Gray matter
To dye or not to dye. To age or stay young. To look like yourself or someone else. Whether gray hair is a thing to celebrate or stifle, it seems to inspire discourse as heated as a presidential debate. Seven writers and dozens of readers talk about their tangles with the gray stuff – hardly skin-deep.
Illustration by Olivia Hall / Philly.com
To dye or not to dye. To age or stay young. To look like yourself or someone else. Whether gray hair is a thing to celebrate or stifle, it seems to inspire discourse as heated as a presidential debate. Seven writers and dozens of readers talk about their tangles with the gray stuff – hardly skin-deep.
Embracing hair that’s au natural... again
Cathy Rubin, Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 13, 2016

My hair has always been my thing.

In the same way some people have vavavoom legs or a strong chin or the bluest eyes, I have noticeable hair.

And whether it's been deemed bad (like when my fourth-grade classmates called me Medusa after swim class), or oh-so-good (like when that hot guy told me he waited outside the liberal arts building just to see my hair blow in the wind), I have felt defined by it.

In fact, after I had my curls chemically straightened once in high school, I fell into a funk. Even though I could run my fingers through my hair — a lifelong dream — the person in the mirror did not reflect my soul at all.

Courtesy of Cathy Rubin
Cathy Rubin in graduate school at Northwestern University in 1997.

Enough strangers tell you they have paid lots of money to have curls like yours, and it's easy to gloat in being au naturel. Not that my coif is ever just right — I'm pretty sure it never is. But I can roll out of bed and go to work and look decent. I don't have to style it, blow it dry, or comb it out. Low-maintenance, just like a "natural womaaaaaaaan."

Also natural was the gray that came out of my head, even as a kid. But because my hair also is very coarse, I got away with telling my playground friends that the single white hair they noticed was actually a string. (And they believed me!)

Nonetheless, those stray strings here and there never bothered me until I had a kid myself, and all the sudden, gray was everywhere. You see this happen with anyone who's elected president. They go in blond or black, and come out gray. Stress can do that to a person.

Six months into motherhood, I visited the salon, and my stylist called my roots mousy. It was the first time I wasn't praised by a professional, and so I took it quite seriously: Do what you need to make it right, I told him. And so began the allover dyeing, which became more necessary to cover the incoming army of gray.

Courtesy of Cathy Rubin
Cathy Rubin at the Philadelphia Inquirer, August 6, 2015.

The thing is, when you're the mother of a baby and you're holding down a full-time job, you don't go every six weeks for a touch-up. You go every six months, a strategy that bought a cumulative three weeks a year of looking good.

I realized this upon seeing a picture of myself when I had assumed I looked nice and instead resembled Kitchen Bubba.

And then the eureka came: Would I prefer a nice brown head of hair? Yes. But, that is not my lot. Instead, I was spending my limited time and patience on a limited outcome. And my cool, natural hair — my thing — was now my source of embarrassment.

In that moment, I decided to go back to those au naturel roots, so to speak, and go gray. Being myself would certainly be prettier than trying, unsuccessfully, to be something I'm not.

It's my new thing.

The hair of Cathy Rubin, 41, the editor of Style & Soul and Home & Design, is currently in transition.

crubin@phillynews.com 215-854-2437 @fs_paper

 
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