“People will treat you differently,” said my hairstylist, Robert.
I’m face-up in a tortuous salon chair, my neck vulnerable like I’m lying upside down in a guillotine. Robert is a hair color artist and a tolerant man, so I’m shocked and feeling defensive. I’ve decided to stop dying my hair.
It was a visceral decision after watching Emmylou Harris sing on a warm July night. Wondering if I’m the only one with this gut reaction, I size up the trendy brewery’s crowd. Truly, I can’t take my eyes off of Emmylou for long— she’s a 66-year-old alt-country goddess who brings me to tears with her otherworldly, twang-tinged voice. There are plenty of gray hairs in the crowd, though none match hers.
Her hair is long, full, lightning-colored, and fitting for a stunning music icon. She’s dressed in a short black tunic, maroon cowgirl boots, strumming a very large acoustic guitar. My hair won’t ever look like Emmylou’s, but the vision is too tempting — right then and there, I decide no more color, no more highlights, nor more lowlights. Done.
I realize the source is somewhat suspect, but a 2008 Clairol® study says that 75 percent of American women dye their hair, and 88 percent of them feel their hair impacts their confidence. Of course it impacts confidence. We’ve got How to Not Look Old author Charla Krupp —a young, blond style expert — saying things like, ‘Go gray at your own risk…Going gray is step one of letting yourself go.” She goes on, in a Today Style interview, “Women cannot afford to go gray in this economy.”
I’ve been coloring my hair for nearly three decades. Since entering the business world in my twenties, I’ve shopped stylists trying to find that perfect blond color: the match for my six-year-old shiny, streaky, out-in-the-sun all day hair.
I’ve done box color, bargain salons, and upscale salons, with a spectrum of results. For the three years before the Emmylou epiphany, Robert got it just right. He is a master. And so it was understandable that Robert doubted I would stick with my pledge to unblond. He was not the only one. My best friend thought I would look like a raccoon, or maybe it was a skunk. My husband was supportive, but when he and I were courting even he colored his hair! My daughter saw me, after six months, and she called the look “ombre.”
I haven’t colored for almost a year. There have been some awkward, too-short haircuts, as Robert impatiently axed the old color. I struggle with the texture, trying to tame wirier, un-dyed hair. The transition went by quickly: now the salon women offer compliments when I walk in, and tell me that gray is the newest color for Hollywood starlets. Robert, once skeptical, is now proud.
Of course, I miss Blond Karen. Her hair was often very big. She was a sexy cocktail with a smart shot back, although sometimes she hid her true talents behind that hair. Now, I have these silver-grey-blond-mercury colored strands. Thinner, harder to handle, I love my true color.
If people are treating me differently, I cannot tell. In fact, the only person whose behavior has changed radically is Robert. He doesn’t even spend half the time he used to with me.