Saturday, October 28, 2017

Ditch the hair dye! Going gray into that good night

If you've lived long enough, you'll remember the Clairol ad with the tagline, Is it true blondes have more fun?  Notice that blondes is underlined in the ad. You say that word LOUDER.

I tested the verity of that line for, oh, about 50 years, and found that it was sorta true. Except maybe for the years when we were raising two boys, one of whom was born when I was 41. I had a few "not fun being blonde" years juggling work with sketchy childcare. But for the most part,  it's been all good. Did being blonde make a difference? For all those years? Probably not.  
High school and college graduation photos.
I had a lot of fun being a young blonde.
Then I just went on being blonde until I was gray,
and became gray with a golden tinge.
My sister points out these two photos make me look
better than I ever did in real life. True. 

Age 17 was my first year of blonde-from-a bottle. I was decades from denying gray, but I was in full assault against light brown. Mousey brown, as it was called. People asked me for years if it was true that "Blondes have more fun." My standard response was the shameless lie, "I don't know. I've never been anything else."

By the time age 17 turned into age 71, (how did that happen??!!) no one asked whether grays have more fun. In fact, female grays are largely ignored, except by surgeons pushing facelifts and companies preying on women's fears of aging. Magic wrinkle creams and other potions promising to turn back time are ubiquitous in our culture, which  despite the social and cultural changes that have occurred since Clairol ads, including the rise of feminism, remains skewed grotesquely toward youth and beauty., 

But somebody has to occupy the "elder" positions. Women who are only in their sixties, like most of my friends, may not quite be copping to the "elder" handle. 
  But at age almost 73, I'm acclimating to the higher elevation and at the same time being alarmed at physical transformations. What happened to my neck, for example. And my once-flattish stomach? I haven't gained weight, so what's with the rolls of blubber?

Then there's the wrinkles and sags - no cosmetic "work" has been done,  nor is any being planned. I've given up trying to make my gray (white) hair appear blond with a golden tinge, and I'm adjusting to my new and evolving position in the march from womb to worms.

In my early seventies, I am what I am.  I'm getting used to how old 70 sounds, and concentrating instead on how much I'm enjoying myself.  In the seasons of life, I'm mid-to-late fall, and so is the time during which I've been writing this post. I can't help but draw parallels. I look my age, but I don't feel old. I really don't. Not unlike the trees glowing with color being at their most proud before winter sets in.

A serene scene along the Upper Rogue River trail. In a month or so the trees will be bare and the trail thick with snow. Wintertime, folks. It's a-comin'.

A significant source of contentment and stimulation growing older is having ongoing friendships reaching back 30-40-some years. My girlfriends and I have seen one another through all kinds of crap, including ugly marriages, recalcitrant children, and life-threatening illnesses. But we've celebrated together more often than not our successes and luminous moments, many of which have occurred during shared outdoor adventures.

We're now embracing life as age continues to take its little nips. Mostly retired, each of my friends profiled briefly below demonstrates gusto for the freedom retirement offers and a life that wasn't possible during her naturally pigmented-hair-and-wrinkle-free work-centered days.

We've all suffered losses, but I know that these girlfriends, all in their sixties, accept the gathering of years, embrace their new-found freedoms, and are moving toward the great beyond with a spring in their steps. I hope to keep up! (Well, they can keep up with me; I'm the oldest.)

Apologies to wonderful friends not pictured. I included a handful of girlfriends who live in my community, go with the gusto, and who've demonstrated aging acceptance, in part,  by sticking with the gray hair, wrinkles and divets that ages delivers. No "work" to smooth the wrinkles, no nips and tucks elsewhere, and no hair dye. Just a calm going with the flow, like on the rivers we've rafted and trails we've walked so many times.

Sueji and I met when she was in her twenties and I was in my thirties. She was a white-water river guide and I was a journalist/photographer doing a story about a woman-owned rafting company with all female guides.What a trip! Our adventures continued through the decades as we were two of four women who rowed, for 17 years, on an annual all-women whitewater trip down the Wild and Scenic Rogue River. (The two others are Michele and Margaret, pictured below.) We continue to hike, socialize, confide, and enjoy our longtime friendships. Sueji is a retired community college counselor, and always has a listening ear and a shoulder to lean on.
Margaret is as sassy and fun as she looks in this photo
taken about 10 years ago when she was president
of her Rotary Club and Communications Director
at the local community college. We were both
journalists and worked at the local newspaper
when typewriters and actual cut-and-paste was
how editing was done. She says she's had more
compliments on her straight gray hair than she ever
did when she dyed and permed it.
I'm not sure when Jeanne and I met, but I'm sure we
   made a quick and lasting bond 30-some years ago. She's an avid
gardener and creative cook. She's also fierce,
principled, and quick to call bullshit on
racism, misogyny and the like. Jeanne
made her living first as a cabinet maker
then as a community college instructor teaching
everything from basic living skills to
carpentry. She's a champion for women in the
trades. When I asked her about being included
in this piece, she said, "If it's about not worrying
about appearance, I'm all in." 
Michele was the first friend I made after we
moved to Southern Oregon in 1973. We were both
substitute teachers looking for kindred spirits in
our little rural town. This photo is from a few years
back, but now at 68 she still has but a wisp of gray hair.
"It's my genes," she says, "which also gave me migraines
and breast cancer." She's a 19-year survivor. Michele joined
the Peace Corps in her early 60s and spent a couple
years in Swaziland. Wow. Recently, on a limited
budget in a super-tight housing market, she bought
a fixer-up with great promise. Guts and brains.
"I've learned to be comfortable in my own skin," she
says of moving into her later years. 

Denise, 68, is a yoga and art teacher, making her way in the world on her own terms. She taught me, and numerous others in her classes, that doing the splits, and many other outrageous moves, are possible no matter your age. She's my hero. I started doing yoga with her about 25 years ago, and we've gotten gray together. She never dyed her hair or even used make-up. Still, she glows and has tons of energy. She is not among those enjoying retirement, however, as her mother, age 104, remains healthy and lives with her. Denise says she's never been tempted to alter her appearance. "I am curious about how I'll look," she says. I predict she'll still be doing splits in her 100s. And her mother will break longevity records.

Me in July, au naturel. Grays really do have more fun!
Photo credit Rose Cassano.

Accepting aging

Working to Disarm Women’s Anti-Aging Demon  - A New York Times article persuading women to embrace rather than deny the inevitable. The inspiration for this post.

Camping with gray-haired girlfriends - my post about a quick get-away and some

quality bonding with longtime friends.
Pauline - another way to look at aging. Hair dye and estrogen all the way. At age 96, it 

still works for her.

Taking charge of aging with Yoga! See Denise, above. All about her yoga class and the 

people in it. Let's say it's an older demographic.