I was just 19 when I captured the lone silver strand standing wirily to attention in my crop of dark brown hair. “Oi! look at me,” it goaded.
How on earth could this be? I was still in the first glow of youth, navigating tampons and the plot lines of ‘Beverly Hills 90210’, way too young for grey hair. I mean, what would Brandon think?
I’m not sure why I was so surprised. Both my parents – then in their 40s – had gone grey prematurely. Dad was sporting the ‘Just for Men’ boot polish brown Magnum P.I. coordinating hair and moustache. My mother, also originally a brunette, rocked Nice & Easy ‘Platinum Blonde’. As the advert says: ‘Going grey? Go lighter!’
Mortified by my rogue grey, I took to plucking. However, the rebellious silvers ganged up and multiplied like Mogwai in water. I tweezered each strand to within an inch of its life and maintained the illusion of brown, luscious locks.
By the time I reached my mid 20s, I realised that if I carried on plucking, I’d resemble a turkey at Christmas, so I turned to the dark side and bought a box dye in ‘Raven’. The box had an image of a model sporting a silky black mane, Courtney Cox style. But with my pallor, the dull, flat black made me look more Corpse Bride than Monica. I moved to auburn, but it clashed with my pinky undertones. Finally, I landed on the greying brunette’s go to colour – ‘Medium Brown’, or number 5. The shade that always comes out way too dark and leaves your bathroom looking like there’s been an unfortunate incident with a Freddo, or worse.
I dyed my roots monthly, layering dye on top of dye and creating a build up of colour, getting darker and darker, like a helmet of Lego hair.
In my 30s, as those stubborn greys begged for freedom. My once monthly dyes became fortnightly. The contrast between dark brown and silver was extreme, and I feared sunlight or a gentle breeze would expose my secret.
So I adopted highlights. A medium brown semi permanent base colour and a top section of stripey blonde foils. Throughout most of my 30s, I visited the salon every five weeks to top up the bleach or base dye. If I add up what it cost me in time and money, I could have cruised the world and still had change.
Occasionally, I’d attempt to dye it myself, either dark brown, gingery red, or fried in bleach with the Medieval torture cap of home highlighting kits. Try as I might, I could never replicate the shine and health of my younger hair. On one unfortunate occasion, I attempted to go blonde. Not only did it wreck my hair, but the inconsistent dark patches made me look like a bumble bee.
Aged 40, I went shorter, hoping this would alleviate the issue, but it only made it worse. When you have short hair, those grey flecks have nowhere to hide.
When I toyed with the idea of embracing the silver, my horrified aunts told me I was too young. Conversely, when my brother went grey, he was applauded for being a distinguished silver fox.
My silver was defiant, it would not be tamed. I was back at the salon for highlights. My hair looked great for a week until the greys resurfaced. After a few more weeks, the once defined highlights merged together to create a blorange mass. I was paying a small fortune to enjoy seven days’ worth of good hair every five weeks.
I couldn’t keep up financially or time wise, so I returned to DIY. My addiction to dye grew more desperate and I hit the hard stuff, salon strength dye and developer. Without a degree in Chemistry or any real understanding of the damage I was inflicting on my roots, I liberally applied the toxic mix on to my angry dry scalp weekly. “Screw you,” the army of near white hairs shouted at my futile attempts to silence them. In this battle, I was vastly outnumbered.
The condition of my hair and scalp was poor and weak. I have fine hair (lots of it) so the breakages, dead ends and flakes would leave stylists wincing. My hair was generally greige or blorange and I disliked it intensely. I was on a dye merry-go-round.
The advent of any social event sent me into panic mode, scrambling for the root touch up brush or the chalky spray on hair colour. The maintenance was exhausting, as was the shame and embarrassment I felt about my greys. I regularly apologised for their existence.
I felt frumpy and invisible. I gave up on clothes and makeup, blending in to a sea of middle age beige. I was 47, yet felt much older. I didn’t realise the harsh dye was uncompromising and ageing, or that the cure was worse than the disease.
And, just as I surrended to a lifetime of beigedom, I discovered the Curly Girl Method and my hair transformation began.