The 50-year-old perspective: going gray
Three or four ladies I know have recently joined me in the gray brigades. I know it hasn't been an easy decision; I myself wrestled with it heartily in my mid-40s, when I precariously perched myself between professional prowess, personal pride and, predictably, my pocketbook (I challenge Peter Pipers pickles!). Plus, not to mention those in-between-treatment stray hairs and part lines. The price, honestly, won me over after I decided that coloring my hair was roughly equivalent to at least one romantic getaway with my husband, who didn't seem to care, wisely, one way or the other, and would have been in favor of a romantic getaway no matter what color my hair.
Desmond J. Tobin, associate dean of research at the University of Bradford, noted in The New York Times that: Skin and hair follicles are very important as an accessible test tube to look at for aging. Well duh, I say, through pursed and wrinkled lips. But the real question is why we deny the marks of aging. Isnt that giving up our real selves for reflections of our culture? I once had a fairly fervent discussion with my male boss about authenticity and how I'd decided to let my gray go as part of that authenticity stage. He scoffed at this, saying that authenticity is so much more than the color of one's hair. OK, yes, but where does it begin and end, a quest for authenticity? Isn't embracing the most obvious marker of aging a factor in that quest?
Not, apparently, for men in our culture. Gray or white hair among men is elegant, sophisticated, a mark of achievement and longevity. Think Richard Gere, Anderson Cooper, Bill Clinton, Donald Duck. We women have Betty White and "The Devil Wears Prada." Oh wait, and Diane Keaton and Jamie Lee Curtis (can I have her legs, too?) and Helen Mirren, the Queen. Okay, I take it back. Aging is harder on women primarily because the media concentrate on bikini-clad celebrities like Cindy Crawford, whose workout video is still in my TV drawer (where its been for the last decade). I mean, do you think Bill Clinton needs his own workout app to be heard?
These days, especially for women, all of the markers of age are candidates for, if not secrecy, then omission. For instance, I don't put my graduation years on my resume anymore for fear someone will do the math. I quickly add "I had him at age 40" when I mention I have a 12-year-old son because you can practically see folks doing the math. I jokingly add, "The gray hair is real" when I mention how many years I've been in my chosen profession. And those are pretty tame when it comes to hedging one's age, which gets back to the central question: Why does anyone male or female have to hedge in the first place?
When did the marks of wisdom become obsolete? Should it be an accepted theory that business and technology in our culture move so quickly that it is assumed white-haired advertising guys are passé (but Dan Wieden isnt)? Why cant the hallmarks of aging, such as contentedness and self-awareness, be what our culture pursues? What about what we aging folks fondly recall, such as a handwritten thank-you note over an abbreviated text message, the practicality of a power button actually on the TV, the first Vanna, Carol Merrill? Isnt historical and cultural knowledge important in our culture?
Sure it is. And Im here to deliver it, along with Bruce Springsteen, George Clooney and 70-plus million other baby boomers, many of whom are giving up on the dye and going gray, white and salt-and-peppery. (By the way, it looks like Carol Merrill crossed over, too. Thats what is behind door No. 3, Monty!)