Remember that “Sex and the City” episode about secret single behaviors? You know, those quirky activities many of us do during our alone time, like Carrie’s grape and saltine sandwiches or Charlotte’s pore-staring, that, according to the New York Times, are done by real people.
Well, mine is searching for gray hairs. I have about a dozen of them now and nothing gives me a more complicated and perverse sense of pleasure than finding them — and removing them, one by one. It is kind of like hunting, except nothing really dies and I don’t have to leave my bathroom.
When I first found a gray hair a couple of years ago I didn’t think twice before yanking it out. An anomaly! I thought. How silly. That hair follicle clearly didn’t understand that it was totally out of place on my then-29-year-old head. But now that there are more of them I can no longer view those pigment-less strands as aberrations. Nope, I have a few gray hairs because I am aging.
I don’t consider myself a woman who is particularly fearful of growing old (or, specifically, looking older), or overly scrutinizing of my looks in general. I notice the new wrinkles on my face and shifting contours on my body but I take them in stride, because that is what a smart woman and good feminist should do. No plans to go on a juice fast or shoot botulism in my face anytime soon. I do my best to encourage the women around me to accept and love what they’ve got and try to practice that same thinking with myself.
But for some reason this all goes out the door when it comes to gray hairs. I hate them. I really do. And I do not plan to let them see the light of day for a very long time, if ever.
I am by no means against beautifying in general, and I love wearing a great dress, getting a new haircut or actually managing to pull off the smokey eye look without looking like a zombie. I don’t see wanting to look pretty and promoting the advancement of women as inherently mutually exclusive. Though when there is something like covering one’s gray hairs, which is expensive, time consuming, hardly ever done by men and taps into this well-documented pressure felt mostly by women to never look or act old, it is hard to deny that this isn’t in some ways a feminist issue.
And this is how Vicki Topaz and many of the women she photographed for her “Silver: A State of Mind” series see it. These portraits, which are on display at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, Calif., are of 52 women, mostly 50 years old and older, who have all made the, let’s face it, bold move to rock the gray. You can see the truly stunning portraits here.
When I see these portraits — when I even see my friends doing nothing to hide the bit of gray cropping up in their hair — I am certainly inspired. Honestly, I can’t say it is enough to cause me to embrace my few grays for now. And I am not sure that will ever be the choice I make. But I can say that it thrills me to see others silver and proud.
Elissa Strauss has written for the Forward over a number of years. She is a regular contributor to CNN, whose work has been published in a number of publications including The New York Times, Glamour, ELLE, and Longreads.
Women's Gray Hair Problem