Good morning, ProviderNation. This month’s edition of the great glossy asks whether ageism is getting in the way of quality long term care. This morning, we feature a guest post from Kathy Hagen, on learning to love the look of aging. It was previously posted at The Eden Alternative Blog.
My partner, Tom, didn’t want me to do it. My best-friend, Rita, thought it was a bad idea. My friend Marie, 85, said she would never do it and encouraged me not to. “Why would you want to do that?” she asked. Last May, I did it anyway, and I’m really glad I did.
Now that the long process is mostly over, the comments I hear are, “I wish I could do that” and “wow, you really did it!” “I think all women should do I,” and my favorite, “Can I touch it?”
In May of 2013, I decided to stop coloring my long dark hair and let the natural grey grow in. It was a long process, first doing a heavy bleach to smooth the transition from dark to light, and then the somewhat awkward stage of having half and half hair. I called it my “segue to silver.”
Just before a vacation in November, I decided it was time to cut off the colored/bleached ends and have a full head of silver gray hair. It’s quite a change. People don’t recognize me. When Tom and I are out together and we see someone we haven’t seen in a while, they need to do a double take and think he is out with another woman!
How did I get here? A few years ago, I began thinking about it. I always disliked coloring my hair and wondered how I would get to the point of letting it go. I asked my hair stylist, Bill, how we would do it, and each time he ended with, “…and then you cut it short.” I couldn’t bear it. I loved my long hair. It really wasn’t about looking older or “transitioning into old age,” as one of my youthful colleagues suggested; it was about the transition itself–a year (or more) of not having the hair that I wanted to have. I had to let go of that.
I feel that hair is a part of our identity. People remember us and even recognize us by our hair. We think of ourselves as looking a certain way, and we build part of our confidence based on that look, a look we are comfortable with. It’s not who we are, but it is what we see in the mirror, and what others see. Our physical appearance is important in ways that are not just vain or superficial. It is our face to the world, and we need to be comfortable with that image. It’s healthy to want to look our best. I began coloring my hair for these reasons, and my hesitation to go through this process was based in these feelings.
I always admired women who never dyed their hair. I thought of them as strong and independent minded. I began asking them, in private moments, whether they ever dyed their hair and how they made the transition. They had the courage to let go of the societal expectations, to let go of the perception of someone with gray hair as old, and the perception that growing old is something to prevent or avoid.
At 50, I decided that my natural hair color is the right thing for me. It isn’t for everyone and I respect that. Since I have worked for The Eden Alternative, I have learned and loved the phrase, “Embracing Elderhood,” and I believe that in order for our society to change the perception of Elderhood, we must take it on as individuals and “be the change.”
I have one group of male friends in their 50s and 60s, whose “guy’s night” I crash once in a while. When I showed up with this new look, they didn’t say anything at first–they are all so kind and politically correct. Suddenly, Joe had the courage to say, “Kathy, I really love your hair.” Then all the guys chimed in with, “Yes, and we wish all women would do this too! Men don’t color their hair, and we don’t understand why women feel they need to.” I couldn’t agree more.