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Shining a Spotlight on Silver Hair

Many boomer women are opting to go gray and loving the results


My mother and sisters and I share many fine genes, including those for thick, curly hair. We might not count among our blessings, however, the legacy of hair that goes gray at 40. Even so, today we all wear our silver with pride. Lorraine Massey, co-author (with Michelle Bender) of Silver Hair: Say Goodbye to the Dye and Let Your Natural Light Shine  might tell us we wavered for a decade or two simply because we had to reacquaint ourselves with, well … ourselves. Maybe, she suggests, we’d “forgotten the buried treasure” that was there all along.

A New Perspective on Silver Hair

You may know Massey and Bender from their first book, Curly Girl: The Handbook.

With all of the Botticellian curls gracing girls’ and women’s crowns these days, you may not know that a generation or more of “curly girls” grew up with serious curl-aversion. In Curly Girl, Massey presented the notion that curls could be beautiful. She showed us the way to treat, cut and style our curly hair to maximize its splendor. She’s done the same, now, in Silver Hair, for women graced with grays — both curly and straight.

Or, according to Massey, graced with silver. “It’s a conscious choice,” she said. As to Silver Hair’s winning reception, she is “Amazed. Shocked. So unbelievably shocked,” she said. “I had no expectation of such a positive response. Before, we took away blow-dry clients. Now it’s the colorists.”

Some of whom insist, according to Massey, that most clients who decide to stop dyeing their hair will be back, gray heads in hands. Massey disagrees. “It’s all in your perspective,” she said. “It’s about body image and ‘owning it.’”

The women most likely to resist going silver, said Massey, are those in their 50s and 60s. “They don’t want to look like their mother or grandmother,” she said, or fear they’ll embarrass their children. They may have gotten the dreaded advice that gray hair is aging. This, notes Massey, says far more about the person doling out the advice than women considering a change. “What’s wrong with looking your age?” she demands. “This is life.”

Massey continued, “I think women are in the most incredible time period in history. We are saying ‘Stop.’ We are owning who we are. We’re breaking the barriers. At 50, we look better than we’ve ever looked.” In a way, she said, we lose touch with nature when we deny the aging process. “It’s so dysmorphic,” she said, to consider silver hair a bane.

Making the Change

Massey admits it’s not an easy transition. She scoffs a bit at women who say they don’t like the texture of their growing-in grays, responding, “You’ve only seen an inch of it! Sometimes you have to plow through.” Get your friends on board, she advises. “Tell them you need their support in being open to yourself,” Massey says. Another option: have hair highlighted as the silver grows in, evening out the color over time.

Mickey Bolek agrees. Bolek is the owner of Michael Anthony Salon in Washington, D.C., which has been voted one of the top three salons in the D.C. area for nine years in a row. On the subject of gray, Bolek wrote this blog post, “Going Gray? Make it Fabulous with Vibrant, Silvery Tones.

As grays grow in, Bolek said, “highlighting will break everything up. I have a consultation with the client. We go over all the options.” One thing that is very hard to do, he said, is to artificially make all the hair gray. “Underneath colored hair is not gray hair, it is hair with no pigment at all.”

Bolek does see a nationwide trend towards women graying, but he’s not worried about salons going out of business. “Today, more people color their hair just to have fun,” he said, including an older woman “with beautiful white hair” who visits his salon.

“We put blue or purple in her bangs,” Bolek added. “She likes to change the color in accordance with church seasons.”

A Coast-to-Coast Trend

Even California, perhaps the center of youth culture, sees the trend toward women going gray, said Sai Hernandez, co-owner with Grace Ilasco of Color Lounge in Burbank. On its website, Color Lounge has extensive information about the salon’s “50 Shades of Gray” program.

Hernandez performs the “going back to gray” service on roughly one  client a week, she said, adding that it is a very time-intensive process (a minimum of eight, to as long as 19, hours) which the client can choose to do in one sitting or several. If a person’s hair is already damaged, a more gradual change in color may be necessary. Overall, said Hernandez, “clients are very satisfied with the results. They say, ‘People stop me on the street to compliment my hair.’”

All of the stylists noted that gray hair can dull or yellow, and that shampoos or rinses with blue or purple tints can help keep it bright and shiny. They also mentioned the need for deep moisture conditioning, since gray hair can be dry and brittle.

Massey tries not to get too hung up on the products, however. “We’re going forward,” she said, “but sometimes you have to take a few steps back to return to simplicity.”

By Donna Trump
Donna Trump’s work has been published in december magazine (forthcoming in November 2018), Ploughshares and Mid-American Review, among others. She has received several Pushcart Prize nominations.  Honors include a Loft Mentorship, mentorship with Benjamin Percy, a MN Emerging Writer grant and the selection of her story “Portage” by judge Anne Tyler for first prize in a 2018 contest sponsored by december.

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