A hairy reckoning no one asked for
(No. 23) To dye, or not to dye, that is the pandemic question. By Stephen P. Williams
(Please click the heart above, my love. It helps my ranking.)
But first, this advice from Stephen: If somebody says your local hospital has aging infrastructure, that doesn’t mean it’s specially designed for you.
No, not those roots. Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash
Unlike many people, I face no quandaries during this pandemic about how to maintain my hair color. No barber, no stylist, no colorist, no problem. My normal hair routine remains unchanged:
Once in a while I put coconut oil in my palm and rub it on my face and through my hair.
Following the advice of How to Stay Alive in the Woods, which I read when I was 10, I wash my hair once a week.
I wet my hair in the shower every morning and when I get out I comb it flat, to temper its rockabilly tendencies.
Occasionally, I apply Ayurvedic hair oil or neem oil. (Doesn’t that sound sophisticated?) I’m not sure why, other than that I have a bottle of each in my medicine cabinet.
My hair is grey to the point of whiteness. I’ve never tried to change it. However, I know many people face huge conundrums now that most salons are closed. They have complicated hair needs, especially if they have aged into gray, but have kept that fact hidden for years or even decades. Now they’re afraid the sight of their ever expanding roots will enforce social distancing they didn’t request.
One friend of mine has scheduled a Zoom call with her colorist to strategize her hair future, which might include going cold turkey from hair dye, or a private home visit from her stylist. A violation of our new viral norms? Don’t tell anyone.
Instagram shows me that an old, but distant friend in Miami Beach is still using the “secret” touchup dye he’s long used to keep his hair a youthful mix of dark on the top and salt and pepper at the temples, when by all rights it should be a white helmet by now. He stocked up on the dye before the virus began controlling our beauty habits.
And we regular people have company during this pandemic. The illustrious Kelly Ripa, whoever that is, is keeping fans up to date with an Instagram “grey watch” progress report on her receding dye line. And Sharon Osborne, who I think once bit the head off a bat in a beauty salon, is dropping her weekly visits to the colorist to freshen her raspberry Kool Aid look, and going gray. From the looks of her Instagram page, she might have dyed her hair gray first, hoping to ease the slow aesthetic disruption of letting her roots grow in.
Sharon Osbourne, right, looking age appropriate.
But choosing to go natural is a big decision, due to the incredible judgements our society places on people, especially women, who go gray. The gray hairs are instant signifiers of age, and being old in America often isn’t a welcome experience. Ageism. Job discrimination. General invisibility. For many people, vanquishing grey has required heroic efforts.
I’ve often marveled at how many women above age 50 in New York City are blond, when only two percent of people in the world, and about 5 percent of white Americans are naturally blond. But I think the blond phenomena explains why so many people, especially women, don’t let their hair stay natural as they age, even if they choose brunette or red over yellow. It’s a matter of perception, and of power.
A 2016 study found that nearly half of female CEOs at S&P 500 companies were blond. And 35 percent of women senators were also blond. A woman who ages gray is often seen as over the hill, or lacking the will to be attractive. It’s a ridiculous notion, especially considering that most men who aren’t movie stars feel little pressure to dye their hair. Although that’s bound to change as men voluntarily adopt more and more habits, such as hair dye, makeup, designer clothes, that make women’s lives more expensive and complicated.
I know people who’ve dyed their hair every couple of weeks for decades, and I’ve always wondered how many toxins were entering their bodies. Apparently, not that many, according to the American Cancer Society, whose memo on the subject seems kind of surprised that no one has found a strong link between hair dye and cancer. So, maybe it won’t kill you. But think of all the money, time and anxiety expended by millions of people as they attempt to convince the world their hair isn’t gray.
As a proud, out gray man, I just don’t get it. In this pandemic, you have the choice of suiting up in a mask and gloves to head to the Rite Aid (where a lot of sick people shop, by the way) to buy some dye that will almost certainly leave your hair looking fake, or staying home and letting your hair grow out.
Maybe it’s time for a hair reset, along with all the other resets this pandemic is enabling.
If you want to get revolutionary about it, join the Gray Panthers.
More news for quarantined people
How to survive in the woods
If you’re thinking of bugging out of the city to live in the woods, buy this book.
Martha is always prepared
When I worked for Martha Stewart back in the 90s, she could never remember my name. But I like her COVID-19 beauty regimen, which would work for almost anyone.
The once a week 23-minute workout
DIY nail salon
This dang virus has closed all the nail salons. Here’s how to be resilient, and take those fake nails off at home.
Let’s have empathy for everyone in this crisis
Older people are affected differently by the prospect of COVID-19.