I’ve had red hair since the day I was born. For the record, that was right in the middle of cherry season on July 12, 1960. My red hair has been with me for 57 years, and it’s always been a big part of “who I am.”
The violinist with the red hair. The tractor driver with the red hair. The writer with the red hair. You name it, and it generally had “red hair” attached to it. When I was a kid, my horse Copper had the same color hair as I did. What a pair we were.
I remember walking downtown one time with my mom, and someone stopped us and told her how beautiful my hair was. That sort of thing sticks with you. Here it is all these years later and I still remember it.
It was long, too. Waist-length until I got it chopped off at some point in my 20s. This was the 1980s, so I took that extra step to get a perm when perm’s were all the rage. Not only was my hair shorter, it was also bigger. The era of big hair. Here I am pre-perm. What was I thinking? (Photo taken by my boyfriend at the time, Chip Underwood, at the Hogsback on the Old Mission Peninsula as the sun set over West Bay.)
At some point during my 40s, I started seeing specks of silver in my red hair. To be honest, that decade was a rough one for us. We spent a few years going back and forth to University of Michigan Hospital in Ann Arbor, where my husband underwent a liver transplant. It was stressful.
But I can’t really blame my silver hair on our struggles. It’s part of my DNA. Most of the people in my family started going gray during our 30s and 40s, although I have to say, we’ve always been a family of “good hair.”
With so much of my identity tied to my red hair, I started coloring over the gray. Just a little at first, but more and more as time passed, until I was forced to color those annoying gray roots every few weeks. My hair grows fast. That’s a lot of coloring. And since I couldn’t afford to do it at a salon, I was doing it myself at home, with box color that’s not great for your hair. This past year, I noticed my hair was falling out in chunks.
But hair health, or lack thereof, is just part of it. What I didn’t realize is that by coloring my hair, I was unknowingly holding myself back. I was stuck in that “little Janie with the red hair” mode. In short, I was hanging onto the past, and not allowing myself to grow into the person I’m supposed to be.
So on January 2nd, I started the process of taking back my freedom and letting my hair be who it wants to be. And it IS a process. Some people just let their gray hair grow out, which is fine if you want to go that route. But I was none too crazy about the gray and red combination. Getting a super-short pixie is another option, but I didn’t really want to go there either.
So I gave the whole thing over to my wonderful stylist at Salon Verve, Kelly Watrous, who is nothing short of amazing. She walked me through the whole process, explaining everything as we went along. First she took as much of the red out as she could. Then she microfoiled every hair on my head, which had me texting photos to my friends with the caption, “Take me to your leader.”
The end result was a gorgeous head of blonde, silver and darker tones all blended in together. The goal is that as my hair grows out, it will blend into the highlights and lowlights that Kelly put in. We’ll do it all again in seven weeks, assessing at that time the ratio of highlights to lowlights, and then again in a month or two later, until my hair is whatever color it is naturally.
When I saw my new hair, I wept with joy, because it was so beautiful. And I wondered what had taken me so long to take that leap, because THIS is who I am now. I am not that little red-haired girl anymore. I am this grown-up woman with amazing hair. I can honor my past without living there (though you can still call me Janie – I still love that).
In the bigger picture, it has me pondering the whole coloring issue and why women color their hair. It might be like me, wanting to hang onto whatever personal identity we think is bound up in our hair. Or it might be a bigger issue of ageism – being treated differently because of our silver strands.
Among my female writer-friends, we talk a lot about ageism. Many of my friends who work in-house for a company say they continue to color their hair because they want to be viewed as young. Although I’ve been self-employed for the past 35 years, I understand where they’re coming from. There are a lot of millennials vying for the same writing jobs, and they’re typically seen as more energetic with fresher ideas than those of us who are older.
All of this blends over into our everyday lives. Friends my age who’ve gone gray say people view them differently, ask if they can help carry their groceries to the car, that sort of thing. While that’s a nice gesture, I think we can all agree that gray hair doesn’t necessarily equal feeble. I joined a Facebook group called “Gray and Proud,” comprised of amazing people of all ages who support each other in their quest to ditch the color.
If you’ve been coloring your hair and are considering letting it go, I encourage you to think about why you’re coloring and what would happen if you didn’t color anymore. I’m here to tell you that the world won’t end and it might even empower you to be the person you’re truly meant to be. And that is a very good thing.
If you’re in need of a stylist, I highly recommend Kelly Watrous at Salon Verve, (231) 932-8378. She’s not only helping me transition to gray, she also understands all the emotions that go along with that transition. Follow her on Facebook here, and check out Salon Verve’s website, TheNewLookofOrganic.com. They’re affordable and organic.
Check out these photos Kelly posted of my before and after.
And here’s a selfie I just took of my new ‘do.