Crowning glory

I first wrote on this topic a couple of years ago and am revisiting it because I have reached a milestone in the journey I embarked upon in Spring 2015. That topic is “hair colour” and, to the casual reader, it may seem like a completely trivial one…and yet to anyone dealing with health challenges or, indeed, the trials and tribulations of being a “maturing” woman in our present culture it really isn’t. When you have a lot of other things going on with your body, which is precisely when self-esteem becomes more important (yet harder to maintain) than ever, something as “trivial” as what you hair looks like can be a deal breaker.

Two years ago I reached a point when I knew I had enough with trying (often failing…) to presentably maintain my hair the way it was yet I had to do something as I felt a mess and lack of self-esteem was really undermining my recovery process. Conventional wisdom would have it that I should get a new cut, pick a vibrant colour and get myself down to a hairdressers on a regular basis again; to make sure I felt world-ready to cope with the next phase of my life. In other words, I needed to fake it so I could make out that I was back on the wagon of living an ordinary, sociable and publicly presentable life. Yet after a decade of Fibromyalgia, struggling to get myself on the straight and narrow of doing even the most ordinary little things on a semi-regular basis, a process that had led me to completely reassess what was really important to focus on in daily life, I knew I had also seen the light about the whole grind of that high maintenance way of being. I’d had enough of all the dye, the regrowth, the expense. My hair had taken a knock in more ways than one due to thinning and hair loss (handfulls of it!) when my health was at its worse and was now fragile and finer than ever. Then with all my back and nerve pain, I’d had enough of endless hours sat in a hairdresser’s chair or with my neck cranked backwards into a cold porcelain sink. I was particularly mindful of the toxic colourants being slathered onto my scalp since I was horrendously sensitive to anything “chemical” which meant there was always a trade-off of a few day’s health after any treatment. Eventually (like all the supposed cul-de-sacs of my health journey) the impasse started to lead me somewhere else…towards the consideration of “what’s so wrong with all the white hair coming through anyway??”

So, I walked into my local Aveda salon (hand-picked for the fact their products are, to a high percentage, naturally and organically derived) and, clutching a handful of the white that sprouts most startlingly from the top-front of my head, asked them “is there any way you can match this?” At the time, I was quite the talking point for even asking; in fact, I even got the impression that glances were passed from one hairdresser to another and only one seemed to give the subtle affirmative that she would take me on (and I’m so glad she did as she’s the best I’ve ever had). In fact I was the willing in-house entertainment as I regaled other clients with my views on my sense of frustration at a belief system that told me I had to hide-away what was patently wanting to come through on my head…yet I could sense other women were starting sit up and listen and some hugely liberating and exhilerating conversations ensued. After all, what’s so illogical about making  one of the very features that you already have in (ever-increasing )abundance into your best feature, your crowning glory; surely that’s what it’s there for since, like a cry from the heart, it is so clearly wanting to be expressed? Our hair could be regarded as yet another suppressed voice of the feminine since, on men, it is “allowed” (even encouraged as a symbol of maturity, reliability, respect) for the greys and whites to shine through but on a woman…well, that’s been a whole different ballgame for the longest time but who made it that way; did we do it or was that another “great” male idea? Was our hard-earned wisdom and experience being cut-off at the roots; only “allowed” out as the fashion accessory of the hardened, sexless old battle axes that our culture likes to belittle?

Because if white or grey hair is a trophy of life’s experiences then I’d certainly earned mine. The first badger-like shock of it (earning me my nickname to this day…) came through suddenly when I was 28, the summer my mother died of cancer. That front flash, about an inch or so in width, steadily increased in breadth through the tough years of my 30s and early 40s and with my deteriorating health until my whole crown had become a white-ish zone, the salt over-spilling the pepper along my parting and around my ears. There comes a point, once the 50% mark has been exceeded, that a commitment feels like it wants to be made though we are so practiced at ignoring or over-riding the signals. So what if the back of my head is a little slower at catching on; what if I wanted to go with the tide, work with Nature on my side (not against it). Perhaps my days of being the King Canute of the hair world were behind me now, a battle (one amongst many) I was happy to call the ceasefire on, to embrace an easier life of living in, and with, the flow of my maturity. What if maturing was only ever the tough domain we thought it was because we kicked up such a stink at the first signs of it coming?

So, at Aveda, they matched up my hair by depigmenting and toning down the darkest colour I still had or (more than anything) the peculiar shades that still persisted from a zillion other colouring-jobs. All that old pigment remaining in the lengths, from years of hairdressing cover-ups, were looking brassy and dirty against the new growth, bringing its purity down so that they were really the misfit more so than the white. The use of a toner (good old blue rinse…how we used to make fun of old ladies for that and now here I was, long before my fiftieth birthday) brightened everything up so that the white was now on the triumphing side. With each visit, as the lengths got trimmed away and the back regrowth brought into line with what Nature so clearly had in mind at the front, the job became easier, the hair colour more coherent, pure and dazzling. People complemented me; conversations were struck up out of the blue with women who observed I had real white (not platinum blonde) dominating my colour. “How beautiful” they observed; “if only I could do that…had the nerve…didn’t have random patches of colour and all those ends covered in dye…if only I wouldn’t have to go through years of messy transition to get where you are”. “You can do all of that if you get the right hairdresser on side, make a project of enhancing rather than hiding the new”, I pointed out, witnessing happy dances from women who had assumed they would be tied to their hair-colouring routine for the next couple of decades or longer. I couldn’t help observing that watching their elated reactions was like witnessing them being let out of a mental prison, a life sentence that had just been reprieved; and isn’t that what it is when you admit you were doing something – repeatedly – that you really didn’t want to be doing yet truely believed you couldn’t get out of. Its just like the powerful elephant that stands rooted to the spot because it thinks it is still tied to the tree it was attached to as a youngster. The mind plays powerful games with our sense of reality…and, often, people need the example of one to nudge them out of their fixed belief system.

It surprised me how few people had actively considered matching their colour to the white/grey rather than the other way around. Those that had seemed to have assumed they would be the laughing-stock of the hairdressing salon…but then, all it takes is more women asking for these things and it becomes the next big trend; and we are a voice they need to listen to since women over fifty with money to spend make up the biggest sub-set of consumers there is. There was never a better time for doing this since grey hair has been in vogue for a couple of years now (for young people!) meaning that the colour techniques have had to follow suit. On one of my visits to Aveda, they had just completed a training workshop on this very technique so my hairdresser was able to mix two shades of toner together to get an even more coherent shade across the whole mixed-bag of my hair. To me, this says clearly that we can both work with Nature (honouring the way she intended us to be) and embrace modern technology in a way that reconciles the two in perfect harmony…left and right hemispheres, head and heart, brought together…which is a theme I am fascinated with across all aspects of human life!

Hair whiteThe result of my own transition is that days of high maintenance hair colour are a thing of the past and, with my latest visit to the hairdressers, I am enjoying the purest and most coherent shade of white shining through my hair so far. I have no issues with dark roots showing through on the top of my head anymore; all I am left to tackle is the under-growth around the sides and a darker patch at the back. My husband absolutely loves it; he says he can always find me in a crowd as I shine-out in a sea of heads. I go for just one full head treatment per year and maybe a couple of T-section touch-ups at important times like before a holiday. The sense of Nature working with me, being on my side (or me on hers…) is tangible; after all, she’s only going to give me more and more of what I want as time goes on, isn’t she? In fact, it feels like a delightful collaboration, like we are giggling together behind our hands as we see just how white we can make me between both of our efforts. The blunt-ended hair cuts I’ve been having make a huge difference to the quality of my hair and to the speed with which the old brassy colours have fallen away. I would say it is almost essential to encourage hair to be as sleek, glossy and sharply cut with white or grey hair so that it looks deliberate and not like you have just let things slide into a sort of accidental sheep’s rug through lack of care and attention (again, a beautiful marriage of Nature and nurture). The one look I was really resistant to from the outset was that of the old hippy who has sworn off the hair dye to go back to barefoot living and life out in the elements at the expense of her outward appearance; like the inside is all that matters and to hell with the physical world. As an artist and someone who appreciates beauty in all things, appearance really matters to me…and I really don’t think that has to mean a conflict with my inner, least materialistic, values. Also, if there is one thing I’m really passionate about, its reclaiming the thing known as “cronehood” and dragging it away from the millstone word that’s been hung around its neck for so long: “ugly”. What does being a crone (mature woman, wise woman, respected woman, experienced woman, intuitive woman…) have to do with ugliness; this is a defunct and deeply undermining belief perpetuated in our culture

Judi Dench helps reinvent how we perceive what are potentially the most vibrant years of our lives

In my view, being the post-fifty woman is absolutely not about losing our looks but about claiming new ones that speak of accumulated wisdom and a life well spent. It should have nothing to do with giving up on ourselves and letting things slide so that people recoil from the way that we that look and shove us back into the margins of life again. Perhaps we have learned to use that self-claimed “ugliness” as a stand of defiance in a society that rejected us anyway. Well, we’ve done with all that and its time for a new era in which the mature women in our culture step into a time of self-realisation, confidence and respect…allowing deeply-cultivated inner beauty to self-express on the outside. Good health, longevity and self-worth rely on a feeling of – quite literally – being able to hold your head up high in all kinds of circumstances and its incredible (as I can testify) how different great hair can make you feel in this respect. It can utterly transform your self-perception and ability to take on whatever life throws at you when you know that you have wonderful hair as your crowning glory and this is something that older women need more than ever before. It’s also something that women who have been through serious trials and tribulations…such as a trauma that turns hair suddenly white, stress-induced hair loss and cancer…can use to reclaim themselves most powerfully in the aftermath; like saying “look at me, I’m altered inside and out but its all good, I embrace and offer forth the new me”. An assumption that making the most of our hair so we can take on our lives means having to make ourselves look younger than we really are feels like making a declaration of power and intention which lacks heart and substance, like we are putting on a brave front…which stops abruptly where it meets the roots since the two aspects are saying completely different things. If this non-compute between root and growth happened in Nature, the tree would fall down. When we allow our deeply embedded roots to grow up from our core and to show themselves as they are, declaring (not hiding) the story of all our lives, we claim the source-power that we are already generating from lifetimes worth of experience; and we bring that up and outwards to help fuel whatever projects we happen to be taking on now and going forwards, facing the world as our most authentic selves. This feels like an often un-tapped source of power for the mature woman (that is, being who you really are, the whole amalgam of your life’s experiences to date, and being prepared to show that to the world, operating from that place of grounded strength) and it heartens me every time I hear about yet another woman tapping into that by revealing her most natural self. This may only be hair we are talking about…but are we, really? From experience, it feels like there is so much more to it than that.

So, having just been for the annual touch-up of my hair in readiness to embark on my fiftieth year (which is a year that is already filling me with so much energy and excitement), I feel more-than-ever convinced that this topic is a power source just waiting to be tapped, perhaps most of all by the feminine aspect; after all, women have known all about the power of hair since the beginning of time, yet we have been the scissor-wielding Delilahs to ourselves for most of the recent era in that we have conspired with a culture that has had us dancing to the song of “we must stay young in order to keep our power intact”. No; as with the way of most things we have been told where the female is concerned, the very opposite is true and we only increase in wisdom and wellbeing potential as we grow older…its just that we forgot that important factor for such a very long time. The goddess is an ageless female archetype who well-and-truly resides inside of me, her presence getting stronger every day; and, on the outside, she has wonderful, tactile, glossy hair…which just happens to be dazzling white!

  • My original post on this topic Au Naturel was published exactly two years ago!

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