By Ann Geracimos
IT’S AN OLD story: Getting on in years invariably involves getting grayer and probably whiter as well, a condition women usually fight by artificial means.
To be or not to be as nature intended is obviously an individual matter, depending on what you think about “looking one’s age.” A lot of tricky psychology is involved.
The pandemic accelerated the issue for sure. Holed up at home by a virus threat encouraged many women to drop the pretense. A trend was born.
Being an ornery sort with a yen for experimentation, I went the opposite direction—at first. My head changed from a blah brownish-blonde with white roots into solid auburn within an hour one spring morning two years ago under the hands of a trained stylist with a theatrical bent. Both of us were masked.
He convinced me I would look younger and better. (That old line . . . ) He was on the side of “‘having fun,” trying a “new look.” Well, it worked, but maybe boredom was at the root of it.
Indisputably, I was transformed. I was different inside as well, or maybe I just imagined it. I boasted about inheriting “natural” red hair from my Greek ancestors. Indeed, a decades-old wedding photo revealed a strong red tint in my untamed untouched-up locks.
“How different do you feel?” a friend asked after the transformation, assuming that I must be in a changed emotional state.
I admitted that part of me felt fake, as though I were inhabiting another person’s body. Truth to tell, I liked having two personalities. I liked hearing similar reactions to my new self from longtime friends and acquaintances. Maybe I just liked the attention.
My mentor tried various shades during those months, always with the promise he could always reverse course at any time. Some friends felt they had no choice. The pandemic had closed down most salons and an at-home paint job was deemed too risky. (A friend who stripped down her blonde locks in one go now admits she looks much better au naturel.
Another said how at age 40, after living with red hair since birth, she let nature have its way while working overseas for the Peace Corps. Two years later, she had a totally white head. On return, she was met at the airport by her sister and an 11-year-old nephew whose first words of greeting were “Bobbye got old.”
She never looked back. She had tried a dye job and found it difficult to blend new shades into the white. And she didn’t like the fact that hair follicles go dry after a while under the weight of chemicals.
Truth to tell, I disliked the obnoxious fumes involved in the process. Plus, I realized that I was missing out on a trend. A whole new feminine cohort everywhere was rejecting the old ways. So, not to be left behind, I compromised. It took several weeks, but I managed to become a short-haired woman with blonde streaks on top and pure white in back.
Pure self-deception, because I couldn’t see myself from the rear.
The test came while bending low to the ground in a local hardware store to check an item when a tall white-haired man asked me in kindly fashion. “How do you do that?” presumably referring to my agility in such a pose. “I can’t do that.” He thought that I might not be able to get up again. A clerk in the same store urged me to “please take the elevator” when he saw me carrying a heavy item upstairs.
I noticed strangers holding doors open for me more often than usual. Some even offered to carry my belongings if they looked heavy. A flight attendant on a recent plane ride challenged my ability to respond as needed in case of an emergency since I was seated in an exit row. A shuttle driver in the airport looked personally offended when I rejected his offer of wheels to get to my next airplane. Or maybe he saw a missed tip.
The real test will come the next time I try to lift my carry-on bag into an airplane’s crowded overhead bin. Will it be every man and woman for him or herself or will the old lady finally get her due?
Nothing wrong with having it both ways sometimes.