Book Review: Going Gray

I expected the book Going Gray: What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters to be mostly Anne Kreamer’s tale of growing out her colored hair and the reaction and impact of that experience. And the book does include a good bit of that. But it’s not just her story, it’s a multi-person story. It’s a sociological study. She conducted surveys, experiments, interviews, read others’ research on the matter, and looked at the impact of graying vs. dying hair on a long list of areas in life (relationship, career, politics, etc.)

I was impressed. I haven’t read something research-based in a few years, since taking classes toward my graduate certificate in technical communication.

I initially relished the data, the facts, the conclusions, and I found myself missing the kinds of studies like this that I read in grad school. I also liked the theories that came out of her research — like the possibility that 60 looks older than it used to because women in their 60s who color their hair have “redefined” what 60 looks like. Also the possibility that people see women with gray or graying hair as more self-confident and “real” than women who color their hair, even if the woman with colored hair may seem to be younger or more youthful. Then the question becomes: which do mates/potential mates/employers/voters/etc. prefer — self-confidence or youthfulness? That of course depends on the individual and the role and so much else. I think there’s no hard and fast conclusions to be made from the research presented in the book but certainly lots of interesting data and theories.

Other thoughts: I was not intended the audience for this book. I think I was about a decade too young for it, despite my interest in it initiating with parts of my hair coming in gray and deciding whether to keep coloring or not. The intended audience seems to be 40s and up which left me with the impression that 40s and up is where the author, and society, perhaps, “expect” a woman to start graying or where it’s socially acceptable. Anything younger than was presented in the book as premature or early graying. And that may be so; I don’t really know. Maybe starting to gray around 30 is particularly young. That gets into that theory that as a result of coloring society has “redefined” what a certain age looks like, so who knows. I know plenty of women around my age, give or take 5 years, who color their hair to cover gray and who started around my age (31) or younger.

Notice I said to cover their gray because I have plenty of friends who color their hair and don’t have any gray hair at all, or any that shows. They do it because they like to punch up their color or have highlights or just have fun. That’s kinda how I started coloring my hair — initially adding a little red in high school using a shampoo that added color, then some blonde highlights over the years and most recently my “natural” color with an added kick of red or brown.

I said at the age of 27 that I don’t like coloring my hair for reasons of covering gray because I didn’t want to have to decide when to stop and to deal with it looking funny growing out. I said then I’d color til I was 30 and then decide. Little did I know, worse than how my hair has looked (or looks) growing the color out is the damage coloring did to my hair’s texture (wrote about that earlier after I first stopped coloring.) I’ll be glad when all the colored hair finally grows out. Also unexpected is missing the conditioning that the color treatments gave me. Thirdly unexpected is dealing with the gray hairs’ own wiry, dull texture. I struggle more with how the texture of my hair looks and feels than I do the color. The damage to my hair, actually, has turned out to be one of the biggest incentives for not giving in to coloring.

Finally, one idea talked about early in the book when author Anne Kreamer is looking at the history and progression of hair color is that graying makes one look older than they feel. While most of the book felt a tad beyond where I’m at, that I could relate to, and if it weren’t for the damage coloring causes would probably be the No. 1 reason I would continue (or go back to) coloring. I want to see in the  mirror someone who resembles the way I feel, and I totally don’t feel old enough (yet) for gray. It’s possible, however, that I feel younger than I really am.


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