Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Aging Gracefully

I’m going gray. I’ve been going gray since my late twenties. Every time I look in the mirror, more shiny silver hair sparkles back at me and reminds me how eating my own words leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.

You see, my mother used to color her hair. Her gray hair was silver, shiny, and pretty, and the color she got out of bottles just looked wrong to me. Being the tactful child I was, I told her so. Repeatedly. She eventually gave up coloring and let nature take its course. Now, she has a gorgeous head of sparkling silver hair.

My gray is coming in just like Mom’s did, so if I colored it, I would be a hypocrite. Hoist with my own petard. What exactly is a “petard,” you ask? So did I. Turns out it’s an explosive charge for breaching a fortification. Well, the fortification of my vanity is certainly being breached. With gray hair. Lots of it.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not morally opposed to hair coloring at all. I see hair coloring as a fashion statement, and for a few people, it’s an essential means of correcting that which Mother Nature got wrong. If you want to color your own hair, go for it. But if your gray is really sparkly and compliments your complexion, what’s the point? Spend that money on a great purse, the perfect red lipstick, a classic pair of black pants, or a bunch of rubber stamps. I do.

I am not alone in this approach. At my son’s field day last year, I met a grandmother with a gorgeous head of white hair. She looked beautiful, so I told her how I admired her hair. She admitted to feeling the same way about coloring her hair as I did. “If it were some ugly shade of gray, I’d color it in a heartbeat,” she said. “But since it’s shiny and nice, I’m leaving it white. It’s so nice not having to worry about my roots like my daughter does.” What a smart woman. Just like my mom.

I’d like to age gracefully, and letting my hair go gray without a fight seems a good start. Unfortunately, Mother Nature does more than turn your hair gray as you age. Can someone please help me locate the graceful medium between pathetically giving in without a fight and pathetically fighting the inevitable?

Like pornography, ungraceful aging is easy to spot. The nipped and tucked of Hollywood’s red carpet very publicly demonstrate that, with their fat lips, stretched eyes, and stiff, plastic faces. Don’t you love the Geico commercial with Joan Rivers in which she pokes fun at having no feeling left in her face? Plastic surgery for purely cosmetic purposes is just a really dumb idea. It’s a wonderful blessing for people with deformities or injuries, but when it’s used to keep natural aging at bay, it’s sort of pathetic. Is it worth running the risk of looking all fake and plastic or—this may possibly be worse—dying to have fewer wrinkles or a skinnier butt? I don’t think so.

Then there’s the cost. I read an article years ago about plastic surgery and learned that rhinoplasty averaged $3,000. Do you know how many rubber stamps that would buy? Sheesh. I may not like my nose but I definitely have my priorities.

In fact, when it comes to anti-aging products, I’m sort of cheap. This should surprise no one who has read my
China Policy. I use Neutrogena eye cream and moisturizer. When Target raised the price of the eye cream by $6 last year, I quit buying it, and within three months, I looked ten years older. Considering my gray hair and not-so-fine lines, I pretty much look my age of 42, so adding ten to that didn’t seem graceful at all. Now, I pay for the eye cream. A tube lasts me about three months, so I feel it’s a good investment even at $16.99. Some desperate people spend hundreds of dollars on tiny jars of fancy designer “crèmes.” I wonder if the pretentious, Frenchified spelling makes them work any better.

There’s a huge gap between plastic surgery and spending $16.99 every few months. I’m definitely a long way from what could be called a pathetic pursuit of the fountain of youth. On the other hand, perhaps I’m not trying hard enough. Does $16.99 buy me “graceful” wrinkles. I just don’t know.

Then there are the clothes. Women of a certain age look silly when they dress themselves like teenagers or wear provocative necklines and navel-baring crop tops. I didn’t wear those things when I was young, and feel no desire to do so now. My personal fashion statement has always been best described as “safe and boring.” I can’t remember the word “graceful” ever applying to my wardrobe. Most of my clothes come from the casual departments at Eddie Bauer, LLBean, and Lands End. In the winter, I wear relaxed-fit jeans, turtlenecks, and big, bulky cardigans or fleece jackets. If it’s over 25 degrees Fahrenheit and relatively dry, I wear my Birkenstocks with fleece socks because they are the most comfortable footwear available to humankind. Perhaps wearing Birkenstocks with fleece socks is undignified. I just don’t know. In the summer, I wear Bermuda-length shorts or cropped pants, polo-style shirts or nice t-shirts in solid colors, and sandals. Sometimes I paint my toenails red. Would pink be more dignified?

A little more effort on my part might make me look graceful, but I’m not sure how to pull that off given the last few years’ fashion trends. It took me two days of rigorous searching to find a dress for my husband’s military retirement ceremony. Every dress I tried on made me look either a) like I was trying too hard to be hip, or b) like I was a grandmother going to a wedding. I finally located a simple black dress that I think looked graceful and appropriate, but I can’t be sure because it was on sale at a really good price, and I may just have been fooling myself.

Ultimately, will it matter one way or the other if I age gracefully? When we stop aging, we die. When that happens to me, if I’m blessed enough to go home to Jesus, I’ll be too filled with Amazing Grace to care what a graceless thing I was back on earth.

If I’m not in heaven, I’ll have much bigger problems to deal with than wrinkles and gray hair.

That sort of puts it in perspective, don’t you think?


  1. My wife's hair is silver. Has been for a long time. Not like yours (in the picture) which is black with some grey, but silver the whole way. Not blonde. Not white.

    After a few times of being asked if she was our kid's grandmother she has had enough. :)

    Also, I think you have the saying wrong. It actually derives from being lambasted by your captain when you're in outer space.

    That's right (wait for it):

    It's being "hoisted on your own Picard".

    Thanks....I'll be here all week.


  2. I spend $ on highlights every 8 weeks. I get my gray roots touched up at the same time. I'm just not one of those people who can accept my gray. And it's definitely not shiny or pretty. But I do remember a lady at church years ago with the most beautiful white hair. She looked stunning with her modest gold jewelry. I think she was startled when I complimented her. LOL!

    As for the clothes, I try to hide my chubbiness... at least I think I am. If I don't look in the mirror, I'm happy. But I'm on a diet at least twice a year. I have wardrobes in 3 sizes. oh my! A year ago, when my grandpa passed away, my mom and I had a terrible time finding a new dress outfit. We experienced the same thing you did. I hope we looked OK.

    I too spend money on facial moisturizer. My grandma thinks it's important... I heard her telling Mom she needed to start using it. I don't think she took that very well. But I've always looked young for my age and decided moisturizer would be a good thing. I'm waiting for the wrinkles to appear at any time. Maybe I can prevent them. LOL! I do not want to turn 40. It frightens me. I thought my parents were old at that age. LOL!
    My DH turns 44 this week. The gray has really started coming in quickly over the past year. Gray hair on men always seems to look good to me, though.

    My dear grandma moved into a senior living apartment last month after living with my parents for almost a year after Grandpa passed away. She said one day, "Do I look like these people? I must be the youngest one here." Grandma is about to turn 89! But I can see her point. My grandma doesn't have gray hair yet! Obviously I received my hair genes from the other side of the family... along with being very short & chubby. But I wouldn't call myself mousy or ugly, so all is well. and like you said, we won't have to think about our earthly bodies once we meet Jesus.

    Thanks for sharing.


  3. I am in the 'pretty silver' catagory. My grandmother had beautiful shiny silver highlights in her hair. I used to touch her hair and marvel at its siftness. I have her curly hair too. I am so blessed.

    I tried coloring my hair for a full year. Cost alot! Too much hassle. Just had to do it out of spite... my mom wouldn't let me color my hair when I was in high school when all my friends were getting highlights. Making up for lost time. It was okay, grew it out... I stopped the nonsense. My hair, thank the LOrd, is silvery like my grandmothers! I like it.

    Clothing... well, let's not get started. Chubby is as chubby does... one just has to try their best.

    I do have a black dress in all sizes just in case and I recently had to invest in new pants.

    My biggest clothing pet peeve is... bras! Bra shopping is an art form I have NEVER mastered! Hate it! I drag it out. It is so bad, no one will tag along to help me out! The kids and DH run and hide if there's a 'whif' of shopping for one of these!

    I don't use any creams. I had really bad ache as a teenager and then after HS it just cleared up. No more skin problems. I do keep my hair and hands away from my face and use a natural soap to wash my face. Nothing fancy. My mom's skin is the same way and so was my grandmothers... must be in the genes!

    So there it is - no creams, silver haired, chubby, a black dress and a serious pet peeve worthy of any 46 year old woman.

    Not complaining...

    Marilyn :o)

  4. Jot, your wife ROCKS! I once had a survey taker at McDonald's drive thru ask my age category, which at the time was 35-40. She said, "Well, I thought so when I saw your gray hair, but then I noticed the little kids in the back and wondered if I was wrong!" Give her a hug for me. I feel her pain.

    Hmm, Shakespeare first used "hoist with his own petard," and I went to the source for my phrasing like any good English major would. Somehow, I don't think I'd mind being hoist on my own Picard. I could listen to his voice for hours, even if he was lambasting me! Ah, I miss Next Generation....

  5. I have been getting silver hairs a bit at a time for the last few years. I treasure every one of them. I used to spend a fortune in my twenties dyeing my honey brown hair all different shades of auburn, eggplant and whatever was on the menu, but now I prefer au naturel. My hair is darker with every kid, but more laced with silver. According to the kids at work I don't look my age, but I really wouldn't mind if I did. I have worked hard to make it to this age and frankly, I'm proud to have made it this far with my dignity. I do use moisturizer, otherwise my face hurts.

    I read your China policy. I do love china and will use it if someone gifts it to me. I have a similar policy, the white rule. All of our dishes are white and the glasses are clear. Waterford or Wal-mart, they must be clear. Limoges or Le Grocery Store, the dishes are all white. This way, they match. In my mind, anyway. I really enjoy your blog each and every time I stop by to read.



  6. Ahhhh, grey hair. The cost of keeping mine under control is very minimal---a good pair of tweezers does the trick!! I told myself when I turned 40 I would have to stop plucking. But the wiry little buggers that stick up on top of my head won't let me stop. They beg to be plucked!! It takes me much longer to do a thourough check nowadays, though. I laugh at myself as I am all contorted on the bathroom counter holding a mirror behind my head trying to get to the ones on the back of my head. And they are long, too! It doesn't take me too long to give up on the back of the head greys because if I can't see them, then they can't be there, right? Good thing I started out with thick hair, I might be bald otherwise!

    I have to admit, I have had plastic surgery on my nose. I had a very large nose for my very small (back then) frame, and was the object of everyone's jokes as I was growing up. They even wrote nasty things in my yearbooks! This completely wiped out any self-esteem I had. I would have argued with anyone that the thing on the middle of my face was in fact a deformity! So I had a septo-rhinoplasty in my late teens, and it was one of the best things I have ever done for myself. Suddenly I felt normal like everyone else, and I didn't feel ugly any more. It was about $2000 back then, but I wouldn't trade my nose job for a million dollars worth of stamps!

    One thing I have done to delay the sagging part of the aging process is working out at the gym. I still sag in places, but no amount of exercise will ever change that! I have my favorite Turbo Kick Box class that I go to 3 times a week. I make it a priority because it makes me feel good, and who doesn't want to feel good? I have more energy and it doesn't hurt to get up off the floor anymore after I've been playing Twister with my kids! Plus my hubby likes the way I look!!

    So I guess I am fighting the process, but hopefully I am doing it gracefully.

  7. hehehe!! I love it!! I too am going grey and refuse to dye my hair. Well, I did try it 2 years ago because my hair dresser kept bugging me about it...but it didn't feel right! My mom also went white naturally and I love it! I am hoping mine goes the same way. However, I think I will invest in a jar of that Neutrogena eye cream and moisturizer because right now I use the no-name Walmart brand of "moisturizer" which I'm pretty sure is not doing a thing for me :-) Anyway, I dropped by to tell you how excited I was to see your smiling face on my blog this afternoon!! It is so nice to have a face to think of when I am writing to you, reading your blog, or checking out your cards!! Yeah!!!

    Have a great and grey weekend!!

  8. I wish I could just let it go gray, but it closes doors in life. I work in a profession with 95% of the people between age 22 and 42. It is a job that requires huge energy, innovation, ability to change and be flexible. It requires an ability to establish rapport with the young. If I were to let my hair go gray, it would close doors for me. I am age 52 but most people think I am around age 40. I figure I have to get 10 more years out of this profession in order to manage. With jobs being cut, I promise you that in my field those perceived as less young will be the first to go.

    I am torn. It would be easier to let it go gray, but the truth is that I DO look more vital with my brunette hair. I also have pale skin and gray hair would totally wash me out.

    Until ageism is a thing of the past, hair coloring is going to have to be a part of my life.

  9. Anonymous, thanks for pointing out that in some careers, appearances of aging can sink you. And Karen C mentioned how she was picked on for her nose to the point that surgery was the best thing that ever happened to her.

    Ageism is very real for many people. It's wrong, but it's real. Good luck!

  10. I swore I would never fall victim to the vanity of coloring my hair. Gray hair? Let it come on!! And I stuck with my principles until my late forties (despite modest gray inroads at the temples and at the back of my head) and then menopause hit. So many changes I couldn't control. Those crow's feet around my eyes and lines that suddenly appeared on my upper lip I'd never before had, the crape/saggy under the chin-neck look beginning, general sagging that I didn't work hard enough at the gym to shore took its toll and I succumbed to one of the easiest things I could do...color my hair!! Wash that gray away from my dark brown hair. Woo hoo.

    I'm happy for the woman that used the Neutrogena eye cream and it worked. I haven't found one yet, cheap or expensive, that really "softens" those wrinkles sufficiently to diminish the aging look.

    Finally, I just had to convert the concern (and, okay, sadness) over wrinkles and some inevitable saginess to acceptance. I'm not totally there quite yet with the hair color, which still gets rejuvinated every four weeks. But I have changed my outlook to one of concern about how youthful I look to one of concern about keeping my self healthy through working out and leading an active life. That has become much more important but has translated into the unintended consequence of aging more gradually as well.


Thanks so much for taking time to comment!