Molly Fisk: Going Gray

This morning as I brushed my teeth I glanced in the mirror and did a double-take. It was me, but the silver hair was new. Somehow overnight, enough of my dyed-red-and-blond hair had grown out so the overall impression was woman-with-gray-hair rather than woman-who’s-letting-her-roots-show. I put the toothbrush away and examined myself in the mirror. A middle-aged face looked back at me: lots of laugh lines at the outside corners of my eyes, a few starting to take hold across the forehead, and those little ones I don’t like that are beginning to appear along my upper lip like tributaries feeding into a lake.

My eyelashes, always pale unless I dye them, are thinning at the same time my eyebrows get thicker. Soon I will look like a combination of Boo Radley and Groucho Marx. Only with silvery hair. Silver sounds so much better than gray, don’t you think? It implies value, like money or treasure. Whereas gray is the color of skies on the way to winter, or, metaphorically, old age. A color without light or promise in it.

This is a moot point, however, because in my family everyone’s hair turns completely white, if it turns at all. Aunt Net’s coif was still more than half brown in her 94th year, but the rest of us tend to lose much of our color in our 50’s. We are mostly of a ruddy-faced Scandinavian lineage, so we look kind of cute, though: pink cheeks and white hair. Healthy-looking.

I began dying my hair at 36, when its original red-gold was fading to a mousy brown and gray started to appear. I didn’t do it to please anyone else — it seemed like fun, and for 16 years I liked the way it looked. When the fad of wide blonde stripes came in, I had them. For a while, to intrigue my young niece, part of it went turquoise. And then one day I didn’t go back to the hair salon. I just didn’t feel like it any more. I didn’t want to sit still for two hours, smell the chemicals, or spend the money. I was curious to see what I “really” looked like.

I don’t have political opinions about women dying their hair — I think women are given a raw deal in this world and whatever makes them feel good about themselves is allowed. After I’ve seen all the color in my hair disappear, I may decide that it makes me feel too old, or boring. Don’t be surprised if you see me one day with neon green hair. But for the moment, I’m watching the tide of color recede from my head and finding interesting things, like silvery sideburns, and the Bonnie Raitt white streak on one side of my forehead.

But lest anyone forget I was born with a hot temper and rowdy charm, here and there determined traces of red still glint in the sun.

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  • Shirley February 26, 2017 at 9:32 am

    By the time I was in my 50’s, there was more silver than dark brown hair on my head. I never wanted to bother with dying my hair–as you say, too darn much trouble. I see very few older women that I think look “natural” with dark hair. But if having no silver hair makes them happy, so be it. As you say, that’s the goal!

  • Liz Rice-Sosne February 26, 2017 at 12:13 am


    • Jan Hersh March 4, 2017 at 11:52 am

      I love your hair too, Liz!

  • Jan Hersh February 25, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    I decided to just let my hair be after having lightened it (highlights) in my forties and early fifties. So now it is brown in the back and silver in the front. The colors work with my complexion and no one has voted or told me to cover the silver. So I keep my six week haircut appts. and carry on with out a worry (other than all the silver hairs that I find in my brush and on my shoulders….

  • Wendl in Manhattan February 25, 2017 at 5:02 pm

    So timely! Two months ago I stopped using the temporary rinse I’ve been applying for over 20 years for similar reasoning: I want to know what I really look like. If I look washed out and peaky with gray hair, maybe I’ll add neon green or blue highlights. My husband’s reaction to this was, “no way.” “Not your hair,” I replied, “you don’t get to vote.” Happy to know I’ll be sharing this adventure in radical grooming with you, Molly!

  • hillsmom February 25, 2017 at 3:54 pm

    My Mother and my aunties all went silver quite early in life. So I was prepared to see the same happen to me. My Mother had the kind of silver-gray women will use some rinse in to make it that beautiful color. My favorite aunt went blond. So here I am still not gray, except for a bit around my face. Blondish as a child, I went to light brown, and then darkened after having children. A cousin my Mother always liked went white very early and, I’m mildly ashamed to have been secretly pleased when she got quite fat. She did one of those Weight Watch things, lost it all, and worked for them after her kids were gone. But she never dyed her hair that I know of. “And so it goes…” (My Mother was always comparing how wonderful my cousin was, to me…just so you know. =^..^=)

  • Sally Bahner February 25, 2017 at 9:58 am

    I just can’t let it go gray. I went from basic brown to blonde as more gray came in.The blonde mixed well with the gray. However, I tried a nice shade of red, which I really like. Red is harder to maintain and it usually goes to a strawberry blonde before I color it again. (I always hold off as long as possible.) I thought about letting it go a couple of times, but Just Can’t Do It.

    • Molly Fisk February 25, 2017 at 11:27 am

      I think if it’s time to do it, ever, your body will let you know. I was just done one day: poof! And haven’t wanted to go back to the effort and money on the few occasions someone has urged me to and I’ve listened. This is me now. 😉

  • Susan Barker February 25, 2017 at 8:06 am

    I went completely gray at age 54. It looked platinum blonde. Everyone thought I was ‘going blonde.’ I was, quite simply, white. I went to a friend’s celebration of life (11 years cancer free) — ten women who meet every year. The first night, our hostess called for a vote — about my hair color. It was eight to one (another woman sick of dying her hair). I went back to coloring brown again over the next three months. When I looked in the mirror, I never recognized myself. I looked like a stranger with white hair and looked like a stranger again with brown. Now I mostly look and feel like me again. Lord it is a pain to keep on coloring; but, for me, there will be no return to my ‘roots’. Thanks for this story.

    • Molly Fisk February 25, 2017 at 11:25 am

      Isn’t it interesting? We all have our own stories, our own feelings about who we are and what we “look” like, and we get to do whatever we want about it. I’m glad you look and feel like you again. That’s the gold.