I can’t decide if the hair was the cause or the effect, but this:
Is definitely the official hairstyle of Zero Fucks Given. As I’ve described before, I began my transition to grey hair on the day my father died. What I may not have described is the decades of hand-wringing that went into that eventual decision.
I found my first grey hair when I was away at summer swim camp. I was 12. By 23, I was sporting enough grey hair that, when I finally dyed it, a coworker gushed, “Oh, honey, that hair color takes 10-15 years off of you!” “So I look like I’m 10?” I asked. The confused look on his face made me realize that he honestly had no idea how old I was—or more to the point, wasn’t.
After my first divorce, at the age of 25, I chopped my hair into a short pixie and let the grey grow out. I noticed an immediate shift in the people who hit on me. More women for starters, but also a different subset of men. Some older, some younger, but all had a certain non-conformist streak. And that’s when I realized the value of Appearance As Filter.
As someone who grew up in a rural and lower-middle-class environment but attended school in a quasi-urban and upper-middle-class one, I got a crash course early on in “what you look like affects how people treat you.” Anyone who grew up in a rural area—or speaks with a certain accent, say southern or Appalachian, knows all too well the look of Bless your heart condescension frequently doled out by the more urbane. I would tell you the story about the time I wore a personalized trout-fishing ball cap to school on jeans day, but I probably need a little more therapy before I can go there.
So when I go to a possibly contentious parent-teacher meeting, or a doctor’s appointment with a physician who doesn’t know me, or to buy a car or an appliance where I suspect I may encounter a sexist salesperson, I dress in a way that I think will encourage the other person to take me seriously. I focus on my posture. I modulate my diction and break out the ACT-words. Not because any of this makes me a better or more worthwhile person, but because 30+ years of experience have taught me that it will increase the odds that I will be treated as such.
Which is why, when I was 29 and vaguely pregnant and someone mistook me for my husband’s mother rather than his wife, I collapsed right along with my self-esteem and started coloring my hair. And then allowed the next 15 years to be partially consumed by a preoccupation with my ROOTS, not in the important where-do-I-come-from sense, but in the “People will think less of me if they see that the proximal ½” of my hair shafts lack pigment” sense. I tried growing it out a half-dozen times or so during those years, and every time I’d get about 1.5” grown out before I would lose my nerve and break out the Clairol. I just couldn’t imagine being able to hold my head high with grey hair. Not feeling old. Not being treated differently, like I was somehow less vibrant, capable, or sophisticated. Less anything. I worried that men wouldn’t find me attractive, strangers would think I was my kids’ grandmother, my employer would feel like I didn’t meet spec any longer.
Until my dad died. I don’t know why that flipped the switch, but spending the last few weeks of his life actively and consciously helping him through the process of dying had a way of making everything else seem…trite in comparison. As we watched his body and brain succumb to the almost unimaginable triple-diagnosis of frontotemporal dementia, motor neuron disease, and finally ductal pancreatic cancer, his hair remained thick, glorious, and unapologetically white until the very end.
So I took a deep breath and went grey.
And somehow this seemingly superficial transition became the Official Hairstyle of ZFG. And with it, I was able to stop giving a lot of other fucks, as well. For instance, I have a wrinkle in the middle of my forehead, between my eyebrows. I hate this wrinkle. I hate it because—unlike laugh lines or those lines around my mouth, I feel like it makes me look mean; in fact my ex-husband used to call it the “Goddammit, kids!” wrinkle. I hate it so much I actually considered Botox, despite my aversion to all things medical and my obsessive reading of potential but highly unlikely side effects (“migration!”). I queried all of my friends who had Botox about how life-changing and totally not paralyzing it was. Finally my younger daughter talked me out of it by saying that she would disown me if I got Botox, and I needed to just accept my wrinkle and get on with my life. But I still hated it. I obsessed about it every morning and wore Frownies to bed every night.
But with the Official Hairstyle of ZFG, I honestly don’t even think about my wrinkle. I also spend less time thinking about how my boobs sag, how upset someone will be if I say “no” to a request, and how guilty I feel about—well—almost everything. And maybe better yet, it’s still a powerful filter. I’m no longer worried about who will or won’t like me, I just let the filter do its work, letting people in or keeping them out according to how they self-select.
I should have done it years ago.