Anne Kreamer, a contributor to More magazine and Yahoo.com, stopped coloring her hair three years ago and has written a book about it, which The New York Times dissects in today’s Style section:

“Gray hair has been stigmatized to mean sexually old or over, and we all want to maintain attractiveness,” said Ms. Kreamer, 51, now the proud owner of a lustrous silver mane. “But if we had more role models like Helen Mirren and Emmylou Harris out there, more women would want gray hair.”

Ms. Kreamer offers herself up as such a role model in her new book, “Going Gray” (Little, Brown), in which she chronicles her dramatic change of hair color from dyed mahogany to the mix of natural shades she describes as “salt and pebble.” It is partly a memoir of her addiction to and withdrawal from hair dye. An epiphany inspires detoxification. The struggle to get clean results in self-clarity.

“It feels deeply liberating to be off the treadmill of ‘Oh God, I have to get my roots done again,'” said Ms. Kreamer, who lives in Brooklyn with her husband, the novelist Kurt Andersen, and their daughters.

But the book is not another New Age paean to midlife self-acceptance.
At a time when more than half of American women ages 13 to 69 color their hair, Ms. Kreamer argues that hair dye is the great divide that separates those who are in denial about aging from those who embrace it. Dyed hair looks as artificial as a toupee, she concludes, whereas gray suggests candor.

“We have been brainwashed to think hair dye looks good,” Ms. Kreamer said last Saturday, sitting on a chaise longue in her living room. “I wanted to open up the conversation and get people to ask themselves why they are doing it.”

The NYT writer, Natasha Singer, quotes others who take a dimmer view, questioning whether women can truly feel liberated from society’s attitudes toward aging by going gray — and if gray is chic and acceptable only if you are also thin and attractive.

Rose Weitz, a professor of sociology and women’s studies at Arizona State University in Tempe, said that, some cultures view white hair as a symbol of wisdom and maturity while others interpret it as obsolescence and reproductive decline.

“For women who see themselves as young, vibrant members of society, the fear is that you become invisible to others when you start to get gray hair,” said Dr. Weitz, the author of “Rapunzel’s Daughters: What Women’s Hair Tells Us About Women’s Lives.” “The only people you see with gray hair on T.V. are the crotchety old mothers-in-law.”

If gray-haired leading roles are few, gray-haired celebrities seem even fewer. Those public figures with salt or peppered heads — George Clooney, Toni Morrison, Ms. Mirren, Anderson Cooper — tend to be preternaturally handsome people who play up their hair as a trademark feature.

“We like to think of ourselves as being original in some way and to color my hair would have been to do what everyone else is doing,” said Emmylou Harris, 60, of Nashville, whose white blond hair has become a powerful signature. “I look different and I think I look good that way, so that is my vanity.”

The story, by the way, sits above an Olay moisturizing ad that reads: “You can’t stop menopause. But you can have skin that looks too young for it.” Besides having great skin, of course, the woman featured has lovely gray hair.

The effort to get the Equal Rights Amendment ratified into the U.S. Constitution is far from over, reports
Juliette Terzieff at Women’s eNews
. “American women have made extraordinary strides … but unfortunately women still face sex discrimination in many aspects of their lives. We need an ERA and we have a much better environment for passage now than in 1972,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., who introduced the Women’s Equality Amendment in March.

The bill has more than 200 co-sponsors and is currently awaiting committee hearings. But some ERA supporters prefer a different strategy that is based on keeping the original 35 state ratifications alive and seeking three more.

“The classic children’s story, ‘Goodnight Moon,’ turns 60 this year, and its popularity is testament to author Margaret Wise Brown,” writes Peggy O’Crowley in the Star-Ledger. The author’s life was such that “Katherine Hepburn could have played her in a biopic,” adds Crowley, who provides a nice synopsis of Brown’s world and directs readers to this website for more.

The Wall Street Journal recently looked at a new real estate squirmish — condos designed to appeal to  younger buyers are also attracting buyers their parents’ age. (Who knew luxurious on-site amenities and good downtown locations would have such cross-appeal??) One new condo buyer in Nashville who’s in her 50s says she plans to reclaim the pool space with a covered dish party. “‘Anyone is welcome,’ she says in her pleasant Southern drawl. ‘But we’ll see who shows up.'”

There’s also a story in today’s NYT about women’s running times, and how age is not necessarily an indicator of speed. Writer Gina Kolata, a runner herself, notes that she’s seeing more older women winning races with times faster than the younger runners. (We’re not talking about elite runners, but rather women who may be running 5- and 10-kilometer races.)

There’s no research cited, but lots of speculation from trainers and medical professionals as to why this might be the case. Ralph Vernacchia, who directs the Center for Performance Excellence at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., tells the Times that older women may be faster because they are simply trying harder — and realizing that their peak performance level is higher than what they
might have thought.

“Most middle-aged women grew up when track and cross-country teams were for men only. Some of those women, who had no opportunity to race when they were young, are just learning to be athletes and are running faster than younger women who may not care as much,” writes Kolata. “[Vernacchia] described the experience for women as ‘a kind of wakening, an epiphany.'”

Christine

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  • Carolyn Hahn September 3, 2007 at 9:29 pm

    (I’m being mean–Anna Wintour looks great. But I do wish “gray hair” wasn’t such a societal downer, still)

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  • Carolyn Hahn September 1, 2007 at 10:01 am

    I’m so glad you picked up the Styles article on Gray hair–that was one of the livelier discussions we had here a few months ago, wasn’t it! But boy, does she lay it out bluntly: “dyed hair looks about as authentic as a toupee.” I disagree–some people look great. But I disagree that (I’m paraphrasing, here) the few public figures with gray hair (Anderson Cooper, Toni Morrison, Helen Mirren) are so preternaturally attractive and they play up their gray hair” that the rest of us could never do that and would just look like frumps.
    Why not flip that around and say they are attractive precisely because they embraced their gray hair and worked with it–which is not a bad rule for most of us when it comes to style: you have to know how you look! So it takes a little while to experiment with the right hair cut and/or makeup for your newly gray hair. Yes, it changes everything you thought you knew about your appearance–the colors that looked right before now look weird/washed out/too harsh–you might even end up buying new clothes. Please: having carefully dyed hair doesn’t mean you get a style pass for the rest of your life. Style-wise, even Anna Wintour is going to look increasingly embalmed not too long from now, no matter how impeccable the cut–wish she would take all that petrified chic and move on before she heads into Brooke Astor/Ronald Reagan territory.

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