Kathleen Clary Miller has written 300+ columns and stories for periodicals both local and national, and has authored three books (www.amazon.com/author/millerkathleenclary). She lives in the woods of the Ninemile Valley, thirty miles west of Missoula.
I am making a statement tantamount to a terminal patient raising her hand in protest and announcing, “No more treatments!” Mine is not over something life-threatening unless you consider that to most blondes, the hair color in the bow is directly tied to the fragile ego.
After thirteen years of it, I am just saying “no” to color: let the gray grow in! “I don’t know if I like this idea, Mom,” my oldest daughter Clary sheepishly admitted during one of our recent phone conversations between New York and Huson, Montana. “Aren’t you afraid you’ll look like ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’—ancient overnight?”
“But you’ll look older!” protested Kate, my youngest in Arizona. Guess what, girls? I am older. At least I can “skype” with Kate, live video feed included. She can observe the gradual shift from blonde to whatever it turns out to be. She won’t experience the initial shock Clary does next time she steps off the plane.
I’m tired of trying so hard to deny that I am the mother of –ahem—twenty-something-year olds. . The once intermittent weave has graduated over the last few years into an every six-week procedure that involves low lights, highlights, and overall root color. Toxic fumes fill the salon air as I try not to breathe too deeply for the hours it takes to maintain what has, over time, resembled less and less natural blonde and more and more an oddly greenish or rather orange hue, depending on the light I’m standing in. High or low, all I know is that it isn’t any color I’ve seen in nature.
I may have been destined to look younger in my casket if I hadn’t made this momentous decision, but who knows? My untimely death might have been due to some cancer caused by the chemicals. So now my priority is longevity, not the looks of my locks.
“Wouldn’t you rather I live longer and look older than die trying to resemble a third sister?” I plead with my daughters. Not to mention the fact that I could have fed a third world country on what I’ve spent on hair processing over the years. My wallet feels freedom in a challenging economic climate as surely as my scalp is liberated.
“Isn’t your generation supposed to be overboard-vigilant about such issues?” I ask them. I’ve cleaned out my cosmetic drawers (yes, there is more than one) and kept only what I need. I will wear mascara when I go to town — I have to, or I look like a corpse with no eyelashes. I’ve stopped buying clothes that are more trendy than truly appropriate for “my age,” and I’ve adjusted my exercise routine so I don’t pound the pavement while running headfirst into a hip replacement. As a result of such housecleaning and purpose, I have a grab bag full of goodies for both of my girls. That’s when they begin to see certain advantages.
“What color eye shadow?” asks Kate. “Any products for me?” wonders Clary. Still they worry that I will look “old,” and not like the mother they’ve always hoped to resemble, bless their little hearts.
This is not about “letting myself go,” unless going gray is that. Quite the opposite. I am told I’ll need a “little more blush” on my cheeks when the coif dullness sets in, and I fully intend to follow that advice.
At least I live in the backwoods of Montana now where unfounded and unfair rumor has it that if you have all of your teeth, you’re a beauty queen. Here, hair grows gray much earlier than in Southern California where I hail from. There, most women would only surrender when they crawl to age ninety. I’m allowing time to have its way with me because, well, I can; I live in Montana now, where it is what it is—no criticism or suggestion for improvement. Why does everyone everywhere else assume that I’ll be the old gray mere who ain’t what she used to be?
After much discussion and reassurance via “skype” and digital photos e-mailed, my adult children have overcome their fear and think my new resolution is cool because it’s societally, economically and healthfully conscientious according to the Internet, although they are a bit concerned that by the time they next visit, they won’t recognize me at the Missoula Airport gate. Who’s to say I won’t look like one of those incredibly fortunate women for whom gray hair is actually flattering? Here’s hoping my silver is stunning.
If it isn’t, I can blame it on my husband. While I was merely entertaining the notion of going au naturel, we were seated in a restaurant next to a lovely older woman whose white hair was tied back in a ponytail.
“There’s a pretty woman — I like her hair,” he said.
Or, if not his, I can blame it on my good friend Susan who used to be blonde, stopped coloring her locks and as a result enjoys gorgeous white hair that looks blonde — Marilyn Monroe platinum.
If mine doesn’t turn out like that, well, my hairdresser says I can always get a blonde weave and recapture the youth I only pretended didn’t matter. (Where is she originally from, anyway?)