I’ve been undergoing a change of image over the last few months. Let me confess: I decided at the beginning of this year to allow my hair to revert to its natural colour. Or in other words, to go grey.
I hadn’t seen my natural hair colour in its entirety since I was in my early thirties. Which is, well, quite a long time ago. I remember my parents coming to visit around the time I started to use artificial colour, usually henna then to cover up a few grey strands.
‘Have you dyed your hair?’ asked my mother, staring at me suspiciously.
‘No of course she hasn’t,’ my father snapped at her. ‘Cherry would never do anything so stupid.’
My dark brown hair, with natural touches of red, was in fact a mix from this black-haired father and red-haired mother – the latter reflecting her Welsh Owen ancestry, in which all family branches that I know of have red hair somewhere in their particular family line. I and my hair colour were one, so to speak. I wanted to keep it as it was, so I started to use first henna, then packet colours to hide any unwanted deviation from the original.
I was not the best of home stylists, and when the bathroom began to resemble a slaughterhouse due to my inaccurate aim, I decided it was time to let the professionals take over.
Before I knew it, I was on an expensive treadmill. At the last count, it could be up to £85 for a cut and colour every five or six weeks; my hair grows fast. Any longer without the treatment, and unwelcome, deadening grey would start to show through. I had no idea exactly how much grey I had, though the current hairdresser of the time would give me a percentage count after scrutinising me from all angles.
‘It’s still pretty dark at the back. But 80% grey overall, I’d say.’
Cheery words, and ones that didn’t encourage me to give up my habit. I was worried about looking too old if I let it go, but when I began to envy friends who had never gone down this route, and who looked absolutely fine with white, silver or streaked grey in their hair, I realised that this was telling me something.
One evening about three years ago, when I was attending a conference in the States, I strayed into a late-night bookshop for a read, having nothing much else to do, and picked up Anne Kreamer’s ‘Going Grey’. This is possibly the only book at all on the subject. I read most of it standing propped up against the bookcase, which is not a criticism of the book, but more an indication that I was avidly gulping down its contents. Grey, she says, is one of the last taboos for women in this modern age. A high percentage of women are horrified at the thought of going grey, and, if they do, they can suffer discrimination in public and at job interviews. However, the author also quotes her own experiences as she allowed herself to go grey which suggests that in other areas, she was considered to be more genuine and even more attractive once she’d abandoned artifice.
The pros and cons seemed to hang in the balance, though, and I decided to wait. But by the end of last year, I felt enough was enough. My eyebrows didn’t match my hair colour, and my hair colour didn’t harmonise with my skin tone. I didn’t want to pay huge sums to maintain an illusion that was definitely getting past its sell-by date. I wanted to be me, and I was prepared to take the risk.
This time, I bought my own copy of Kreamer’s book and studied it more carefully. It became an ally, a rare encouragement to go the way nature intended, more or less.
I also found help in my kindly hairdresser, who plainly had her doubts about my taking such an unpopular step, but agreed to work on toning in the existing colours in my hair with any regrowth of grey, silver, indeterminate dark or whatever else turned up. I was fortunate in that my last dose of dark hair colour faded very quickly, and I never went through a kind of magpie effect as the hair was growing out.
It’s nearly there now. I have blonde streaks which blend in beautifully – and I think I’ll keep that going as a regular boost to my sense of appearance. It will only need doing every three months or so. I’ve also received plenty of compliments of late on well how my silver/blonde/dark mix suits me. I’ve had to put certain brighter colours to the back of the wardrobe – but – yippee! – I can now wear lavender, pale and acid greens, and other pretty, subtle colours that simply made me look washed out before. OK, so there have been one or two people who haven’t recognised me, but I soon put them right. You know who you are.
And it’s taken me a while to recognise myself again, but now I do, and I’m happy and proud to be that person. To be the age I am. And what’s that? Ah, it’s a little too soon to start giving that away! More than 35, anyway.
So what about all these pictures that I’ve been supplying to publishers, websites and universities in connection with my work for the last ten years? I’m afraid they have to go. Which is why today’s the day I start changing my photo. On my website, Twitter, Amazon and all the other public places…..I feel secure in where I’m at – but please don’t dump me just yet because of my grey hair! You won’t, will you?