2002.07.24 Gray hair and tan vans: Is there a difference?

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

You know how it is when you buy a vehicle and suddenly you notice that particular make and model and color everywhere, when, before your purchase, you were serenely oblivious to the existence of tan Chevy Venture vans? Seriously, they are everywhere.

After we bought ours, I noticed what appeared to be the same used vehicle for sale from our dealer. He’s forgotten to take our van out, I thought, while proofreading his ad. Since we purchased this item, I don’t know how many times in parking lots I’ve thought I’d located my vehicle only to discover I’m mistaken.

I’ve noticed this phenomenon happening in another arena: the top of my head. Well, not so much my head but other heads with hair my color.

As my hair has gotten way more gray than its original dark brown and I’ve fairly firmly decided that I’ll not be dyeing it any time soon, I’m always noticing women in the neighborhood of my age (44) with gray hair.

My observation skills aren’t exactly the greatest, but from what I’ve noticed, women seem to hit a certain age, and they cut their hair short and style it in basically the same manner, sort of a mannish above the ears hairdo, with wavy curls here, volume up there, and other stylistic differences, but mostly, it’s hair arranged on top of the head and not much below the ears.

There’s not a great deal of gray hair variety among women in the 40 to 50 age bracket in Morenci—many more women seem to color their hair. But at the Ann Arbor Art Fairs on Friday, I was astounded by the number of women with gray hair and the diversity of the women and the styles. It didn’t seem to be former dyed-in-the-wool hippie women who weren’t about to do something so unnatural as dye their hair. I saw quite a few gray-haired professional-looking women with classy manicured cuts. There were some throwbacks to the 70s, of course, (this was Ann Arbor) but, mostly, it was women who seemed to accept the color and styled and cut their hair no differently than if it were brown or red or blonde. And just like my tan mini-van, their hair was popping out all over the place. Styles, lengths, shades, textures: the assortment was fascinating.

My mother turned gray very early; I remember her speaking of a swath of white hair she had at the front of her head at 17. She dyed her hair almost to the day she died, black through her 50s and then blonde in her later years. Remembering all the work it took to color her hair and all the visits to the beauty parlor, the roots growing in so quickly, the stench, the expense, I was never interested in getting started.

At heart, it’s another one of those things I don’t do because I’m basically lazy when it comes to grooming. Applying make-up every Wednesday to transform myself into Gina the Gypsy for the summer reading program at the library takes me at least 20 minutes and it’s a pretty horrendous make-up job at that. I can’t imagine spending that amount of time every day when I could be sleeping. The idea of having to color my hair on a regular basis ranks right up there with shaving legs (a beauty regimen I bend to on special occasions but one that seems essentially pointless).

I could change. It helps that I don’t look at myself very often, and that, in my feeble head, I feel pretty darn young. I don’t see myself enough to have it sink in that I look washed up and faded. (There’s a reason God makes our eyesight fail as we age.) Some very nice women say they like my gray hair and wouldn’t dye theirs if they knew it would come in like mine.

And then there was the young woman who did my mammogram. Making idle chat, she said she really liked my hair. I looked at her quizzically.

“My hair?” (Or maybe it was, “My hair?”)

“Yeah,” she said. “I really like the way the color came in.”

“Or the way it went out,” I joked.

Because when the age issue is barreling down on you, what else can you do but laugh?

Heck, I’m just happy I can still tell the difference between gray-haired women and tan mini-vans.

    – July 24, 2002 
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