Only The Young Dye Good

“Only the young dye good.” That’s what my mother always said. In spite of her advice I continued to dye my hair until I was close to 80. At last, in recent months, I’ve had to admit to myself that dark hair doesn’t look right with my older face. It’s time to go natural. I’ve come close to this decision before. Always though, I changed my mind and applied the colour once more.

Why was it so hard to go grey? Susan Moon’s book This is Getting Old: Zen Thoughts on Aging With Humor and Dignity throws light on my dilemma. Susan says she chose a time when there were no Buddhist workshops scheduled to dye her gray hair red.

Last year I dyed my gray hair bright red. (There weren’t any Buddhist conferences coming up at the time.) My hair was never red all by itself, and I wasn’t trying to fool anybody. When the hairdresser asked me what effect I was going for, I said I wanted to do something wild. I said I didn’t care if the color didn’t look natural. But I did want to look …well…not to put too fine a point on it …younger. I wanted hair color that would make people interested in what I had to say.

The hairdresser was expensive but skillful. For about two weeks, the red was very bright, and I was startled to discover that it made a difference. Strangers looked at me directly. From a distance I did look younger, more powerful, maybe even more passionate – A redhead! I became visible to clerks in crowded stores. (Page 106)

There! That’s it! If you’re a woman in our society, once your hair goes grey, you become invisible. An attractive woman lawyer friend told me men on the street stopped looking at her once she went grey. Nobody expects anything very intelligent to come out of your mouth. Clerks in stores don’t see you. You lose your clout. Sad but true: older women are invisible in our society.

Alas, it was finally time for me to let my hair go grey or white, or whatever colour it was in its natural state. Step one of going grey started with three hours in the hairdressing studio, my first step in this coming-of-age ritual.

Terina, the hair dresser, welcomed me to her studio. We started by talking about preferred styles. I was in a particularly adventuresome mood that day. “I’m looking for real change, so I’m open to whatever you suggest,” I said. Sitting on a stool beside me, she ran a comb through my hair, considering the task ahead.

“You’ve got quite a bit of curl in your hair,” she said. “Maybe soft and curly?”

“Soft sounds right.” Then I added, “Soft and pretty seems just right. Can you do that? ”We agreed on soft and pretty and Terina disappeared into her walled-off sink area. Five minutes later she emerged with a white plastic bowl and a wooden handled brush that looked like my basting brush.

The concoction she spread over my brown hair smelled like the kitchen composter’s rotting fruits and vegetables. Terina proceeded to slather it on my head. She then wrapped a sheet of saran wrap around the whole mess and left me sitting there for an hour. When she finally rinsed off the concoction, imagine my horror when I realized my hair was carrot red. Terina assured me this was just one step along the way to looking soft and pretty.

Next she washed off the compost mess and spread a rich foamy whip cream to remove any remaining colour and soften my hair.  Another hour and then a third coating left my hair soft blond. You can see it all in the pictures.


And so, as I write this, I’m shocking my friends with a head of very short blond hair. Who knows what will follow? The idea is to let the roots grow in unnoticed. I’ll let you know what happens.


I’d like to hear from you. What are your thoughts and experiences? Do you colour your hair, or are you also taking the natural route?


Susan Moon: This Is Getting Old: Zen Thoughts on Aging with Humour and Dignity, Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boston, Massachusetts, 2010


  1. Barbie says:

    Looks cool! How about a frontal picture?

  2. Cate Giroux says:

    I stopped dying my hair the day I turned fifty. I am now 68. Some days I am invisible, some days not.

    When I first went grey, my mother and friends told me I was too young and should continue dying it. I said “too bad what others think, I’m not doing it”. I was partly worried about the chemicals but also wanted to make a statement. I wanted younger women to know it was not a necessary part of aging – to pretend that the aging wasn’t happening.

  3. Janis says:

    Looks great!

  4. Judy Steed says:

    The hair color looks great. Natural. Now we want to see your face.

  5. Barbara D. Beresford says:

    Good on you Mary. Hair colour brown, red or gray, we haven’t been noticed since we were about 50. I’ve been at gatherings where 30ish guys basically just walked away – not meat to them, not even possibly interesting. Our youth driven society (and I don’t mean that the youth drive it. We all do). love you

  6. Barbara D. Beresford says:

    You are going to find this so better on you. Can’t wait to see.

  7. Catherine Schuler says:

    Brave move, Mary. Good for you. I take the natural route out of indolence and frugality mostly. So far, mixed brown and grey. My hairdresser claims it’s gorgeous colouring and that I should tell people she did it. Lovely, kind woman.

  8. Janine Willir says:

    Very interesting. My mother became allergic to her hair dye and slowly let it grow out. I would be very curious to see how this works. The colour looks great from behind.

  9. Mary!!! I want to see you for real!! The new you. How much change can you handle in this one big adventure we call our lives? Do call next time you come to TO so we can do lunch.

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