Imagine if you had a time machine and could revisit your younger self.
After admiring the elasticity of your skin, the unmistakable glow of youth and a visible waistline, your eyes (now bespectacled, in my case) focus on a glossy head of naturally brown hair.
The kind of brown that doesn’t resemble boot polish. That reflects and shimmers, and doesn’t traumatise small children with its Edward Scissorhands harshness.
Having examined your younger self in all her effortless glory, What words of wisdom would you impart?
Back to black hair dye
I’m not talking about a ‘Back to the Future’ style Biff almanac moment, but useful advice about going grey.
It’s a question that comes up time again on Facebook groups, usually with answers including: “worry less,” “ditch the dye,” and “embrace the change.”
‘Back to the Future’ is a strange film – notwithstanding the uncomfortable storyline between Marty McFly and his mother Lorraine.
When the characters of George and Lorraine (aged 17 in 1955) are first shown in 1985 as 47-year-olds, they have not worn well. They are meant to be younger than I am now.
Lorraine’s had a hard life. She’s depicted as an old fashioned, turtlenecked, overweight, alcoholic, with a voice so croaky that even Old Man Time sounds like a choir boy.
She does, however, still have brown hair. Either she’s made it to middle age without a wisp of grey, or she’s doing what most of us are trained to do – especially back then – lather up a bit of the old Harmony hair dye.
George, who is lacking in any respect for himself or his wife, is sporting thick, rimmed glasses, with greased back brown hair and worker attire.
We later see an alternative, more successful and youthful version of the pair, once history is rewritten.
Still with brown hair, this 47-year-old Lorraine is bright, breezy and aspirational. Marty remarks: “Mom, you look so thin!”
Phew! We can all relax because there is no longer a size 14 woman blocking the entrance to the kitchen, making everybody feel awkward.
In this new and improved timeline, George is a published author. He’s confident, debonair, and has swapped the glasses for aviator shades (and contacts?). Maybe he doesn’t need specs in this version. Interestingly, he’s now rocking silver hair – the marker of a powerful, successful man.
Actress Lea Thompson was 23 when she starred in ‘Back to the Future’.
She said in a 2017 interview (when she was aged 56): “I’m really happy to be mostly known for a part that was great, and a part that I aged in, so no one’s that scared seeing me this age.
“It’s like, ‘We’ve already seen you that age. And you look a little better, so it’s OK.‘”
When I watched the film, I thought 40 somethings were either a) out to pasture – based on the first portrayal of Lorraine and George or b) terribly grown up in beige – based on the alternate timeline where adults perfect a preppy yacht look.
But now I’m 49, I don’t fit either category. I am completely silver haired and dress like a children’s entertainer in bright, bold, often patterned, vintage clothing.
I assumed I’d be all grown up and sophisticated like Lorraine, in a plain taupe trouser suit and bouffanted brown hair.
Disclaimer: I do wear turtlenecks, but haven’t been asked to declare my senior discount just yet.
Then again, I thought I’d be a published author and happily married to Brandon from ‘Beverly Hills 90210’.
Ditch the dye, ditch the guy
What would my 49-year old self, with all her years of wisdom and experience, say to the horrified 19-year-old who’s just found her first grey?
2022 Me: “Wow! I’m actually hotter than I realised.”
1992 Me: “Wow! Is this old woman ‘Marley’s Ghost’? What’s with the grey hair, glasses and elasticated waistband?”
2022 Me: “I’m you, Anna, from the future. No hoverboards, just electric cars, but they’re expensive, so you’ll have to make do with a Kia Venga.”
1992 Me: “Great Scott! OK, do I end up writing that best seller? Do I stay with my college boyfriend? Will I ever understand the plotline to ‘Twin Peaks’?”
2022 Me: “No to all three. Trust me, the boyfriend will never love you as much as himself. Or the aerobics instructors and cheerleaders he wants you to look like. Does he even appreciate your amusing poetry or your encylopaedic knowledge of 1980s’ power ballads?”
“Anyway, I see you’ve just discovered a grey hair.”
1992 Me: “Yes, and I’m really confused. I’m still a teenager. Doesn’t matter, as I yanked it out with some tweezers, so good riddance!”
The ghost of hair dye future
2022 Me: “That grey will multiply, and you’ll spend years plucking, then dyeing every week to look like this (holds up unflattering photo of the box dye years):
“You’ll spend your 30s and most of your 40s hostage to your hair, chucking away £100 every five weeks.”
1992 Me: “But that’s light years away – even older than Shirley Valentine. I bet Courteney Cox isn’t grey in this future, or Paula Abdul, or Xena: Warrior Princess.
2022 Me: “I admit that very few celebrities are openly grey. Joey Tribbiani has some lovely silvers though…”
1992 Me: “What, Joey’s grey too? Next you’ll be telling me that after ‘Home Alone 2’ finishes its current cinema run, that Donald Trump goes on to be President.”
2022 Me: “Anna, focus. You will waste years on the dye treadmill, only to have permanently bad hair. I’m here to save you all that stress, time, money and energy. Welcome your greys, court them, woo them with a hair mask. Let those waves loose!
Hair dye day is Groundhog Day
“You know that new film ‘Groundhog Day?’ Well that’s your future. Every Saturday morning, you’ll be in your bathroom painting dye over the same white strip.”
1992 Me: “Oh, I love that film. Andie MacDowell’s great isn’t she? Her hair is incredible.”
2022 Me: “She’s actually one of the few female exceptions to the Hollywood grey hair rule I told you about.”
1992 Me: “Your silver does look kind of good I suppose, but only olds are grey.”
2022 Me: “What if I told you that in the future, women your age will pay good money to dye their hair silver?”
1992 Me: “Are you insane? Why should I listen to you when you look like a children’s entertainer?”
2022 Me: “You’re going to need a pop of colour next to your face one day, darling, but that’s a whole other conversation. I have to go, but please listen – it will save you years of misery.
“Also, be nicer to your parents. Look after your teeth, and do not get that tattoo. It looks like a Jammie Dodger.
“And hold on to that first edition ‘Harry Potter’ book you’ll buy in five years.”
Foresight is a wonderful thing. If only we could warn our past selves of our future mistakes.
Would we have listened or cared?
Back then, I was invincible, fixated on removing any trace of grey hair in the manner of Doogie Howser, M.D. retrieving the funny bone in a game of ‘Operation’.
You can read more about that here: https://shinyhappysilver.com/silver-transformation-part-one-the-first-47-years/
Sometimes we have to fail, to find our way. I failed to contain my roots. It was only through this inevitable and repeated defeat that I discovered the joy of silver hair.
Times were different too. This era of digital and social media, and growing #SilverSisters movement, makes it easier to wear my silver with purpose.
Back to the Future II
Sometimes, when I look longingly at my lustrous, brown hair, I wish I were that girl from 1992.
But, if I can’t have that natural, three dimensional, multi-tonal gloss (along with 20:20 vision and a flawless decolletage) then I would rather embrace my new gifts gracefully than chase the ghost of hair colour past.
I wasted so many years trying to paint my hair by numbers. I don’t know whether I would have taken the silver plunge at 30 when grey peppered my hair, but by 40 when my hair was fully seasoned in silver, I would have welcomed the escape route.
So many of my fellow Facebook group members say they wish they’d started the process sooner.
How many of us were trapped in the hair dye space, time, continuum? This would have be fine if we were happy, but how many of us thought there was no other way, and missed out on the fun of our natural hair?
Because it is fun. Not the kind I had at 19 – but just as I discovered my freedom back then, now I have discovered how liberating silver hair is. And low maintenance. As Huey Lewis sang: “It don’t take no credit card to ride this train.”
Lightning can strike twice, so celebrate the fact that you have started the silver transition and live life at 88mph.
Go tell that younger version of you how proud she will be of herself one day.