The science part
We get grey hair when an enzyme called catalase stops taking oxygen out of the melanin pigment (which is, in fact, white to begin with). As we age, or become regularly stressed or suffer a sudden shock, our bodies produce less catalase, therefore our hair remains white. But that's the science part. Culturally, grey hair is associated with age and going 'down hill' but this is all changing as the population lives longer and stays healthier. Women want to and quite rightly can stay fashionable and beautiful indefinitely - grey or not.
At the hair dressers the other day, having a few inches chopped off for Autumn, I read the Schwarzkopf Essential Looks magazine (above and below) and was encouraged to see almost all of it devoted to their new Age of Beauty collection, about maintaining style and sass well into your sixties and beyond. The grey haired models features were beautiful, one of them, Tanya Drouginska (below) still walking the catwalks and looking every inch the glamour puss – and with an air of Jerry Hall about her, I felt, with her high forehead and prominent features.
|Model Tanya Drouginska in the Schwarzkopf Essential Looks magazine|
According to stats in the magazine, more than half of the beauty spend in this country is by women over 40. What's more, most of the women surveyed said they felt more empowered and less stressed in their 50s than they did in their 20s. I can fully believe this, as I was often inordinately stressed in my early-to-mid 20s trying to forge ahead into a career (on a typically low wage), worrying about getting onto the property ladder, and wondering whether my love life would ever work out. Although I do still find things to worry about unnecessarily, over the past few years I have definitely begun to feel more confident, self-assured about my skills, and less worried about what other people think - well, most of the time!
From celebs to beauty journos
Watching Oprah's Super Soul Sunday last weekend with Ali McGraw from Love Affair fame made me realise you can actually look better with grey hair than if you dye it. She's now 75 and looked far more relaxed and radiant with her grey up do, plain white shirt and statement jewellery than the pictures they showed of her at 65 with dyed dark hair. She certainly sounded happier, more grounded and more in touch with her inner self now, thanks to the passing of the years.
|Ali McGraw with her dark hair|
|Ali on Super Soul Sunday this year, aged 75|
Caucasian skin fades with age, and so keeping the same dark hair colour only ends up looking harsh and, well, more aging, which is the reverse of what we want it to do. I recently had the pleasure of meeting a beauty journalist, who had decided at 50 to grow out her blond highlights and go fully grey. She said it was a big decision, especially as she'd spent most of her career working as a beauty director for the likes of Marie Claire and Easy Living magazines and had been surrounded by pictures of beautiful women and information about all manner of youth-boosting products. Going grey, she said, coincided with leaving her high-powered job and training to be a yoga instructor, part of which involved living in India for a while and connecting to her real self, not being associated with her surface looks.
A new paradigm shift?
Perhaps embracing grey hair is a sign of defiance and self-control, no longer feeling we need to dye our hair to pretend to be younger, and be that girl we used to be. For decades the cultural message for women has been 'you are valued on your looks', and while that is still mostly the case, perhaps, slowly but surely, it is changing. Also, the definition of beauty is expanding, which is exciting to witness. So many more colours, ages, shapes and sizes are being embraced as beautiful. As the population naturally ages anyway, women need to learn to value themselves and embrace whatever stage they are at in life, finding beauty at every age.
As for me, I hope I will embrace my grey hair one day. For now, I'm using the most natural dye I can, which doesn't sting my eyes, as some mass-market ones have done in the past, and contains as few harsh chemicals as possible (one by Tints of Nature, to be precise).
Grey hair might be having a fashion moment among teens and 20-somethings, who are doing it in a cool/ironic way, and it's bound to soon be replaced as soon as the next trend comes along. But, the positive thing to have come out of this has been to show women that grey hair can be bold, beautiful and striking.