Diana Walters: A Boomer's Ruminations - Outward Appearances

  • Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Diana Walters
Diana Walters
I’ve been dyeing my hair for about 20 years. Recently I considered allowing it to morph into its natural color, or colors (it’s more salt than pepper now.)
 
Whether to allow one’s hair to go gray is a decision we baby boomers (mostly women, but some guys too) face sooner or later. My friend, Linda, began noticing silver strands in her black hair when she was in college, so that was a no brainer—no one wants to turn gray in their 20s. And even in our 40s most of us are not prepared to succumb to gray locks.
The turning point is probably age 50 or 60. To color or not to color; that is the question.
 
I’m a late bloomer, so I’m wrestling with this dilemma at the ripe old age of 76. You see, I’ve always looked younger than my years. When my daughter was in high school, we were sometimes mistaken for sisters. That didn’t impress her, but it delighted me. In my forties I looked 30-ish, in my 50s, I looked 40-ish, in my 60s, 50-ish. Now in my 70s, well, if I go gray, I’ll probably look 70-ish. And I don’t like it.
 
I realize I’m not going to look 40 no matter what I do, so I’m asking myself does it really matter whether anyone thinks I look younger than my years?
 
Sometimes it does matter. About 10 years ago I worked with a woman who was 50. Whenever there was physical labor to be done—moving tables and chairs or toting boxes—no one called on Janice to do it. They asked ME to help, even though I was 15 years older than Jan. I think her silver hair signified age while my brown tresses, albeit dyed, made me seem more youthful.
 
I wasn’t ready to become gray, preferring manual labor to looking my age. “Vanity thy name is woman.” (This is an oft misquoted Shakespearean line. The line is actually, “Frailty thy name is woman,” which is certainly not true of most of the boomer women I know.)
 
Yes, appearance often makes a difference. A resident-friend at the retirement center where I worked wore a red wig for about 30 years. Her advanced age didn’t register with me until she discarded the wig and displayed her thinning white hair. That’s when it dawned on me that Sybil was getting old (she was in her mid-90s.) I don’t think I treated her differently, at least I hope not, but I thought of her differently.
 
If I allow my hair to turn gray, will people think of me differently? More importantly, will I see myself differently?
 
Aha, that’s the crux of the matter. If I’m treated like an “older woman,” I may begin to feel like one. If others think I’m too old to climb ladders, drive long distances alone, and use my pickaxe to break up the soil for planting, I may start believing it. Maybe I’ll decide to sit in my rocker and knit all day (well, I don’t knit, but you get the point.) Perhaps I’ll quit being active, making goals, and dreaming dreams.
 
I cannot allow that. And you cannot succumb to stereotypical thinking about what “acting your age” means either.
 
If you decide to turn gray, you should display that crown of glory proudly and not allow anyone to consider you a frail “little old gray-haired person.” Our hair color, or lack of color, shouldn’t define us as old or young, capable or incapable, interesting or boring. Gray hair does not signify anything except we’ve quit coloring our hair.
 
I absolutely believe that. And one day I’ll allow my hair to change into its natural state.
 
But for now, I’m headed back to the hairdresser to get that dye-job. Since I still feel 60-ish, I’m doing my best to look 60-ish a little longer.   
 
But remember, whatever our outward appearance, our inner self can remain young in spirit until our “dying” day.

* * *

Diana Walters has enjoyed a long career working with senior adults as social worker, activity director, and volunteer coordinator. She recently retired (at age 76) from paid employment and is now able to devote more time to her writing and her husband (in that order?) She has written devotionals for The Quiet Hour and Upper Room and been published in six Chicken Soup for the Soul books, but she is excited to be writing for and about her fellow Baby Boomers. She can be reached at dianalwalters@comcast.net.
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