OMG, like, she’s never, like, had anybody, like, make the leap before. God bless her bleach-blonde processed highlights. Just kidding. She’s totally awesome and has been extremely supportive.

Maybe I’ll start a movement! Would you dare to go grey? Just imagine a world where women unite and toss the likes of Paul Mitchell and Vidal Sassoon (both MEN, mind you) out on their color-lovin’ asses! In the words of a current political candidate who colors/combs over his hair WAY too much … Get ‘em outta heyah!

I wonder, if we women did unite against the social norm, and were more accepting of each others’ averageness, grey hair and all, would we become a less catty gender? Nah, probably not. Wishful thinking…

P.S. I’m also thinking about trading in my Mercedes SUV for a Subaru hatchback. Granola anyone?

– A “Brave, 50-Something Woman” for Permission Slips
Somewhere near Seattle, 22 April 2016


  1. Christine Oaks says:

    Ummm…how to be diplomatic here…
    BIG, long-time fan of the blog, BUT in the last year I have witnessed people in my life (from acquaintances to best friends) endure the sudden death of a life-long friend, absorb news of terminal diagnosis in a spouse, a parent & (again) a best friend; faced the fear & challenge of a loved one’s addiction treatment; supported an adult child through amputation of a limb in order to survive a deadly infection; bravely take on the role of care-taker for a parent diagnosed w/Alzheimer’s AND endure the ache of losing a beloved parent who no longer recognized his/her child b/c of the ravages of disease.
    These are each examples of situations demanding REAL bravery, commitment, loss, emotion, judgment. This column has typically done an excellent job of reminding & rooting its readers in fundamental values. The suggestion that hair coloring (or not) could ever rise to the level of moral fortitude at worst makes a mockery of such struggles and at the very least prompts this reader to ponder a serious need for re-calibration of priorities & values in our daily lives. We all know superficial materialism/emphasis on physical appearance is rampant in society. By the time one needs to evaluate the issue of hair color/going grey, I expect enough self assurance & confidence by devotés of this blog to manage the decision as a matter of simple routine~not complex moral analysis.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Chris. All are good points and I am sorry that you have seen so much sadness among peers in the past year. I have seen many of those tragedies among my own friends and have witnessed first-hand plenty in my own family. The goal of this blog has always been to enable and empower readers – primarily women with children, either at home or in early stages of adulthood – to tune out the noise and feel better about their own decisions. The guest writer’s take on hair color fit right into our mission. It may seem lighter than some of what we have tackled, but for many women hair color is a big issue, especially in how it relates to inequalities in how our society views aging among men and women. For my part, I love reading novels, and after a stretch of long, deep, complicated novels, I always appreciate taking a breather with something light and funny. My hope is that this week’s blog will serve as a fun and breezy read for some, while it prompts others to take a hard look at the issue of society’s unrealistic expectations of women’s appearances, and how we can take steps to effect change.

  2. I am 4th generation prematurely graying hair in my family — I have never colored, and was substantially salt and pepper by 40, and overhwelmingly silver as my 50th birthday is staring me in the face later this year …. I am fortunate it is a pretty silver color, and I use the blue malva shampoo from Aveda (or similar product) to keep it bright. I get so many compliments, and am grateful since I am too lazy for the whole coloring routine! Rock that silver head with confidence!

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