Monday, April 9, 2012

Go Gray!!!!

There it was...right in front of me in the Sunday Associated Press article entitled "Gray hair's in fashion, but what about at work?" A lovely photo of Helen Mirren with her beautiful gray hair topped the article, with the first few paragraphs talking about more women becoming "gray panthers" by going back to their original gray rather than continue to dye- pardon me, color their locks.

Now, for me, this is a no-brainer. One look at my photo on this blog tells my story. Oh, I went through some "coloring" of my own back in my lates thirties, as more and more of my hair was graying (I began getting gray in my twenties, a family thing). But by forty, I decided that the gray was who I was...and I have been gray (or silver or white- you choose) ever since. Lots of my friends are, too... beautifully, proudly so, I might add.

But this newspaper article went further than the opening paragraphs extolling the number of celebs going gray to talk about the up-coming federal lawsuit by a Houston woman, 52, who is accusing her boss at Capital Title of Texas of ordering her to dye her gray hair in 2009, when her office moved to a swankier part of town. In the suit, Sandra Rawline also accuses her boss of instructing her to wear "younger, fancier suits" and lots of jewelry, according to the Houston Chronicle. The newspaper reported that her superior is calling the lawsuit "preposterous."

Then there is Dana King, 53, a news anchor for San Francisco's KPIX. She began dying her hair when she was in her 20s and when, in January 2010 she approached her general manager about "going gray", he asked her not to do it. It was only because she possessed a no-cut contract good until May 2013 that she did it anyway. She boldly shared her story on-air and the deluge of emails from viewers was overwhelmingly positive, as women confided that it was a relief to have someone make it okay to be gray. Hear that again, please: to make it okay to be if permission is somehow needed to be what we already are.

And so, once again, our cultural enslavement to looking young (whatever that actually means) rears its head, taking the form of discrimination against those of us who DARE to be the person our genetics have destined us to be- as if this were something for which to apologize rather than to celebrate.

Now, lest you misunderstand me, I am not criticizing those of you, my sisters, who feel better with your hair colored. But the fact is, I hear this all the time: "If my hair were the lovely color of yours, I would let it go gray." Well, when and who has decided/determined which hair colors are beautiful and which are not? Isn't this the same kind of justice issue which surrounds skin color? Especially if it is going to be a matter of who is hired and who is not...who keeps their job and who loses it.

And so, women of the U.S., unite! DARE TO GO GRAY! BE the person who you truly, naturally are. After all, in many cultures, gray hair is seen as a sign of wisdom, and those of us who are white-topped are treated with respect and honor. That has been my experience on three trips to Africa, with younger people listening to my words with a depth of interest I rarely encounter in this country. This past summer, my best friend and I traveled in East Africa and were met only with acceptance and delight by the much younger people we met, as we learned that being called "grandmother" is a gift of honor offered by Africans to older women.

Oprah, are you listening? Women on "The View", are you paying attention? "Housewives of Various Cities", get over yourselves. Instead of holding up as role models those women who have succumbed to worship at the altar of Perpetual Youth, why not celebrate those women who have the wisdom to embrace their age, who dress and look and act appropriately, and who celebrate the wonder and beauty of whatever age they happen to be- and who make no apologies for it! Why not look to Dame Judy Dench, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave as "role models" for aging well? (Is it any accident, I wonder, that these actors are all British?)

The fact is that we are all aging- every day, one day older than the day before. We are accumulating experience and, one would hope, wisdom. Instead of being held hostage by some nebulous cultural definition of what it means to be a certain age- any age- why not show the rest of the world around you just what the beauty of your age actually is? THIS is fifty...sixty...seventy...without apology, with pride and joy and celebration.

Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are.  - Alfred, Lord Tennyson

we are...
No longer young;
No longer even middle-aged, if truth be told,
But not yet old - not really-
For enthusiasm for life's gifts and mysteries remains
Strong as ever, even stronger,
Enriched so deeply by the experiences
And wisdom only age supplies.
So what do we call ourselves,
We sixty-somethings, seventy-somethings
Who relish and savor life,
Who seek to live it to the full,
Our less-than-perfect bodies,
Lined faces, and graying heads
Housing- as they do- eager hearts,
Daring dreams, expectant spirits,
Living out the glorious, golden autumn
Of our lives, knowing winter is
Not far behind when, stripped to
The bone, we will welcome our time of rest,
Reflection, and respite with
Open, loving, thankful arms.                                                                                          

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