Why I decided to start loving my grey hair

3 Aug

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

When I saw the finished product after a photographer took new head shots of me last September, my first horrified reaction was:

“Good grief!!

“Where did those wrinkles around my eyes come from?”

And no wonder.  Let’s face it: gravity is no friend to women of a certain age. Little jowly pouches begin to sag below what was once my strong jaw line. Eyelids droop inexplicably southward. And where once I could bounce a dime off each tricep now hangs delicately crepe paper-like flab.

Week in and week out, I read the same women’s magazine headlines at the grocery checkout that all women do, such as:

  • “8 Ways to Fight Aging!”
  • “How to Look (at Least) 10 Years Younger!”
  • “Anti-Aging Secrets the Beauty Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know!”

That last one came from cardiologist-turned-embarrassing-huckster Dr. Mehmet Oz, whose website boasts things like:

“Looking and feeling young has never been so easy! Dr. Oz has cutting-edge information on anti-aging techniques and guidelines! Learn how to slow aging from the inside out! Get pertinent information on beauty products, supplements, diet and nutrition, mental health, and fitness routines to turn back the clock!”

Urgent memo to Dr. Oz:  In case you missed this lecture back in med school, we are all getting older – yes! including you! – and not even the anti-aging hypemeisters you trot out on your TV show can “turn back the clock” despite their blatant attempts to parlay women’s insecurities into their personal financial benefit.

In fact, if you really wanted to improve the lives of the millions of women who watch your show, Dr. Oz, how about promoting fewer anti-aging Botox injections, or miracle neck creams, or that obscenely humiliating “Can You Guess This Woman’s Age?” campaign of yours?

I may just be a tad oversensitive about this topic lately. Living with a chronic and progressive diagnosis like heart disease has made me ponder issues like fussing over external appearance in a different way.

Quite frankly, I have far more important things to worry about every day than a few wrinkles or another new grey hair – particularly when struggling with ongoing distressing cardiac symptoms that often make me stop and wonder: “Is this something? Is it nothing? Should I call 911?”

The surprising truth is that last fall, when I took my first look at that new head shot of myself and those newly-discovered wrinkles – and once I had picked myself up off the floor and braved another look – I have to admit that, yes, I actually liked what I saw in that photo.

There! I said it.

This was definitely no airbrushed, photo-shopped, Dr. Oz-approved, soft-focus version of the Me I may still keep locked hopefully in my muscle memory.

This instead was the face of a woman of a certain age who has earned every last one of those laugh lines.  This was the face of a woman who had worked hard, played hard, been a distance runner for 19 years, popped out a couple of babies the old-fashioned way, endured death, divorce and a whack of other family crises, gone back to university in her 40s, and somehow survived that “widow maker” heart attack five years ago.

The University of Florida’s Dr. Eboni Baugh believes that aging women like me are even more susceptible to appearance messages from Dr. Oz and others than our younger counterparts are.

These not-so-subtle messages not only affect the $160 billion-a-year global sales in beauty products, cosmetic surgery, diet programs and other products and services to enhance youthfulness.

They also influence how we perceive ourselves.

For example, Dr. Baugh writes:

“As women age and encounter the normal stages of the aging process, they also become more concerned with comparisons to the ideal thin, young body type.

“Older women confront both personal and societal realities as they age: their own internal fears of their aging bodies (gerontophobia), and the external messages about becoming old (ageism).

This gerontophobia (which is the fear of old people, the elderly population, or of growing old) can cause women to critically analyze their naturally aging bodies. And anytime that there’s a comparison of an aging body to the young, thin societal ideal, warns Dr. Baugh, such analysis gives way to diminished self-worth coupled with a high degree of self-loathing. (In the U.S., 51% of cosmetic surgery patients and 69% of patients getting minimally invasive procedures like Botox or chemical peels last year were aged 51 years or older).

Dr. Baugh adds that ageism (society’s obsession with being young) upholds standards of beauty that are based upon an ideal embodied by media as the young, thin woman who strives for perfection.

An aging woman must therefore combat ageism and stereotypes such as ‘old maid’ or ‘hag’ as these standards of beauty threaten to marginalize her.”

Not only do unrealistic beauty standards marginalize women, they may result in doomed expectations. Forty percent of women undergoing cosmetic procedures last year were repeat patients; 34% had multiple procedures done at the same time. It’s almost as if instead of being more satisfied and happier with one’s post-procedure appearance, women just keep on seeking more and more “improvements” – as if this time, this one will finally make them happy.

Naomi Wolf wrote her best-seller The Beauty Myth over 20 years ago. Last year, she told The Washington Post that when her book was first published, young girls were still learning that they would, like hothouse flowers, bloom briefly in their late teens to mid-20s:

“After that? Well, it was a steady decline, as the power we derived from our physical appearance dwindled. Our only hope to hang on to an increasingly precarious sexuality and sense of self-esteem lay in magical potions and powders, or perhaps in the surgeon’s hands.

“Older women were encouraged to see their younger counterparts as threats and usurpers, and young women were expected to see the women who should have been their mentors and role models as faded has-beens, harbingers of their own future decay.”

Happily, Wolf now believes things are (slowly) changing and improving for us “faded has-beens”.

For many in this demographic, much of the impact that aging’s toll inevitably takes on our bodies can be camouflaged by gauzy neck scarves, long sleeves or dark tights. But it is in the face – our wonderful, amazing female faces – that Mother Nature first shines her most honest magnifying spotlight.

I like Elizabeth Renzetti‘s wise take on the aging female face in her Globe and Mail column last November:

“I worry sometimes that old women’s faces will pass out of the public imagination, that they’ll go the way of typewriters and Kodak film, to be replaced by some wind-tunnel simulacrum of youth.

Canadian 20“A friend came up to me this week to complain about the picture of  Queen Elizabeth on the new Canadian $20 bill.

“She looks terrible!’ he said. ‘She looks like Diego Maradona after a hard night on the town!’

“But when I went and investigated, I realized what was going on. The Queen doesn’t look terrible – she just looks older.

“She is in her 80s after all, and doesn’t seem like the kind of woman who spends a lot of time in Harley Street talking to her doctors about Botox. She’s earned her wrinkles and her laugh lines.

“There comes a point when your face is your badge of honour.”

And a badge of honour is just how I’ve decided to now consider my grey hair.*

I’d long suspected that I’d inherited some of the genes of my late father, who had shiny dark hair with nary a grey one among the lot when he died at age 62.  It was when I was approaching that same age, actually, that I began to first notice that if I lifted up my bangs and stared very hard into the mirror, sure enough, there were most definitely one or two or nine grey hairs growing clearly in plain view.

Now they’ve started sprouting at my temples, where a short haircut reveals the grey for all the world to see.

Q: Why do women think men with a touch of grey at the temple look distinguished and handsome, while at the same time rushing to chemically hide every new grey hair on our own heads?

Those who research body image issues have asked the same question. In a U.K. study, for example, women viewed signs of aging (such as going grey) most negatively in terms of its impact on appearance, whereas men reported a neutral or even positive impact on appearance.**

As this study’s authors reported:

“Men and women construed the importance of their bodies differently: men tended to focus on functionality, and women tended to focus on display.

“These findings may help to explain gendered consequences of body dissatisfaction. Accounts about the aging of the body support a double standard of aging.”

A double standard indeed. Would Elizabeth Renzetti be writing about a friend who complained that the portrait of an aging Sir John A. Macdonald, the very first Prime Minister of Canada, looks “horrible” on the face of our currency?  No! Because nobody cares if Sir John A. looked  his age.

Don’t get me wrong. If you decide you want to dye your hair to cover the grey, or get lifted/zapped/injected/tucked, or spend your money on Dr. Oz’s miracle anti-aging wrinkle creams, go for it. And who knows – by the time my own head has finally turned completely silver, I too may be reaching for the Nice ‘n Easy!

But somehow, right now, I honestly can’t imagine that happening.

I’ve been duly inspired by role models like New Yorker Leah Rozen, the 57-year old former movie critic for People. She decided to stop dyeing her grey hair a few years ago, recently explaining to New York Times readers her key reasons:

  • 1. being lazy (“Going to the hair salon every two months for a couple of hours was a hassle and a waste of time. I’d rather be home working or out riding my bicycle in Central Park or meeting a friend for lunch.”)
  • 2. being cheap (“It was costing me north of $800 annually to tint my tresses at my neighborhood Manhattan hair salon. For that amount, I can jet round-trip twice to visit Los Angeles, where I proudly fly my freak flag as the only non-blonde of practically any race or age in the entire city.”)

Apparently, deciding to embrace your silvery locks may even be a decision for some women that’s up to one’s husband to make.  Rozen added that since she’s gone grey, more than one female acquaintance has told her that she’d “like to do the same, but her husband keeps vetoing the notion.”

Read that one again, ladies: her husband is vetoing her decision?

Rozen concluded:

“Blondes may have more fun, but we gray gals have it made in our shade. No having to worry about getting our hair colored, about bad dye jobs or our roots showing, or about trying desperately to look younger than our years.”

So how about it, Dr. Oz?  How about a little less focus on marginalizing women’s normal (but apparently unacceptable) aging appearance, so that when we look at a new photograph of ourselves, we might avoid the inherent critical urge to start picking apart our external flaws as you seem to do with your studio audience volunteers?

And really, isn’t it about time that we tried to stop being so pervasively unhappy inside about how we look on the outside?

My head shot: 2012 Medicine X, Stanford University School of Medicine

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* Grey vs Gray: According to Grammarist, grey and gray are different spellings of the same word, and both are used throughout the English-speaking world. But gray is more common in American English, while grey is more common in all the other main varieties of English, including that spoken/written here in Canada.

** Emma Halliwell, Helga Dittmar. “A Qualitative Investigation of Women’s and Men’s Body Image Concerns and Their Attitudes Toward Aging”. Sex Roles. December 2003, Volume 49, Issue 11-12, pp 675-684

The Brown Sisters

nicholas-nixon-brown-sister-1975-2007

PS:  In 1975, photographer Nicholas Nixon started taking annual photos of his wife Bebe and her three sisters, every year for the next 36 years. I loved these photos of the Brown sisters and seeing how (left to right in each photo) Heather, Mimi, Bebe and Laurie aged beautifully and naturally over the decades, from 1975 (upper left), 1986 (upper right), 1994 (lower left) to 2007 (lower right). See all of the annual family photos, plus more about Nixon’s book about this project.

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See also:

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Q:  How are you dealing with those new signs of aging?

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48 Responses to “Why I decided to start loving my grey hair”

  1. Nusrat j Khan December 18, 2016 at 9:09 pm #

    good 👍🏿

    Like

  2. Robin Vetia Hodges-Petruchyk December 6, 2016 at 3:36 pm #

    Hi Carolyn,
    It’s been a while and I truly like this subject. For a long time I have been passing through the life with very little signs of aging and I’m proud to wear every grey hair I have. I’m 61 and after a few bouts of edema I now have laugh lines off the corners of my mouth. I come from a family that ages very slowly.

    With grey hair I love it, it is a sign of life and all that goes with it. Most people don’t even see it when it is down but when it’s pulled back it is like streak of white. Dying it is something I would never do. I asked a beautician when I was back in my late 20s to early 30s about changing my hair color because it seemed like the thing to do. This was someone who would profit from dying my hair. I waited until I came in one Friday evening being the last person in her shop and asked her again. She told me that everyone coming in the shop wanted my hair color and she had to tell them it wasn’t dyed but natural. She told me that the women I joke about having the cotton ball white hair at the roots did it to themselves. They start changing their hair color in their 20s and by the mid 30s the white appears at their hair line from the permanent hair dye. She said it kills the natural hair color at the roots and by their 40s they have to dye it because they no longer have pigmentation in the roots. From that point forward I made up my mind not to ever dye my hair.
    Thank you,
    Robin

    Liked by 1 person

    • Carolyn Thomas December 6, 2016 at 4:09 pm #

      Hello again Robin – nice to hear from you. You’re right – the genes we have inherited from our families make a big difference in our aging process – something we have absolutely no control over (maybe it’s why some people seem so intent on trying to control every possible sign of aging). Those relentless ‘white cotton balls’ at the roots are a good reason for NOT starting to dye – the roots are a dead giveaway. That streak of white in your own hair reminds me of my late mother’s dramatic grey streak too – it was gorgeous and so striking. I always hoped that some day I too would be able to grow in a streak like that. Stay tuned…

      Like

  3. HibernationNow January 19, 2014 at 5:19 pm #

    Habits of Happy People

    THOUGHT YOU AND JUDY/JUDITH WOULD ENJOY THIS.
    LOVE, LAURIE, PK JR.

    Like

  4. Nancy's Point August 11, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    Hi Carolyn,
    Terrific post! You covered a lot. My body and yes, my looks have taken a hit following my cancer diagnosis.

    One of the most difficult things for me to deal with has been hair loss. My ongoing adjuvant hormone therapy means this will be an ongoing side effect for quite some time, maybe permanently.

    A woman’s hair represents so much in this society… There are other side effects as well, but I’ll spare you the details! I try not to dwell on how my body has been impacted, but it’s hard not to sometimes, it just is. Throw in the normal aging process and gosh, looking in the mirror can be rough!

    Women’s bodies are compared and judged from youth on. (Thanks for reading & commenting on my post on this topic, by the way). Having a sense of humor helps, as does a good rant now and then.

    And of course, sharing always helps, so thanks for writing about this.

    Like

  5. Rachel Goodwin Juby August 6, 2013 at 5:29 pm #

    I am loving this more by the minute! Keep them coming ladies. This deserves best blog of the year! Which reminds me of a story…

    An old couple are sitting on their porch , in their rocking chairs. They have been married for 50 years. They are looking out onto their land that they work hard to get. They are sharing a bottle of nice wine awaiting the joy of the day “the sun set”.

    She stares out at the beauty and says “I love you so much and I do not know what I would ever do without you”.

    He said “Oh Honey, Is that you talking or the wine?”

    She said “It is me, talking to the wine”.

    Like

  6. Bonnie August 5, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

    I’m with ya — love my crow’s feet, laugh lines. I’ve earned every one of them. And I love my gray hair. Got it from my grandpa who had beautiful hair.

    Only mine’s a wig — when I started with my heart medications and surgery, my hair fell out by the handfuls. So for work and church I have beautiful silvery, gray wigs that look totally natural, but “off” hours you’re going to find totally natural with probably a little hat to protect my scalp from the sun.

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas August 5, 2013 at 8:51 pm #

      Wow! Now there’s a twist in the grey-or-no-grey discussion! Enjoy your beautiful wigs, your crow’s feet and your laugh lines, Bonnie! 🙂

      Like

    • Rachel Goodwin Juby August 7, 2013 at 9:08 am #

      Bonnie, that is an awesome story. Thanks for sharing and for bringing up the ‘no hair’ issue. Mine is falling out too. I use to tease my Ex about going bald and he would tease me about going gray.. In which I would tell him “You wish you had a gray hair up there” 🙂

      Some people look in the mirror and think “Oh, My! I have become my mother”. I look and think well.. “Good lord! I have become my Ex-husband!”

      Wigs are fun, so are hats and scarves and just plain ol’ natural isn’t bad either. Look at the money we are saving on hair products 🙂

      Thanks for sharing!

      Like

  7. Deborah Walker August 5, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    I am grinning ear-to-ear as I write this. I set aside this post to read it later when it first arrived in my inbox. I went “au naturel” in the hair department about 18 months ago and so wanted to take the time to read it thoroughly. I finally got around to it today and imagine my surprise at all the comments! I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many comments on this blog before. The topic obviously resonates.

    My first reaction was twofold gratitude:
    Here’s a grey hair champion just like me! and
    Finally, someone else who thinks Dr. Oz is a dipstick!

    My impression of him is that he, himself, is trying to so hard to be youthful-looking that it’s almost painful to watch. Can’t we all just try the “moderation in all things” approach; eat primarily fresh foods and exercise every part of our lovely bodies regularly? All this striving and angst about the aging process makes me tired. Guess I’m getting old…

    Like

  8. Suzie August 5, 2013 at 12:21 am #

    Well, I guess I will have to say that I am still enjoying what has become a fun outing and spa day to get my hair coiffed and colored, drink tea and chat about a multitude of subjects with my now dear friend and colorist! I go to her cozy home and never fail to feel better for the whole experience. She has survived cancer, and as this has been a very sick heart year for me, I like the lift it gives me. I am so sick most of the time, and exhausted, this is a relatively easy way to be tended by other than medical probing.

    I am not ashamed of the aging process, which has certainly sped up these last years, but I guess I don’t think of it as any different than a snazzy new dress or pair of shoes….all of which make me smile from time to time.

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas August 5, 2013 at 9:33 am #

      Hello Suzie – you bring up an interesting point here: the social enjoyment of the personal relationship many women share with their hair stylists. Thanks for this!

      Like

    • Rachel Goodwin Juby August 9, 2013 at 1:19 pm #

      Suzie, You are wise to do so. I go to the beauty parlor from time to time. I like to sit in those massage chairs and get my toes done. It is my 45 minutes of pamper and it feels good. Real good.

      I do not like hair cut days, the lady looks at me and I look at her and she says ummmm… what shall we do with your one hair today? I don’t know… let’s snip it and spray on some freeze it.

      My best friend in the world has a brain tumor that is too deep to be removed. She has been in remission for 7 years and for the past 5 years she has gone every week for a massage, a facial, a manicure and pedicure and pays crazy prices for hair and color. She drives a car she can’t afford and is the best dressed woman I have ever met in my life. On Christmas Day her kids and husband did not give her a gift.. She wanted flowers and to be remembered. (This lady sounds selfish but you should see what she does for her family with very little gratitude. ) She was very upset and went out and bought a beautiful diamond for herself. On her birthday (two months later), they brought her flowers! Ha!

      To live like you’re dying is an amazing thing. Some of us throw on sweats and get back to nature, some of us buy a sports car convertible, some of us join a gym, some of us eat and drink whatever the hell we want. Most of us have come to the conclusion that no matter what we decide to do, we don’t really care what people think and we are really quick to tell people what we think (if they ask).

      Do what feels right for you and enjoy every minute of doing it.

      Like

      • Carolyn Thomas August 9, 2013 at 2:00 pm #

        Well said. I wonder how many of us spend most of our adult lives not doing what we love to do (because there’s always something ‘better’ we could/should do with our money, time and energy)?

        Like

  9. Colette August 4, 2013 at 8:10 am #

    LOVE this blog. Thanks for your insights and may your courage and clarity inspire more women to love themselves and ignore the hype by Oz, et al. I have been “silver” for years!

    Like

  10. Janice August 3, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

    Thanks for this blog entry!

    I decided to let my hair go grey about a year after my second heart surgery — one to repair and the second to replace my mitral valve. I love my silver and pewter hair and everyone else does too — at least that’s what they say to my face:-)

    It’s liberating, saves so much time and money, and I feel like I look like me, not some manufactured version of me. I enjoy a bit of makeup — a bit of BB cream, some mascara, a bit of blush and that’s it, but the “fresh-scrubbed” look is often the option I choose.

    However, what has worked for me may not for someone else and that’s okay too…as long as it’s a matter of choice and not the result of subtle and not so subtle coercion of popular media or others, including family and friends, who cannot come to terms with evidence of a life lived, battle scars and all.

    Women who have chosen to age gracefully, rather than artificially, remind me of fine silver that has been used and enjoyed over the years resulting in a wonderful, soft patina that enhances the beauty of each piece. I love my “patina”!

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas August 3, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

      Thank you Janice. I love your use of the word “patina” – I may steal that one myself! The trouble with subtlety is: how can we tell if we are seeking out age-defying products through our own choice, or if that choice is being unconsciously influenced by the subtle coercion of media and others? It’s what Dr. Eboni Baugh refers to when she writes that aging women become even more susceptible to these “appearance messages” as we age. We simply cannot escape those societal/media/marketing messages.

      Like

      • Janice August 4, 2013 at 12:42 am #

        Too true and most of us don’t have the kind of critical reflexivity to discern the difference between our own wishes and those created by dominant media messages. Better to work on the patina, perhaps 🙂

        Like

  11. Stephanie Thompson August 3, 2013 at 2:10 pm #

    Part of the reason I color my hair is my trying to deflect the aging discrimination that is so rampant in my field.

    Another reason is that I had blonde hair all through childhood through college. I always liked it and don’t want any other color. Other colors do not look very well on me. My hair stylist makes it look quite natural. I’m 56, and if I let it grow the natural mercury color it would be, I would add 10 – 15 years onto how I look. Not happening!

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas August 3, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

      To each, his (her!) own, Stephanie! Enjoy your blonde hair! Although the reality of that rampant aging discrimination is distressing . . .

      Like

  12. Kathleen August 3, 2013 at 12:22 pm #

    Interesting, as only last week there was a big front page inner section article about how men and women are now having “maintenance” plastic surgery just to keep their tech jobs, because, in that environment nobody is supposed to care about appearance, but casual, apparently effortless appearance is indeed everything.

    Whenever peers swap stories of age deterioration, I still think: “I never thought I’d get this far.” When I was 21, radical surgery (and radiation and chemo) for a rare metastasized cancer changed my life. At the time, our only thought was to get me beyond the 6 month window if we did nothing, and I extended that window no more than 6 months further a few times until we could consider me a cure.

    My body is a record, scars and all. It tells my story, if you know how to read it. What’s left of my neck strains to hold my head up, and I lost key muscles that stabilize and control shoulders. This is invisible to most people, who see some overdeveloped shoulder muscles (“You must work out! Terrific!”) and a really skinny haggard neck, in the last few years coupled with chin sags. Some people assume that I would live my life in turtlenecks and scarves, but I don’t.

    I concentrate on function, though lately I do wish I didn’t look even more tired than I am.

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas August 3, 2013 at 2:51 pm #

      Hi Kathleen and thanks so much for sharing your perspective here. I for one am so glad you made it past those “6 month” extensions. I did have to laugh at your story of the tech jobs and the “casual, apparently effortless” appearance expected in that milieu. I spent some time at Stanford University last fall (in the Silicon Valley mecca of Palo Alto) where the place is crawling with tech types. The “uniform” of the tech hipsters is summed up in something like Converse sneakers, ultra-skinny jeans, and an obscurely cryptic T-shirt message. Oh, and did I mention YOUTH?! I definitely felt like the oldest person on that campus, if not the planet . . .

      Like

  13. cave76 August 3, 2013 at 11:27 am #

    I’ve fiddled with this quote — changing ‘he’ to ‘she’:

    “At 50, everyone has the face she deserves.”
    ― George Orwell

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas August 3, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

      And I like to think that means for both the best and the worst! I also like to think I “deserve” the face I now wear these days – because I earned every bit of it! Thanks, Cave…

      Like

  14. Anne August 3, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    Women, as a whole, tend to focus on image more so than men who seem to focus on doing rather than looking.

    Two weeks ago, I was visiting a nursing home in London. Two women residents called me over to their table to show me their hands. They were upset because their hands had lumpy joints, spots, and gnarly joints. They wanted a manicure and asked to see my hands. I don’t “do” manicures because they impede progress in the things that I enjoy “doing” like gardening. They both said they wanted unpainted nails – just like mine. But then they said they thought their hands were ugly because of the gnarly joints.

    I saw two women who had entirely too much time on their hands and told them forthright to stop worrying about their gnarly hands because they commanded respect! I asked them if they – in all their years – had ever wondered why those gnarly trees at the top of mountains were photographed so often instead of saplings? Those gnarly trees have lived a lifetime of battles and each scar, spot, and bump told the story of an interesting life! Then the nursing home nurse complained about a lack of resources and they would get their nails done during activity time – if there was time. OMG, these gals were paying $15,000/month (combined) and they could not get a manicure? Holy crap.

    A month ago, my 85 year old mom was awarded her first trophy – a magnificent cup trophy – for most inspirational by her strength and agility coach. She is still pleased as punch. Last September, she began to work out with my strength and agility coach during our mid-day training session. She began with 30 seconds on the eliptical, ROM (range of motion) exercises, and balance exercises. She attends 5 days/week – consistently – and is focused on improving even if she cannot remember the exercises. Her coach reminds her that he is there to remember for her. The interesting part is that she is training with semi-pro athletes who have welcomed her into their lives. They have remarked that when they feel like skipping training, just knowing that mom is there …it’s enough to get them into the gym. Most inspirational.

    By the way, mom is now up to 15 minutes on the elliptical, has full range of motion, balance improved and now is focusing on strength and agility! She is not worried about chipped nail polish or grey hair.

    I believe the most important thing is to do both – maintain image and focus on living a full life like it’s your last day. The image thing is important because society (the world) responds to what they see. As we age, it’s very important to have good fitting clothes – nothing that ages us faster than dirty/worn/dated clothes – and avoid them at all cost if you don’t want to be written off (that is important when they drag you into the ER unconscious).

    I love my partial highlights – the silver is there but so are the gold and red of my younger years. A good haircut is more important than the grey hair vs highlights. Remember being 16 and putting effort into how we looked when we went out the front door? It’s not any less important 50 or 80 years later. It’s how society sees us as worthy individuals. Then it’s what we DO with our daily lives that keeps us from being marginalized in society – what do you have to talk about over lunch/funeral/party. What have you done this year that fills letters and conversations? Read, garden, travel. As we age, it’s of the utmost importance to get a full daily workout at the gym – 5 days/week. I found that I needed a strength and agility coach more so now than when I was younger…just to keep me honest with myself and on my training plan. The difference now is that my training is more pilates-based rather than heavy weights. And I will not look like roadkill when they haul me into the cath lab for another frequent flier visit!

    Oh yeah, don’t forget to pick up a little black Brazilian bikini ’cause every gal needs one of those in their life (and the gym allows you to wear it well….)

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas August 3, 2013 at 8:29 am #

      Hello Anne – your mother is indeed an inspiration. Daily exercise is one of the things we do for ourselves that – unlike those age-defying beauty routines – actually helps us on the inside as well as outside. Far more important, in my opinion, is, as you say, what we have to talk about at the end of the day (hopefully NOT about our aches and pains, or where we got our nails done)

      And by the way, there will be no black Brazilian bikini in my future…. 😉

      Like

      • Cheryl August 3, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

        A quick reply Carolyn… I love your articles… but did you know even heart issues will be helped by lengthening telomeres (as stated on Dr. Oz and in many studies even at Harvard) which can be done naturally to some extent. How we eat, and exercise can definitely give you a healthier way to age!

        I also agree with Anne. How we perceive ourself in some instances (ie. a boomer who cannot retire and has lost her job…. needing to appear the best she can be in the work force) people regain their confidence and live life happier knowing they are the best they can be…. and it is not just for their own belief or self worth.

        Cindy Joseph, a model, who has allowed her hair to grey naturally also does an amazing video on aging naturally, self appreciation, and basically ‘if you feel better with red hair, then that is great for you’…. Allowing is part of the secret!

        What do you think?

        Like

        • Carolyn Thomas August 3, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

          Hi Cheryl! Okay, you asked – so here’s what I think in a nutshell: while at first blush, I love Cindy Joseph’s “aging naturally” philosophy (e.g. enjoying her own naturally greying hair), we can’t fail to notice that she has now launched her own line of “Pro-Age” cosmetics for women of a certain age. She’s making money by exploiting our unique niche market of women who are tired of being “sold” an anti-aging message – by selling us another message about her own line of products. Like the pervasive Dove ads that attempt to convince us they give a damn about our fragile self-esteem instead of their true goal: getting us to buy Dove products.

          Re telomerase: in my opinion, Dr. Oz is NOT a credible source of sound evidence-based science when it comes to his anti-aging hype; but if we actually did want to lengthen those telomeres without purchasing expensive supplements, as reported in the journal Lancet, “comprehensive lifestyle changes significantly increase telomerase activity” in humans.

          Like

  15. Kit Filan August 3, 2013 at 7:42 am #

    Right on Carolyn. You’ve hit the nail on the head here. For a long time I’ve been noticing all the different shades of grey hair and how attractive it looked. There’s nothing worse than dark dyed hair next to an aging face, like the woman is pathetically holding on to her youth which has slipped away. Every day is a gift. Let’s not miss out by dwelling on the past.

    Thank you for your wonderful column!

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas August 3, 2013 at 8:06 am #

      Hello Kit! Lovely to hear from you. There is actually one thing worse than “dark dyed hair next to an aging face” – and that is grey roots. Safe travels home – see you soon!

      Like

  16. JetGirl August 3, 2013 at 6:53 am #

    Maybe it is coincidence, maybe not but I went oh so grey with the onset of heart problems. Cannot stand the smell in there without getting short of breath even at the super expensive non-chemical salons.

    Plus, as you all know – THIS is what I’m going to spend my precious energy doing??? Had an eighty year old fellow heart patient tell me I “missed a spot” at a support group meeting – it was so funny I couldn’t explain for several moments.

    And used-to-be-a-doctor-but-now-I’m-a-hack Dr. Oz? He belongs in the same circle of hell as think-yourself-well guru Chopra.

    Never a blond but native Angeleno.

    JG

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas August 3, 2013 at 8:34 am #

      Thanks JG – it would be interesting to see how many women living with a chronic diagnosis like heart disease are deciding to ‘go grey’ naturally as they focus on more important issues every day. I saw Joan Rivers interviewed on TV recently – now there’s a talented and successful woman who, sadly, is known as much for her freakish plastic surgery as for her groundbreaking comedic career.

      Like

  17. Rachel Goodwin Juby August 3, 2013 at 6:21 am #

    I loved this! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! for getting this out in the open. Not only are we dealing with illness but now we have to deal with aging and illness ? It is a cruel world. My hair is not turning Gray, it is falling out! My skin looks like onion paper and my body looks like my great, great GrandMa’s butt.

    I avoid cameras and people that knew me in my youth… when I was pretty. I really hate it when people see me and tell me things like “You were so pretty in your day”. I had the un-pleasure of meeting one of my past Beau’s from 24 years back. For some reason he was expecting me to look exactly like I did 24 years ago. I saw the disappointment in his eyes. I was kind enough not to show him what I thought of him. I came home and cried. Then I collected myself and thought…wait! OK, I am not a candidate for Glamour magazine or More or “O”. but quite frankly I would not give up my “life experience” my “life lessons”, “my wisdom” for my (back then) perfect body, perfect skin and perfect hair . Frankly it was very time consuming. It only got me trouble with materialistic men, looking for “arm candy”.

    I don’t know about you but I have found the “cosmetic route” to be a bit of a downer. Plastic surgery hurts, Botox certainly gets rid of wriggles, it also freezes your face, so you have no emotion at all (even if you tried). Collagen injections “fill in and plump up” only to “go back Jack and do again in 4-6 months” The money is crazy for what you get… a false you.

    No, having traveled down this “vain” path. I would suggest showing your true colors and your true wrinkles (You earned them! Sad, Bad or Happy, they are yours to treasure. They make up your life. )

    I recently read an article that claimed a woman of 40 years old, on average has spent 5 years of her life on “beauty treatments” (spas, nails, hair etc… This does not even include regular home grooming like bathing, shampooing, shaving and make-up) I did not go further, but I am betting she spent several years of hard earned income as well.

    If it makes you feel good.. do it! But do not feel like you have to because some magazine or TV show or person (male or female) made you feel like you have to. When you are a person who lives life like you are dying, you know what is important and what is not. You take the serious very seriously. You live fully and love deeply and when you see that spoiled rotten B at the beauty salon having a major breakdown because her fake nail broke and it is the “major crisis of her entire life”… you think two things… The first is not nice, but you can read my mind because we are Sisters 😉 The second: I am glad I am me, with all my flaws, wrinkles, gray hair or no hair, fat, skinny, flabby.

    We are beautiful in our own way and we have forgotten more about life than that spoiled rotten chic at the salon will ever know 😉

    God Bless you all. You are beautiful to me.

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas August 3, 2013 at 6:37 am #

      Well said, Rachel – if only more aging women heeded your wise lesson – hair, grey hair, or no hair!

      Like

  18. Chris August 3, 2013 at 5:34 am #

    I am with you!! I am proud of every grey hair and wrinkle. I rarely even wear make-up anymore. When people lament over getting older I remind them how blessed they are to be alive and able to live another day. We have earned our greys and if that keeps us off the magazine covers, then that is society’s loss.

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas August 3, 2013 at 5:54 am #

      Thanks, Chris! Too bad about those magazine covers . . . 😉

      Like

      • Sunny August 3, 2013 at 10:39 am #

        Joining the line up of “It’s OK to be Gray!” crowd.

        I’m 74 and have enjoyed watching the different shades of gray over the years now blended into almost a platinum. Quite exciting, really!

        I quit makeup as it seemed to head straight to the wrinkles and pool in a most unpleasing manner. I now sport the “fresh-scrubbed” look. I have advanced heart failure and my time is better spent watching the hummingbirds, reading a great novel by Louise Penny (Canadian author), knitting, and just rejoicing in the fact I am still above ground!

        My oldest daughter told me, “You never know how strong you are till being strong is all you have.” So very true.

        Thanks for this post, Carolyn. I learn so much from you & your guest writers and comments from folks like me.

        Like

        • Carolyn Thomas August 3, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

          Sunny, I love your “fresh-scrubbed” preference! Thanks very much for sharing your unique comments with us. I haven’t read any Louise Penny yet but heard Shelagh Rogers interview her last fall on CBC, so am inspired now to look up one of her Inspector Gamache books. P.S. I have to tell you that I too am (strangely) getting a kick out of observing how those little grey hairs are emerging…

          Like

          • Sunny August 4, 2013 at 7:46 am #

            Carolyn, I found Louise Penny after my open heart surgery to repair my mitral valve. I was an “at risk” candidate for surgery due to Heart Failure and my recovery was extremely looong! Enter Inspector Gamache and I was hooked. I am eagerly awaiting her newest novel due out the end of this month.

            Like

            • Dr. Barbara Keddy August 5, 2013 at 11:17 am #

              Love, love, love this blog.

              I have been thinking about these issues for a very long time! Many years ago when I was relatively young, I began a feminist sociology course called “Women and Aging”. The university students (always women) were almost always fearful about aging. I was positive, upbeat, and given to say things like: “you’re only as old as you feel”, “rest means rust” and other inane platitudes.

              I would tell my own age and shock the students while those in the class over 30 would not tell their ages. I clearly remember a mature student saying out loud in the classroom: “I’m 40- isn’t that awful?”. I still cringe at my response which I am too ashamed to write about.

              The years have passed and now I am 74, wondering at my audacity. Aging, for a woman especially, is a complex issue. We are denigrated to pasture. “You’re as bad as an old woman” is a common phrase we often hear.

              My mother has just died in a nursing home at 95. I can clearly see my own path. Fibromyalgia and heart disease along with the usual sagging, wrinkles, aches and pains of aging have taken a toll on my appearance.

              Never one to wear any makeup at all, I did colour my hair- in the days when it was called streaking, then hi lights, and finally the whole deal, the dye. Oh, I would worry about the health impact of putting those chemicals on my head, but the unstated fear of others thinking I was old was too much for me to handle.

              I have an unusual husband who wanted me to stop and let my hair look as natural as my face. The contradiction was so obvious, even to me. No make up, but dye? He said that women who tried to hide their aging made him uncomfortable. I promised I would stop at age 70, but what I actually did was to use hi lights (hi lites?) a little so that it would be a slow transition.

              I am now chemical free; no worries about inhaling all those dangerous fumes and I still have a great relationship with my hair stylist when she does the cut for me every 4 weeks. It is such a relief.

              From makeup to hair products, we have to acknowledge that we are the victims of the multi-nationals who care less about our health and those dangerous chemicals.

              The social stigma of growing old as a woman can never be overcome if we don’t stand up and protect our damaged emotional psyche from trying to fight the aging process. I was a product of that discrimination and to say that I felt better after a dye job is to lie to myself, since I was actually hiding from myself.

              This rant is not a moral judgement on those who continue to try to hide their aging; it is to acknowledge that I too am fighting a losing battle and have at last given up the battle and realize I am the winner :-).

              I wish I could teach that course over again! Growing old is tough enough without someone who is too young to understand the discrimination an older woman faces blathering on about being positive.

              Fortunately only a couple of my very close women friends now still dye their hair so the grey trend is becoming popular. I am part of the ‘in’ crowd now.

              I used to love the chant of the gay and lesbian community: “Im queer; I’m here. Get over it”.

              I have one of my own:

              “I’m old. I’m bold. Get over it”.

              Remember the saying that the Archie Bunker character will never be black, gay, a woman – but he will be old some day! Why bother to hide it?

              Like

              • Carolyn Thomas August 5, 2013 at 12:34 pm #

                Oh, Barbara – your wonderful response deserves to be a blog post in itself! I’m still laughing out loud at: “I’m old. I’m bold. Get over it!”

                Note to My Readers: Check out Dr. Barbara Keddy’s own heart attack story.

                Like

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Phil Belleville - December 15, 2014

    Heart Sisters

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  2. Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer - August 11, 2013

    […] Housewives/Real Housewives women I see on TV are spending money on turning back the years. I love Carolyn’s take on accepting the inevitability of aging with grace and good humor. […]

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