I get that look a lot nowadays, especially when I am with child in tow. Perhaps it has to do with my pixie crop and the fact that my greys are in their full nakedness— all there for everyone to comprehend, theorize, extrapolate, hypothesize, whatever – and the look in their eyes seems to say, “How did she manage to wing that?”
They usually look at me, look at Re, look away, and then look at me again, when our eyes meet. And then they look away. Perhaps they are thinking I am too young to have so much grey. I am not. Perhaps they are thinking I waited too long in my marriage, rationalizing the whole baby thing, and then went ahead and adopted Re, which explains the 40-year gap in our ages. Well, I did not, and cleft for cleft, he’s mine. I gave birth to him and wrote a book about it, so it’s well documented. Perhaps they think I am too old to have a six year old child. I can say with full confidence that I am not.
Not that it has ever been a question for me, but going by the looks I always get in public spaces, I am sure this whole greying business is a big deal.
But here is the thing. If you are over 35 and have no greys showing, you are definitely coloring (barring very few exceptions)
My mother started coloring to keep up with various aunts (even uncles) who took to it with much vigor as their daughters and sons were getting married and they wanted to ‘look young’ in photos. They still color, and it looks pathetic, with their sagging skin, warts and tired eyes, but now it will be too sudden to reverse the process, so as they say, ‘they are stuck’. Thankfully my mother stopped coloring when she realized I wasn’t going to. And that I had more visible greys than her.
Many of my friends are ‘stuck’ because it seems (and one of them told me this) if they stop, their children will think they have aged suddenly and are going to die. They color so their children think they are young and cool.
The other day in the pool, a little girl told me, “Aunty, you have so much white hair!’. A part of me wanted to say, “I hope some day your parents tell you the truth about themselves!’. But I didn’t.
There are always reasons to succumb, and they will continue to be there well into your eighties, once you bite the bullet. In the beginning, you color because well, why should everyone know you are greying (read ageing)? Then you color because your family has got used to your dark mane, and now you don’t want to shock. Then you color because you have a child and you want her to think her mother is still young, like ‘all other mothers’. Then you color because you don’t want to look older than your husband or your sister-in-law. Or you color because you want your team to think that you are one of them. Or sometimes simply because ‘you like it’.
But mostly you color so that you can look 35 at 40. Or 60 at 70. Or 70 at 80 (I don’t see the point of it, but there it is)
Friends who went the full monty in displaying their greys also succumbed – either to emotional blackmail by a BFF or a glamorous job, which prescribed they look a certain way. Then there are the halfway house friends – the ones who’ll streak, or highlight, not do a ‘global’ coloring, or the ones that will wear their hair in a way that the least greys show. The point is, if you are not at peace with ageing, there will always be reasons to color. And they will always seem valid.
As a result, in most scenarios, I seem to be the only one wearing my age on my sleeve and I am always happy if I see a fellow parent doing the same. I have enough trouble keeping up with my eyebrow-upperlip-waxing cycles. I don’t need coloring to add to that.
Vanity notwithstanding, I have a fundamental problem with constantly curating oneself so your children or other people think of you in a certain way. When will the real conversations begin? And ageing is a real issue that we are all coping with. Our bodies don’t feel the same, so how long can we pretend we are what we were years ago?
But more than anything else, I love my greys. I have earned it, I am winging it, and in L’Oreal speak, I can say I’m totally worth it.
(A version of this post first appeared as my column in Pune Mirror on 15th June, 2015)