My hair started going grey in my thirties. It’s in my genes – we go grey but we don’t wrinkle, so it’s the dye we reach for, not the Botox.
When the first white hairs appeared, I tried to ignore them, in the hope that they might go away, and I only started colouring in my forties. Because of this, there are photos of me from fifteen years ago in which I look slightly older than I do today. And I dye it now because, although I don’t mind looking my age, I do resent looking older than I am.
I know what you’re going to say: “Tracey, you’re out of step. Grey is cool now. Fashionable people dye their hair grey.”
Yeah, yeah, I know, I’ve heard all about Rihanna, Cara Delevingne, St Vincent and #GrannyHair, and I’m not having any of it. Blah, blah, blah. These are Young People, and Young People can do whatever they like. They can wear clogs and ugly coats and sport man-buns and frumpy tights and still look gorgeous, because they are Young and almost nothing spoils your appearance when you’re Young. Although, sadly, you don’t know it at the time.
Look back at your old photos. You will laugh at your hair and your trousers, but peer closer. You never knew you looked that good, did you? Nora Ephron once wrote: “Oh, how I regret not having worn a bikini for the entire year I was 26. If anyone young is reading this, go, right this minute, put on a bikini, and don’t take it off until you’re 34.” All those years we wasted worrying that we weren’t perfect, when we were covered in the magic fairy dust of youth.
Once you’re older, it is a simple fact that more effort is required, which brings me back to my grey hair and my refusal to give in. It doesn’t help that the word “grey” defines everything that is dull and boring. It’s the colour of ashes and lead; it’s John Major, the grey man of politics. “Without interest or character”, according to the dictionary. It’s that area in which things are neither one thing nor the other, right nor wrong, good nor bad. It’s the squirrels that no one likes as much as the cute, foxy red ones.
Grey isn’t something you aspire to. It’s something you fade to. And quite often we don’t say, “My hair went grey.” We say, “I went grey” – and then we hear ourselves and get frightened. This is the ultimate recurring nightmare of the midlife crisis – that life has reached a point of greyness from which there is no escape.
I don’t think middle-aged angst is so much about the fear of death (although there is a bit of that involved). Often what we’re missing is euphoria, the high points of life that make it worth living. That quest leads people into affairs and fast cars, motorbikes and sponsored hikes up mountains. Yet even then, euphoria often eludes them, so what chance is there for those of us who want to stay at home and not break anything? We get given The Little Book of Calm and we are told to meditate, when what we really want is to feel the buzz you get off a first Martini more of the time.
So, call me shallow, but I’m not giving in to the grey. In this area at least, I can hang on to a semblance of control and demand to keep things vivid, defined, black and white. When I finally get fed up with the relentless, Sisyphean task of touching up roots, I will simply start dyeing it in the opposite direction, aiming for that gorgeous, bright silver that is more like Jean Harlow’s platinum blonde than the wire wool of actual grey hair.
I’m not falling for the fatal trap of going all out for colour – not for me, the wackiness of “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple/With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me”. No, when I’m an old woman I’ll wear a little black dress, thank you very much, with a bag that does go and a coat that does suit me. I’m not going grey just yet but silver I’ll stand for, in a little while.
In the meantime, I will leave it to the young people to experiment with lavender rinses and cardigans, to play at looking old, in a way that only they can pull off, and can walk away from, still.
This article appears in the 24 Feb 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The Boris Backlash