Why I've decided to not colour my greying hair

It could be a small step in trying to reclaim some gender space.

 |  5-minute read |   08-12-2017
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A couple of years ago, I remember being at the gym, my hair tied back, when my husband’s cousin came up to me and pointed out how much grey hair I had. Of course I’d seen it, I told him. Wasn’t I going to colour it, he asked, to which I said I didn’t plan to. Then, at a family gathering, another male cousin said the same thing. In office, a colleague pointed it out. And when a close friend gave me a hug and lingered a second longer to notice the truant strands, I started to wonder why my grey hair was bothering all these people so much — especially the men!

I hadn’t thought of hair colour as a life decision I needed to take, until then. I was amused, and began to think about why it was a concern to so many people. Did it remind them of their own advancing age (since I was younger to most of them) or was it because it was more noticeable since most other women were already colouring their hair. I thought about how it was also about conforming to a stereotype, a beauty “ideal” fed to us over years through television ads and serials and movies. A mindset and a conditioning that was so deep-rooted, we didn’t even stop to question it.

690-grey-hair_120817032332.jpgI’m amused at how much unsolicited advice I got on it. Not anymore.

After all, who can forget that ad, where the woman with grey hair is referred to — not once but three times, with the background score straight out of a Balaji show — as “Aunty”. That dreaded affirmation that your life status is no longer youth. And here, it’s not complicated, it’s straight and simple. You’ve reached middle age.

Except, I didn’t really have a problem with it. Not then, not now. I have two kids and am well used to being called Aunty. I have no problem with ageing and no desire to hide my age from anyone. I am mom to an 11-year-old so how young could I possibly be? Moreover, I really do believe that this is probably the best stage of my life, or definitely better than the previous ones and the colour of my hair has nothing to do with it. I’m more sure of the friends I want to keep, the wine I want to drink, the small talk I do not want to do, the travels I want to undertake, the books I want to read, and the person I want to be for the rest of my life.

It didn’t start this way. I didn’t shun hair colour because of these reasons. I simply didn’t have the inclination or the time. I would keep hearing from friends and colleagues about how they started colouring their hair and would need to go once in six months, which eventually became four, then two, and is now almost a monthly routine. With a full-time job and two kids, I really couldn’t (or subconsciously didn’t want to) prioritise hair colour. If I had to go to the salon or spa, I’d rather get a massage or facial or pedicure. Something to relax and calm me. But then, that’s just me. Maybe I’m plain lazy.

Or maybe, I just don’t care. I’ve never been one to apply makeup every day and I think part of that stems from not wanting to ever look in the mirror and feel incomplete. I know of people who are so used to applying kajal daily that they look unwell when they don’t. I always wanted to be comfortable with my reflection — grey or no grey. I also did not want to fall into that trap of starting to colour and then facing that never-ending dilemma — when should I stop.

It’s not like I haven’t coloured, straightened, permed my hair. I have. But then, somewhere down the line, I also began to prefer everything natural. I saw so many women complain about deteriorating hair quality, yet they continued to colour. Of course mehendi was a natural option — though most salons will tell you it’s not good for continuous use — but I hated the smell. I guess if having grey strands had bothered me enough, I would have found an alternative.

But now that I analyse it, even a seemingly small thing like whether to colour your hair or not, comes down to your personality and who you are. Many of the smart, fiercely strong women I admire do not colour their hair. Is this a coincidence? I don’t know. Am I trying to emulate them? Maybe, but it’s not like I sat down and thought this through strategically. It just happened organically over time.

Perhaps, we do subconsciously want to mould ourselves after the people we admire.

So now, four years or so after those grey strands started to appear, I’ve finally come to a decision and a realisation. Not wanting to colour my hair could well be a rejection of a beauty stereotype. It could be a small step in trying to reclaim some gender space — after all I never hear men complaining about their grey, only the loss of hair.

In fact, a man with salt and pepper hair is considered more handsome and attractive, and we, ourselves, will pay men these compliments. But as a sisterhood we will not return ourselves this favour (we may use the word elegant but we don’t think it appealing). It could also well be the desire to belong to a small club of women who think they do not need to colour their hair to look and feel beautiful. That beauty is really about who you are. Not that I have anything against those who do. It is entirely a personal choice, and should remain exactly that. But just because there are so many that do, there’s no reason that everyone should be forced to follow suit. In fact, I’m amused at how much unsolicited advice I got on it. Not anymore.

And yes, whenever I see photographs of school reunions, my eyes automatically go to the one odd person who is proudly flaunting her grey. Am I judging everyone else? No, I’m not. Am I judging her? Of course I am. She’s a girl after my own heart.

Also read: How Shashi Kapoor producing 36 Chowringhee Lane gave birth to Indian cinema in English



Geetika Sasan Bhandari Geetika Sasan Bhandari @geetika_sb

The writer is a former deputy editor, India Today Digital.

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