The Revolution will be Gray

When I was 14, I shaved one side of my head and dyed my hair blue. Since then I’ve had blonde pixies, red disco curls and Goth black bobs. If I had an idea, I would grow it, cut it, crop it, color it. My hair was my palette and I was down to play.

After my son was born, I felt disconnected from my body. Pregnancy was disorienting and I was grappling with my new identity as a mother.  I found comfort in cues that were overtly, self-consciously “feminine”. I grew my hair into an epic “Babe” style—long, red, curly and requiring the maintenance of a Shetland Pony. I called it “Babe” hair because it was the kind of hair that shouted to the world “THIS MOMMA’S STILL GOT IT GOING ON”. The feedback I received from my hair was appealing for a minute, but eventually, the shock of new motherhood wore off and I didn’t want or need “Babe” hair anymore.  I felt more grounded and less insecure.  And I was exhausted from taking care of my hair. So off it went.

About 3 years ago, I started going gray. At first, I was overcome with horror, “DAMN. I am OLD”. Where did this gray hair come from? I was a “groovy” mom. I wore cut-off jean shorts! I still have my first pair of combat boots! It took a minute to synthesize my image of myself with what was clearly showing up in the mirror. And my first instinct was deny, deny, deny. If I were a man, this would be when I reach for the mid-life sports car.

But something inside me had shifted. Coloring my hair wasn’t fun anymore. It was work. It was upkeep. I had been responding to the societal nudge to flatten out the signs of aging and be acceptable, but I had no more “Fu*&#ks” to give. I’m a huge advocate for whatever a lady has to do to feel her freshest self, but we also have a shortage of role models in their 40’s to demonstrate what “gracious aging” looks like.

But it is notable how you become a “demographic”. Once I was researching medicine for my old, incontinent dog. The next time I went to my Instagram feed, I was served a steady stream of ads for FEMALE INCONTINENCE. Which should be noted… not necessary. But for real, Internet? Have you no imagination? Thanks, but I’m all good.

About a year ago, I stopped dying my hair. I went to my colorist and stripped back the color to nervously reveal what was underneath. It was the first time I’d seen it since I was 20. As it turns out, my natural color is reddish-brown, shot full of gray.   Did I like it? Was it “aging”? I studied it and decided that if Patti Smith, the patron saint of bitchin’ female rock could have a head full of gray hair, then I’ll embrace it as well.

Now, I keep my natural color and pop the gray in front with streaky highlights, a bit “Cruella de Vil”. I get a full haircut every 3 months. I use an all-in-one natural shampoo and wash it every 3-4 days.  Some hair balm, some sea salt spray and I let it get nice and dirty.  About day 3 it finally starts to look “good” to me. The look I’m going for is “Middle-Aged Batshit Gallery Owner” and fingers crossed, I hope I’m close.

Here’s what I know. The only way to make any of this work — living, loving, kids, aging — is to throw out the rule books. Getting Older is the next frontier and we have to be fearless explorers. I’ve amassed decades of creativity, wisdom, experience and life is finally getting interesting. I’m 46 years old. I fully feel and look like myself and contain multitudes. Why would I try to conceal that?

By Carolyn London

Carolyn London is the founder and creative director of LONDON IN NEW YORK, a branding/advertising consultancy, helping industry leaders engage new audiences and change perception. She's also an award-winning filmmaker and director. Her work includes short films, commercials, music videos and the internationally acclaimed “The Lost Tribes of New York City”, featured in the MoMA show “Talk To Me”, curated by Paola Antonelli. Carolyn lives in Long Island City, New York with her husband and son.