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Reflections May 2018

It’s My Birthday and I’ll Dye if I Want To

By Susan Goldfein

Suddenly there were articles in fashion magazines and the New York Times Styles section reporting on countless glamorous, courageous women who were going gray! Even young people were putting gray streaks in their hair. I was no longer the lone woman in the room. I was part of a trend.

Like most women, I have a complicated relationship with birthdays. Which happened to be just a few weeks ago. I won’t get specific, but I will admit to being in my eighth decade, and creeping closer to the next round number. By the way, for those of you who, like me, almost failed math, the eighth decade does not mean I’m 80 – yet! Not that 80 is a bad place to be. It is definitely something I look forward to achieving – eventually.

While I am very grateful to be alive and feeling as well as I do, I can’t reconcile the person who lives inside my head with the DOB that appears on my driver’s license. I’m also very grateful to still have a driver’s license.

Additionally, like most women, I also have a complicated relationship with my hair. (If you think comparing birthdays and hair is a non sequitur, please indulge me and keep reading. It was my birthday, after all.)

We believe that our hair represents us. It delivers a message to the world about how we see ourselves. Want to change the message? Change the hair. Are we in a bad mood? Maybe we’re having a bad hair day. Having a crisis? Go get highlights.

Over the years, I have tenderly nourished my hair with very expensive shampoos and conditioners, only to torture it five minutes later with a blow dryer. I have alternately permed it, straightened it, let it grow long, and cut it really, really short. I’ve ironed it, taped it, and strangled it with rubber bands. And for more years than I care to remember, I saturated it with chemicals to hide the gray, which, of course, appeared prematurely.

But all that ended a while ago, on another significant birthday, when I decided to let my hair go au natural. I didn’t care if I was the only gray-haired lady in the room. My message was one of defiant confidence. And except for one brief encounter with the color purple, this is how I have remained. Until now.

My bravura continued until gray became the new blonde. Suddenly there were articles in fashion magazines and the New York Times Styles section reporting on countless glamorous, courageous women who were going gray! Even young people were putting gray streaks in their hair. I was no longer the lone woman in the room. I was part of a trend.

So, the other evening I was at a performance, and during intermission, I took my place in line to use the ladies’ room. (Why are there never enough toilets?) To draw my attention away from my bladder, I began to study the group of women with similar needs. The head count was overwhelmingly gray. The trend had become a tsunami.

I exited the ladies’ room feeling both relief and enlightenment. It was time for a new message.

Which brings us to that birthday. The morning found me at the salon, bravely or stupidly, sitting in a chair for an hour-and-a-half, while a colored streak was applied to my otherwise silver tresses. It will eventually wash out, I told myself. I could only hope the outcome would not compel me to wear a hat for the next six weeks.

I’m actually very pleased with the result. I think it provides a sense of fun. I’m not exactly sure what the message is, but maybe that’s not the point. Hey, I f you can’t act out on your birthday, when can you?