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MY TURN

She's good with gray hair

July 13, 2009|Kathleen Clary Miller

I am making a statement tantamount to a terminal patient raising her hand in protest and announcing, "No more treatments!" Mine is not over something life-threatening, though. After 13 years of it, I am just saying "no" to color: Let the gray grow in!

"Aren't you afraid you'll look like 'The Picture of Dorian Gray' -- ancient overnight?" asks one Southern California friend.

"But you'll look older!" protests another.

Guess what? I am older.

And I'm tired of trying so hard to deny it. The once intermittent weave has graduated over the last few years into an every-six-weeks procedure that involves low lights, highlights and overall root color. Toxic fumes fill the salon air as I try not to breathe too deeply for the hours it takes to maintain what has, over time, resembled less and less natural blond and more and more an oddly greenish or orange hue, depending on the light I'm standing in.

I may have been destined to look younger in my casket if I hadn't made this momentous decision, but who knows? My untimely death might have been due to some cancer caused by the chemicals. So now it's a matter of longevity, not the looks of my locks.

Not to mention the fact that I could have fed a Third World country on what I've spent on hair processing over the years. My wallet feels freedom as surely as my scalp is liberated.

On the heels of my decision, I was recently involved in a discussion group with women from my church when one of them quoted Beth Moore, inspirational speaker and spiritual motivator: "The problem is that beauty is not something we are; it is something we do."

And, Moore elaborates, there is always something more we can do. So I've started to stop doing and start being. Beth will be proud! (Although I've noticed her hair doesn't show a single streak of gray.)

I've cleaned out my cosmetic drawers and kept only what I need. I will wear makeup -- I have to, or I look like a corpse with no eyelashes. I've stopped buying clothes that are more trendy than truly appropriate for "my age," and I've adjusted my exercise routine so I don't pound the pavement while running headfirst into a hip replacement.

This is not about "letting myself go," unless going gray is that. Quite the opposite. I am told I'll need a "little more blush" on my cheeks when the coif dullness sets in, and I fully intend to follow that advice.

At least I live in the backwoods of Montana now where rumor has it that if you have all of your teeth, you're a beauty queen. Here, hair grows gray much earlier than at my age, whereas in Southern California most women would surrender only when they reach age 90. Why is everyone assuming I'll be the old gray mother who ain't what she used to be? My children think my new resolution is cool because it's socially, economically and healthfully conscientious, although they are a bit concerned that by the time they next visit, they won't recognize me at the Missoula Airport gate. Who's to say I won't look like one of those fortunate women for whom gray hair is flattering? Here's hoping my silver is stunning.

If it isn't, I can blame it on my husband. While I was merely entertaining the notion of going au naturel, we were seated in a restaurant next to a lovely older woman whose white hair was tied back in a ponytail.

"There's a pretty woman -- I like her hair," he said. His fault.

Or, if not his, I can blame it on my friend Susan who used to be blond, stopped coloring her locks and as a result enjoys gorgeous white hair that looks Marilyn Monroe platinum.

If mine doesn't turn out like that, well, my hairdresser -- whose business is named none other than Backwoods Hair Designs -- says I can always get a blond weave and recapture the youth I pretended didn't matter. (Where is she originally from, anyway?)

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Kathleen Clary Miller is the author of 300 essays and stories that have appeared in such publications as Newsweek, the Los Angeles Times, Missoula Living Magazine and the Christian Science Monitor. Her column, "Peaks and Valleys," appears in Montana Woman Magazine. She lives in Huson, Mont.

My Turn is a forum for readers to recount an experience related to health or fitness. Submissions should be no more than 500 words. They are subject to editing and condensation and become the property of The Times. Please e-mail health@latimes.com. We read every essay, but can't respond to every writer.

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