I’ve had this post building in me for some time. I only hesitated because it is a tender spot for us women, and the last thing I’d want to do is to imply any criticism of how any woman navigates her path. But, the other day, in the car, my son’s 14 year old girlfriend sighed and said that she was fat. She is of course, beautiful, inside and out, and definitely not fat. I felt an instant and intense despair and wanted to pull over on the side of the road and bawl my eyes out and beg her not to do it. Not to pick her appearance apart for the next 40 years. Not to let the world tell her how she gets to feel about herself, because it never ends, and you’re never good enough. To use that energy to live her life and not listen to the world. As I thought that might be alarming, I did not, but tried to give some words of encouragement, which I’m sure fell on deaf ears. The world being so much louder you see.
“But trying to pass for younger is like a gay person trying to pass for straight, or a person of color for white. These behaviors are rooted in shame over something that shouldn’t be shameful. And they give a pass to the underlying discrimination that makes them necessary.”-Ashton Applewhite
So, I turned 50 this year, and I’ve been thinking alot about getting older. For the most part, I’ve never felt more like myself than now. I know what is important, and what is not. I know that everyone is not going to like me no matter what I do. I know what’s worth my time (the people in my life) and what’s not (almost everything else). I know who I am, and who I’m never going to be now, and I’m okay with it. On balance, I’ll do. And I have a wonderful, rich, satisfying life.
On the other hand, the aging process has accelerated in a way that’s undeniable. I’ve crossed some line away from youth and beauty, and will never be on the other side of it again. It has been a bitter pill to swallow. Hard in a way I never expected. I was an ugly duckling, that became a swan in college. There was a season when my looks were the first thing people noticed about me. I grew to like the attention. I liked the power. I liked the pretty girl perks. That’s really a thing, and you get used to it. And then one day, it’s gone. Eventually, it’s gone no matter what you do. There comes a day when no one looks good in a swimsuit anymore. Then where are you? Do you let go gracefully or leave claw marks on it as it goes? Because it is going. That’s the choice. I remember an older friend telling me long ago that it was a blessing when her looks were finally gone, when female attractiveness was completely off the table. That it was the first time she ever felt that she was just herself. I begin to see what she means now, and I see it in myself. The panicky flurries of activity towards preserving, seeing if I’ve still “got it”. But longer stretches now of just being okay with letting it go. I had my turn. It’s their turn now. To hold on seems sad and somehow ungrateful. And it turns out none of that stuff was really me anyhow.
And what about the world, always telling me to try a little harder? Don’t let it go. It’s okay to be 50, as long as you’re actively trying to look 30. What’s wrong with looking 50? Getting older is a blessing, not a crime. As an oncology nurse for 21 years, I’ve had a front row seat watching people die that would’ve loved the privilege of growing old.
And then there’s this. Part of what makes my life so wonderful is that I am surrounded by a tribe of women. Many of whom are younger women, who right or wrong, think of me as an example. They look to me and my friends to see how we do this thing called life. Their eyes are on me, and if I’m going to be an example, then let me be a good one. A brave, unflinching, unapologetic one. Let me walk into my old age shoulders back, head held high. Still as much me, as I ever was. Maybe more so.
So I’ve decided to just be 50. The way it looks on me. Warts and all. My self imposed rule is that I can adorn and accentuate but not alter, and not pretend. I stopped coloring my hair after my 50th birthday bash. I have a couple of inches of gray shot through my hair now. And it does make me look older. But you know what? I’ve earned them. And I have a Mom bod, because well, I’m a Mom. I made, carried, birthed and fed three babies. This old body brought three wonderful human beings safely to the planet. The thing I’m proudest of in my life, my children. Truthfully, I didn’t look like a Victoria’s Secret model before all that, and that ship has definitely sailed now. But I can run and I can dance and hike and skate and play. I will continue to exercise so that I will be able to play in the floor with my grandchildren, should I have that privilege. And so that I can have a joyful old age like my Mother-in-law Jean, and my Grandmother Magdalene. And when the face in the mirror catches me off guard and tempts me to feel sorrow for what is lost? May I remember that I have lines on my face because I laughed, and because I played in the pool with my kids, and spent sunny days in the park and at the ballfield. I wouldn’t take anything for that.
My aging face and body are a road map of the wonderful years I’ve spent on the planet and the inexorable work of the nature that I love so much. It will one day require me to return to it this wonderful home for my soul that my body has been, and I hope to do so with grace. So, I’ve decided. This IS 50. I’m going to own it. Besides, trying to be young and beautiful is alot of work anyway, and I’m tired. Can I just quit holding in my stomach now?
5 thoughts on “Why I’m Not Going to Color My Hair Anymore”
I am one of those that looks to you for how to do it. All I can say is thank you a thousand times over. You have always been beautiful inside and out. You always speak the truth. Love you!
Love this Mary! I am more comfortable in my older years, realizing it’s relationships that most deserve my time !
I love it and love you!
Gray is great!! As you know I’ve been natural for many years! Can’t imagine being any other way!
Love your blog. Why spend time and money and emotional energy trying to get back something that is unattainable? Instead, rejoice in the beauty of your children and grandchildren.
Well stated, Mary.