Going Gray

going-grayMAUD LAAVIN OF THE Chicago Tribune wrote this review about my bookGoing Gray, What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Matters:

“To read Anne Kreamer’s “Going Gray” is to enjoy that comfortable illusion that you are chatting with a friend. A friend whose confidences are told in a way that’s concise, entertaining and thoughtful.

“Going Gray” is Kreamer’s first book. It developed from a feature she did for More magazine about the process, when she was 49, of letting her hair grow out to show her natural gray after diligently dyeing it from age 25. This visible graying may seem like small potatoes, and she has the grace to acknowledge there are larger issues in life. But Kreamer skillfully uses that experience and its anxieties to explore thoughts about aging and femininity, and these are, of course, the memoir’s real hook.

buy-the-bookKreamer also takes an almost girlish, Nancy-Drew-detective approach to examining what other women — and some men — think about the cultural pressures and self-images that connect to dyeing hair, especially for midlifers. Although happily married, she wrote an Internet dating profile for herself pretending to be divorced and put it, along with a photograph of herself, on Match.com. At times she used one with dyed hair and at others one with gray locks, to compare how many responses she got. Those of you who, like me, already have a happy vanity about the lively gray streaks in your hair, will be pleased to know she got more approaches with her natural gray look. In addition, Kreamer hired a data-gathering business to conduct a national survey to learn more about attitudes toward graying.

For the reader interested in cultural shifts in attitudes toward women and aging, some of the most thought-provoking parts of Kreamer’s book are the contextual and historical perspectives she gives. She notes that fewer than 10 percent of American women colored their hair in the 1950s, compared with a reported 40 to 75 percent today. And her observation on the potential parallel between that statistical growth and a likely increase in women’s involvement with plastic surgery is a cogent one:

“In the national survey I conducted for this book, of four hundred women, average age forty-nine, 15 percent reported having had cosmetic injections or surgery — probably about the same percentage of middle-aged women who, back in the ’50s when the artificial-coloring boom began, dyed their hair. . . . Extrapolate the trend line, double the available technologies, and imagine the choices and pressures our great-grandchildren may face.”  (Maud Levin’s complete review.)

And here is the photo that started it all.

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  1. Jeanette Hart says:

    My naturally brown hair started to become lighter in my 30’s, with pronounced blonde highlights in the summer. There was also a bit of grey, so I used a semi-permanent rinse, with the shade going lighter over the years until I was using full blonde permanent coloring in my 50’s and early 60’s. My hair was shoulder length, and the blonde looked natural. For no apparent reason, I decided I’d had enough. I was out for coffee with a friend, popped into a salon and asked the stylist to cut it all off. I was well overdue for a color, so there was quite a bit of outgrowth. She suggested a gradual approach, I insisted that I wanted short – really short. I was amazed – dark hair towards the nape, pure white streaks at the temples, and a sort of white/blonde on most of my head. Since then, I’ve played with the idea of color, but to date, five stylists have told me I’d be crazy to color it. I think they’re right – it shines, it’s a unique color that will never be found in a bottle, it changes ever so slightly from season to season. Mostly – it’s me. The one and only critical comment was from my ex-husband who said “It’s nice, but it does make you look elderly.” This mindset is one of the reasons he’s an ex. Yes, I do love my very real hair!

  2. Sherry Bagnell Cumming says:

    I will turn 55 in three months and have been contemplating going gray for at least four years. Well, this is it…freedom 55 baby! I colored my hair for the last time six weeks ago, just starting to see the “line”. May the force be with me, gotta get your book asap!

  3. Cathy Pagliaro says:

    I saw the article in the Guardian today about your book, and as a 51 year old, professional female who has been grey for many years ( i never dyed my hair), I could relate to the comments about being in corp/executive world and looking for ANY other woman with grey hair! It is soooooo rare! AND…i can’t tell you how many times i get spontaneous comments from people about my hair and how much they like it (it always surprises me). I haven’t read your book (yet) but simply had to track you down to say ‘thanks’ for acknowledging some of the things i notice daily in the business world…it was so refreshing to read and realize i am not alone! THANK YOU!! — “grey mane” (that’s what my oldest son calls me… in a loving way 😉 p.s. i have no intention of every dying my hair back to black, though have flirted with the idea of purple highlights…. 😉

  4. Lori Nicholas says:

    I first read your book “Going Gray” last year while deciding if I wanted to stop coloring my hair. I wanted to see what my true color is and to stop being a slave to hair coloring. I still have a little of the old color left on top and I’m looking forward to when all of it’s gone. I’m 52, have raised three sons, been married for 29 years, and am a mother-in-law. I take care of myself and don’t feel that going gray means letting yourself “go”. I’m reading your book again right now as I get close to having reached my goal of having my natural color. I have to say that your book is so encouraging. It’s quite the opposite of the new hair color commercial with the line “What’s next, stop wearing makeup?” in reference to women who don’t color their hair. It hurts me to see women who don’t support one other or who tear each other down. That commercial made me want to say “thanks” for writing such an informative, fun to read, and encouraging book.

  5. I haven’t read Going Gray, but just read the More article. I enjoyed the part when you started loving the look of your greys; it’s how I’ve felt. I’ve just turned 47 and haven’t dyed my hair since my mid-30s. I get lots of helpful advice about how much younger I’d look if only I’d colour my hair. I have a 9-year-old daughter and strangers often refer to me as her grandmother. I have never been tempted to restart dyeing my hair, but it’s heartening to know I’m not alone.

  6. I enjoyed the book! Interestingly enough, I grew up around gray-haired ladies here in my Southern state. My mother didn’t dye her hair. And only my “vain” grandmother dyed her hair. I have always been used to gray hair. I believed make up, hairstyling and fashion were for fun and creative expression. And not only that, I grew up around women who took care of themselves but were not dependent on the latest fashions and/or make up. Sure, they looked neat, but they didn’t worry so much about what others thought about their “sexuality”. I never viewed them as “letting themselves go”. Aging was just part of life, and there’s no shame in being who God created you to be. . . (And maybe that’s something missing from this book. . . How do our spiritual/religious values come into play with our self-esteem and self-confidence? And how we view others?)

    I am 41 now, and I have some grays coming in around my temple. I always knew I’d go gray, and I had no fears about it. Personally, now that I am here, I can see where this experience of aging is rather awesome. . . there’s a beauty in changing and even in fading.

    I was not reared by stereotypical Baby Boomers. My parents seemed more indicative of the timeless attitudes and values of generations before their own. And yet, my parents were actually more renegade than the hippie Boomers because they didn’t buy any of the hype. It has made me different than my peers all my life long. My sisters and I talk about the Baby Boomers. We talk about this “youth worship” culture and wonder who is to blame for it. It always strikes me as ironic that the Baby Boomer culture had a massive hand in creating this Youth Worship Culture, and yet, they as a generation are more frightened of aging than anyone else before them, I think. They suddenly don’t want a Youth Worship Culture anymore because it means they will become obsolete. . . They are afraid of this obsoletion.

    At the end of _Going Gray_, I felt that Kreamer may have been attempting to rally her generation into believing they were going to make a difference for the generations to come if they would accept aging with more grace. . . But ah, if that generation hadn’t bought into (marketing) and belief that only Youth & Innocence had all the answers to World Peace. . .

    Ironic how they now want to claim how important the Wisdom of Age & Experience! (Don’t be surprised when the Youth will not listen just as the Baby Boomers bucked against the values of their elders.)

    Personally, I like gray. I see so many women struggle with their value to this world, and if my going gray and living my life gives another woman courage to realize her own value despite cultural ideas of beauty, I’m going to do it. It’s the Gray Gospel, really.

    Again, I appreciated the book and will pass it on to others.

  7. Runs in my family- I started getting gray hair when I was 10. I was salt and pepper by age 21. I colored it consistently for 15 years and got tired of the maintenance. I had long hair at the time and didn’t want to go short so my hairstylist suggested adding platinum streaks to blend with the grey as it grew out. I just couldn’t wait so I ended up cutting it short anyway as I didn’t like the in-between look. I had a pretty good idea of how much gray I had but it didn’t hit me until I cut off all the old color. I still get surprised sometimes when I look in the mirror! Really enjoyed reading your book! I think I need to get the wardrobe makeover next!!

  8. I went natural with grey streaks in my late 40’s and loved the freedom, but broke down and colored my hair for a wedding. Now in my mid 50’s, I’m ready to go natural again. It’s been just a few months, so I have a ways to go with my long shoulder length hair… but I am trying to blend it naturally with a Sage/Rosemary tea rinse weekly which seems to help some for highlights and conditioning. It’s a humbling experience, but actually fun to see how it will turn out with much more gray than before!

    • I just finished the book over the weekend and loved it! Such an interesting study and very inspiring. I have some advantages in the transition as I’ve gone through the process before along with working from home which makes it easier. I’m also thankful to have a mother who was always natural with her beautiful gray to white hair to also inspire me.

  9. Oh my goodness….I read your box and felt that I wrote it. The same experiences, the same pre-occupation, the same research and the same revalations. I laughed out loud at you description of the dinner party. It’s so true….the discussion about , going grey can pre- empt every other, be it Syria or the government. That deep desire to return to being authentic is bubbling up from our cores, struggling out through botoxed, air brushed, and over exercised images,

    Since I went grey my hair is the topic of many conversations. Other sexy grey hairs walk up to me in public (restaurants, airports, and the streets) be because I now belong to a secret society of woman who are igniting a life giving spark if being genuine. I hold the image of the white haired, tanned, nudist as my new aging norm.

    Thank you.

  10. I came across your book at the library today and have just started reading. I’m looking forward to reading about your discoveries as I am in learning my own.

    I attended a retreat 18mths ago and not long after, decided to accept my grey hair – after all I was only colouring it because that was what ‘society’ was influencing me to do. Call it rebellious or not, it’s been an interesting journey so far and I often look in the mirror and laugh – as I forget I haven’t coloured it.

    I’m learning a lot about myself and being truer than true to myself. It’s a great journey thus far, with I’m sure more discoveries yet to be experienced. Thanks for your work in changing how the world can see women.

  11. Just turned 47…. It’s my year to be ‘real’…. The first step is no hair coloring. With one cut (I went super short to cut all color off) I am suddenly grey! GREY!!!!! I will rock this REAL ME!!!

  12. Cheryl Parrish says:

    I stopped dying my hair a year ago, at fifty my hair is pretty and I love it. Lots of silver and some dark. It is curly and short, silver and very sassy. I feel empowered and natural. I have had wonderfully positive feedback from family and friends. When I notice stylish women my age and older who still dye, I think they don’t know what they are missing. I can rock a little black dress, jeans and a t-shirt and anything in between!

  13. I am working on going gray. Because I have a great hairdresser, she is progressively dyeing my hair to get closer to my natural color every few months. I’ll be there before the end of 2013. Gradual yes, but less scary for me.

  14. Vi en una revista, el comentario sobre tu libro y me encanto.
    Lo busque en internet y estoy muy contenta de tener con quien compartir este proceso de mis canas, ya que nos enseñaron que son significado de vejez, y no de experiencias de vida, y bueno algunas veces gnetico, pero cuando se ivan notando antes de tinturarlas decia que ya se me veian las experiencias y corria a la peluqueria. Al fin en mi “evolución” entendi lo que tu dices y es aceptarme como soy y no como quiero que me vean, osea aceptarme en mi propia piel.
    Quisiera saber si se consigue el libro en español, seria muy bueno para compartirlo con muchas seres que conozco.
    Felicidades. Un aBRAZO.
    Guadalupe Ruiz.

  15. When thinking that I might want to go gray, I asked my hair colorist his opinion. His response was”Oh, no, honey, you’re too young to go gray, it will age you sooo much.” So, I gave in and had another dye. But at the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to go natural gray. I decided on my 50th birthday that I would not touch dye again. One year later, my hair is silver, white down below my ears. The funniest part of this is the reaction of some older women. I’ve had perhaps a dozen well coiffed, dyed women around my age and older approach me with negative comments and some even offering a reference to a hair salon. It’s shocking to me, and rather than break my resolve, it just makes me stronger and more determined to grow long, long, gray hair. I’ve found that since I’ve been on this journey that it has been more than just about hair color. It’s about women being comfortable about aging and feeling good inside their own skin. It’s about knowing who you are, rather than depending on someone else telling you how to look. Thank you for this wonderful reference to look to when I need a pick me up because I just want to be me.

  16. Jo Ann Browning says:

    I am an African American woman who had a few strands of grey hair in highschool. I have medium to shoulder length hair and began to grey quickly around the age of 32. I have never dyed my hair. I am now in my 60’s with unusual hair that is a mix of grey, white and some natural brown streaks. Most of the time, I am pleased that I did not dye my hair. Most of the time, because of my unusual mix, people think I have had my hair professionally streaked. Why is it that when men have grey hair, they are considered to be distinguished. Yet women with grey hair must be older. Some things need to change, but they seem to remain the same!!! Congratulations in celebrating the sisterhood of beautiful, bold and blessed women with grey hair!!!!!

  17. I have grey hair. I know I look older witnh it but I don’t care. I get many compliments on my hair but no one goes grey from seeing me. I think most women just won’t do it.

    • i forgot to say that I colored my hair all my life and just got tired of it. Actually, I love my hair now – really love it. My hair is very white and shines and I do everything to keep it pretty and with updated styles.

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