Why would any woman buck the tide, turn her back on modern cosmetology and choose, a la Barbara Bush, to flaunt her white hair?
The answer, in a bit more than three words: confidence, compliments and more pressing commitments.
"I don't have time to keep it any other color," explains silver-haired Leah Superstein, former concert pianist, founding member of the Music Center's Blue Ribbon 400, past president of the Golden Key Foundation, current vice president in charge of fund development for UCLA's Royce 270, member of the USC music board, composer, avid athlete, wife, mother, grandmother.
Reflecting on her life style, Superstein says: "There's a lot going on underneath the gray hair."
A Blow for Womankind
Barbara Bush's silver strands aren't expected to swell the ranks of women who have already gone for the gray. But the what-you-see-is-what-you-get First Lady has definitely struck a blow for womankind, according to white-haired Barbara Avedon, co-creator of television's "Cagney & Lacey" and co-founder of Another Mother for Peace:
"She will have an influence. We always take from the top. In her case, it's the niceness, the warmth, the honesty and the realization for women that you don't have to be anorexic and you don't have to be a blonde or a brunette."
Avedon, "58 and proud of it," started to turn salt-and-pepper when she was in her 40s. Then her mother became ill and Avedon's hair "was white within a year. I love it. I'm complimented on it. I used to go through a lot of trouble to have highlights put in. Now I have that same light look with no trouble at all."
Ah, but what about the aging factor? "We've been trained to look at it that way," concedes Avedon, who has her own philosophy about gray hair and lines in the face: "It has to do with how you look at your own life. Some people see it as a creative, evolving experience. Everything has its positives. It's nice to be thought of as a mentor, which happens to me a lot now."
Helene Tobias, president of the American Film Institute Associates, is a widow who says her husband never objected to the gray. But she knows "one or two of my friends would like to take me in hand. I've had a silent battle with people who wonder why I would want to go without a face lift or dyeing my hair. In this town, I'm the exception, not the rule."
Tobias, "59 next month," believes her silver-streaked hair "doesn't make me look older, it makes me look real."
But it took some time to get real. First, there were the rinses she started in her late 30s. "After a while I got into streaking and highlighting, but they seemed to turn my hair brassy."
For about 10 years she went the all-over-color route. "Then I started to get fed up with the process. I wasn't comfortable with the way I looked."
She let her own color grow back, "but it didn't say anything. There wasn't enough gray. It looked mousey." Eventually, Tobias "tried again and by that time I had plenty of gray. A nice gray, not dead."
Today, she keeps her hair short, uses a little more rouge than she did in her pre-gray days and dresses in "stronger colors than I used to. I still wear taupe, black and beige, but I really like reds, purples, blues and greens."
It isn't easy being gray, concedes Kirk La Mar, a former hair stylist and co-creator of New Image (a computer system that shows clients, among other things, how they will look in as many as 32,000 hair-color possibilities). He explains: "If a woman has well above 70% of her hair white, it will look good. But if she has only 10% gray hair, it will make her look prematurely old. So she'll do a temporary rinse. Gray hair is a problem when it makes you look older than you feel."
"Barbara Bush is fortunate," he adds. "Her hair is 98% white, which gives that all-white look. She may be giving a lot of women in her age group the confidence to do the same thing."
If a woman wants to give up coloring her hair, Kirk says there is a technique "to get through the awful period. I would weave in gray just the way you weave in blond down to the ends of the hair."
Stylist Allen Edwards, owner of five salons in Southern California, observes that even women in their 40s are now leaving their hair gray. He adds gold and brown highlights "to break up the black and white. They soften the gray. White is really pretty, but gray isn't a flattering color against the natural skin tones."
Long, gray hair, he says, "is too aging. It should be short. When it's just hanging, the woman and her face become unimportant. Your eye goes only to the hair. When it's very short, the face becomes a stronger entity. There is a nice balance."