When we moved to Vermont a decade ago, my business clothes were left behind, along with many trappings of my former life.
The blow-dryer went first, a waste of time on our windy hill. The designer jeans, torn by brambles, were replaced by workpants. My closet filled with fleece vests, rubber boots and wool hats.
Still, I wasn’t ready to go native all the way. I just couldn’t let my hair go gray or even… silver. Despite noting that everybody around me seemed comfortable with whatever shade of gray their hair happened to be.
I tried to talk myself into the natural look. Gray hair is elegant, smart, sexy. See how gorgeous Helen Mirren and Judy Collins look! Soon it will be mainstream even in Manhattan, that bastion of youth.
But the truth is, women in Manhattan do not have gray hair. Distinguished with gray temples? That’s fine for aging executives, male ones. Sexy? Only if you’re as good looking as Helen and have hair like Judy’s.
So I continued sitting through the coloring while paging through fashion magazines, admiring glorious hair of every hue – except gray. But gradually, I found myself contemplating those tough existential questions about aging and mortality, inside versus outside beauty, and the value of truth.
One day I asked the colorist to leave a section on one side uncolored. Next time I added a section on the other side, resulting in a look not unlike a certain nocturnal animal. I went to highlights, then lowlights. Then summer sun faded the lowlights into hues of orange and bronze, like a very unnatural spray-on tan.
At the end of summer, I didn’t return to the colorist.
I used to think that going gray means I’m old, past vanity. But when I got to know the gray-haired women of Vermont, I saw that they’re vibrant, energetic, and spirited. That they’re contributing to their communities in so many ways. And they’re simply too busy, too involved… in politics, community service, education, the environment and so much more… to worry about stereotypes. They’re decidedly not old as I used to define the word.
So I too decided to give in - not to old age but to what Europeans call the “Third Age” – a time of life filled with new possibilities - and the time to pursue them.