To colour or not to colour — hair, that is

2012-02-06 00:00

SO much for ageing graciously. Despite my best efforts to go grey gracefully, it seems that I must succumb to ageism and join the BRB – the blue-blonde-brown-black-rinse brigade.

I am going grey. There, I have said it. So far, I have steadfastly refused to colour my hair, apart from the odd foray into bright red just for fun. I am not embarrassed by my grey hair. I am not embarrassed that supermarket cashiers offer me a discount on pensioner’s day, and strangers have asked me several times if my children are my grandchildren.

I am not at all embarrassed, just amused. Until now I have tried to be honest about who I am — a greying, middle-aged mother of young children.

However, it seems that despite my lack of awkwardness, one of my offspring is embarrassed.

I recall being embarrassed by my parents and trying to prevent my peers from meeting them. That’s a fairly common and not unnatural experience for both children and parents. So, when Anna would not let me get out of the car to help carry her pile of books, bags and sports kit to the classroom, I was not surprised. However, I was taken aback at the cause of her discomfort. I thought it was my scruffy gardening clothes, but, alas, it was more significant and far-reaching — my grey hair.

So, what to do? I refuse to pretend that I am the same age as parents in their 20s or 30s and dye my hair to try to look as though I am. However, if what I look like is a cause of acute angst to my beloved daughter, what is my responsibility to her? A recent piece by The Witness’s parenting columnist, Joanne Madgwick, asked the question: “Whose need is it?” in relation to parents’ expectations of their children.

I have pondered the question in a variety of parenting situations since reading that article. The question is also pertinent to the issue of my grey hair. Anna seems to want me to look younger and more like her friends’ mothers. I want to claim the right to authentic appearance. Whose need takes precedence in this case or is there a compromise?

It did not take long to decide that Anna’s need took precedence, helped on by her father’s admission that I was indeed “more grey than I (he) realised” and needed to “do something about it”. However, when I suggested that I should state the obvious by adding shocking pink or lumo blue to the grey streaks, he sternly warned me off “looking like one of those old grannies who go purple and just look like they’re trying to look younger”. Ummmm, hello?

Apart from the veiled and highly insulting suggestion that I run the risk of looking like an old granny, just run the logic of that argument by me again … how does one colour one’s hair but not look like one is trying to appear younger? Excuse me?

That is why and how I came to spend what felt like an unusual amount of time in an unusual place doing unusual things — two hours at the hairdresser looking at Hello! magazine and drinking tea. Note that I say looking at and not reading — big difference. One can actually read a magazine like Time, but Hello! doesn’t qualify as reading matter. Sarcasm and snobbery aside, I now get a fright every time I catch sight of myself in a mirror and wonder who the person staring back at me is – she looks like a brown barn owl with big eyes blinking with surprise. I now have my own card at the hairdresser on which is recorded my shampoo colour, so they can do the same again next time: B6 with a dash of B5.

However, as I told some colleagues, my darling daughter did not even (expletive) notice the effort I had expended to soothe her discomfort. Hah! So much for the existential angst that ageing parents cause their offspring – when this B6 with a dash of B5 washes out, I’m off to another hairdresser to do what I originally suggested.

I wonder what the colour code for bright blue with a dash of turquoise is?

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