Mixed reactions to silver hair

When I started my silver hair transition, I understood that this would garner both positive and negative reactions.

I’d seen enough social media posts to know that when a woman – especially one in her 40s or younger – grows out the grey, everybody has an opinion.

Your hair becomes public property. Comments range from the good: “I love your hair” the bad: “did you let your roots go in lockdown?” to the downright ugly: “why would you want to make yourself look so OLD?”

I could take it. I’m a mother of twins, and from the moment my 5ft 1 bump matched my height, to my double pushchair taking out an entire row of Wedgewood teapots, I became visible.

I was used to random strangers trying to rub my stomach like they were summoning a genie, when all they’d likely conjure up was pregnancy flatulence.

Well wishing visitors said they’d be “mortified” if they had twins, and a self-enlightened male colleague deigned to impart his expertise on the subject of mastitis, while he sipped his craft beer, mindful not to wet his beard.

My response swung from a polite smile to: “back away from the bump,” depending on my levels of sleep deprivation.

During a 3am feed, I considered some witty retorts, yet in the heat of the moment, I remained fixed to the spot, grinning like a chump as some stranger tried to stick their finger in a baby’s mouth.

That was 16 years ago. I’m older, grumpier and perimenopausal.

Social media makes it even easier to insult strangers, yet it is also a place to share positivity, along with our collective experiences of silver slurs. It’s clear from reading many posts, that our hair is a talking point.

This week, I read about a little boy who said: “look mummy, that lady has black and white hair!” and a woman whose furniture sales man helpfully wrote down the number for his wife’s hair colourist.

Do men get scrutinised like this? Do strangers helpfully recommend a great colourist or tell them they’d look so much better if they dyed their hair?

It’s irksome. It doesn’t offend me, as I know I love my hair and am confident in my skin, but it’s the rudeness that perturbs me. The impertinence, the downright audacity that people say what they want, with no filter.

Woman with silver hair
Finally liking my hair.

It seems that if you’re a woman with grey hair, you’re fair game. Yet, I refrain from going up to colleagues, strangers, friends and family, waxing lyrical about their receding hairlines or love handles. I don’t fondle them, pat their heads or heckle them (see list below). I certainly don’t suggest they may benefit from 50 lengths in the pool or a packet of mint Tic Tacs. I keep it zipped.

I’m reminded of an office manager, Madeleine, who regularly commented on the physical attributes of her colleagues. When news of a jack knifed lorry spillage carrying Cadbury’s chocolate bars made the local news headlines, she looked at me, a size 12-14, (but large in her eyes) and quipped: “ooh I bet you’ll be first to the scene!”

When I had my babies at 32, she ignored the five other sets of twins in my family and said: “well, older eggs, past their best can result in multiples.” Some colleagues are just rude. One dresses me up and down with her eyes, scanning me top to toe like a cyborg fashion inspector, before resting on my boots. “Yes dahling, that’s right, they’re George, by Asda.”

When I bobbed about with hair the shade of Lucozade/Weetabix/Cheesestrings/Bisto (sometimes all four together) nobody commented. Now I’ve ditched the dye and opted for a healthy, natural colour, people are bothered. You can read about my silver hair transition here: https://shinyhappysilver.com/2022/04/08/silver-transformation-part-one-the-first-47-years/

Woman with dyed brown hair
Mmm…Bisto Gravy hair.

They aren’t fazed by all the carbon copy caterpillar eyebrows, George from the 1970s/80s British TV show ‘Rainbow’ eyelashes and Billy Bass pouts floating about. Yet dare to leave the house with grey hair, and the Meerkats gather.

Isn’t it ironic?  As a woman nearing 50, I often feel invisible. Yet, somehow, my silvers are always remarked upon. Just like my bump before it. As Alanis sang: ‘do I stress you out?’

Going grey younger than “expected” is controversial (expected by whom, by the way? My hair started greying as a teenager. It actually expected full entry into the silver club by my late 20s, but its hopes were dashed for decades by a host who refused to accept silver. No wonder it was miffed.

Society’s great expectations are that my silvers should arrive conveniently, in my 70s or 80s. If my 40s are deemed, unfashionably early, then what about 19 when the first greys actually debuted?

Society should take notes from my patient and long suffering hair. If it could talk, obviously. Bloody good job it can’t, the amount of therapy it would require). 

Attitudes are shifting. The younger generation seem to like the silver, or remain ambivilent, and it’s mostly mine and my mother’s generations who foist their unwanted opinions on me. 

If you find natural hair colour strange (yet are relieved to see me dye mine boot polish brown) then maybe reflect on why it offends/amuses/upsets you. Do not project your angst, insecurities and social conditioning on me. Certainly not while brandishing hair the colour, texture and shape of a hessian tote bag.

Woman with silver hair and green dress
My hair divides opinion.

Here we are, sisters, pitted against each other. Again, I ask, do men do this?

One aunt precedes every put down with: “I tell it like it is,” or: “it’s nothing I wouldnt say to her face.” I do not doubt it, but it doesn’t make it OK.

Do you go low and sink to their level or do you go high and rise above the petty, self projections? Or, do you channel your inner Dorothy Parker for a biting response?

Here are some typical comments and fantasy replies:

Is it Halloween already?” And other original remarks about silver hair

Good girl! An outspoken colleague likes to comment on my hair. I can’t work out if she actually likes it or not, as she is still insistent on wearing a scarecrow on her head. At our last meeting, she actually patted my head, chuckled and cooed while shaking her head, remarking: “Your hair!” I defaulted to an awkward smile. Perhaps I should roll over and beg for a treat. As Joe Pesci said: “do I amuse you?”

One silver sister told me how on her morning walk, a male walker had pointed out that her grey hair matched her dog’s coat. She was speechless.

Public Displays of Humiliation (also see ‘bump gate’ and point 1). You’re quietly going about your business, be it shopping, working, walking etc. when somebody – a stranger, colleague or cashier – singles you out in public by shouting and pointing, in the manner of Donald Sutherland’s character in ‘Invasion of the Bodysnatchers’: “look at your hair!” turning you into a free attraction and the source of office banter.

Wow! Your hair is actually pretty.” Some people appear genuinely shocked that the new, silver haired you isn’t a Disney old crone or one of Roald Dahl’s witches (look out for a future blog about silver stigma and stereotypes). Phew! I’m so glad you’ve concluded that my hair is a nice grey and not that other grey, you know, the dirty, ugly type.

I’d like to go grey but… my silver is old lady/it won’t suit me/I’m too young.” In other words: “you’re on your own, sister!” You can be the Guinea Pig in this experiment, but if you think I’m going to spend the next 18 months walking around with two-tone hair and an emergency can of root touch up spray in my handbag, then think again.

Men look nice with grey.” Closely related to point 4. One colleague said it to me both times we met recently. Realising her error, she backpedalled and said: “but yours is lovely.” I had great fun watching the computer malfunction.

Why do you want to make yourself look older?” Hmm, because my hair looked so much more youthful when it was dyed Tango orange weekly! Maybe because my scalp was angrier than ‘Jagged Little Pill’ and because I don’t want my bathroom to look like Mr Hanky has done the Lambada across my sink and window sill.

You’re too young to go grey.” A. I’m 50 next year. B. tell that to the greys that formed a club for shits and giggles at 19, and C. silver hair is on trend with Gen Z so how does that make sense?

You’d look so much better with coloured hair.” Do I really look better with hair the colour of radioactive baked beans?

Collage of woman with dyed hair and silver hair
Of course I look better with dyed hair!

Doesn’t your husband mind? I admit I bought into this one. At first, he wasn’t keen. Now he genuinely likes it, but even if he didn’t, tough. What we should be asking is: “don’t you mind that your husband can rest a can of beer on his belly while snoring away to the theme tune of ‘Bullseye’ repeats?” The 1950s called and they want you back.

That’s £30 with your senior discount. This doesn’t seem to happen much in the UK, but I’ve read about others getting “carded”. Annoying, as DIY chain ‘B&Q’ used to do a senior discount, and in my 30s I’d take Dad in to get me £1 off some Tungstun Screws. Now, I could really benefit from that saving as I need a new bathroom suite.

But then we have the positive comments like: “I love your hair,”your silver is great,” “you look much better.”

I try to compliment others, though one silver sister found it a bit weird when I pursued her around Aldi, cornering her with my trolley by the Panettone, just to pant: “love your hair!” She looked puzzled.

She wasn’t aware that going grey was a big deal, and now I was publicly humiliating HER. Just like all the males around us with silver hair, she was going about her business without fuss, and barely a thought about the process.

She certainly wasn’t creating websites devoted to silver crowns and moonbeams, or Googling: ‘best non drying purple shampoo’. There was nothing to react to, other than the sight of Kev, the beefy security guard, escorting me off the supermarket premises.

But, where would I be if I were really left to get on with my transition without so much as a batted false eyelash? There’d be nobody to praise my efforts, nobody to moan to about the snail’s pace of growing out a Pixie, and nobody to read my blog posts.

7 comments

  1. Way to go. At first I encountered all of the same type of vitriole. My sisters-in-law told me that it was okay for me, but they will never go grey. One of my sister’s did a double take every time she saw me saying, I just can’t get used to it! Three years later, my hair is the healthiest it’s been since I started colouring it in my twenties. Anyone who doesn’t like it is behind the times in my opinion. It’s empowering. You go girl!

    • Thanks for commenting. It’s hard for some people to wrap their head around this. Three years is impressive – glad you’re experiencing all the benefits. It really is liberating!

  2. Way to go! I do think when people say rude things they should be told that is unacceptable but YMMV.

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