From Granny Hair to Silver Fox

8 02 2016

10386247_669711196444841_2277447963320704334_nOur household is a little bit unconventional. In many ways, actually- probably too many to count! There is one in particular that I think everybody should adapt to – LOVING grey hair. My wife has a head full of thick, salt n peppa locks, and she is rockin’ it! And as for me, well, I’m not so lucky.


My chocolate tresses have denied me my wishes to go prematurely grey for too many years. I know what you’re thinking, “Why on earth would you WISH for grey hair?” Well, I have good reasons.


15909_907009422715016_1024457076140655857_nIt’s not like it’s something that I envisioned as a 12-year-old girl, but I started to wrap my mind around the idea right around the time that I left college for the workforce. You see, as a young Architect, especially a young, woman Architect, it’s hard to be taken seriously. Men frequently assumed that I was ‘just some intern,’ or an interior decorator, or even a secretary, just because of the way I looked.


I will never forget the first time a male colleague did this to me. We had met several times over a couple of months while managing the construction of a 145,000 square foot LEED building project. A group of 5 or 6 of us from both my  architecture firm and the construction management company went out to lunch together. As we were walking out of the restaurant to head back to the job site, a man- less than 10 years older than me- turned to me and asked about a wallpaper detail.

“Oh, Kelly, did you find out when the special ordered paper for president’s office will arrive?”

Puzzled, I looked at him and asked, “What do you mean?” I was standing right next to Schana, the actual interior designer on the project.

“I’m just trying to coordinate with the installers. It’s the same color as the room next door, right?”

“I’m not sure why you are asking me. I don’t usually deal with that.”

“But… aren’t you the interior designer on this?” he asked, clearly very confused.

“Nooo… I’m the project Architect. Schana is the interior designer.”


He stammered an apology as a look of horror came across his face, realized that he had clearly just insulted me with a sexist assumption. Women pick out colors, right? I had spent 10 years earning 2 degrees in architecture, trained for 4 years of technical internship, and passed SEVEN EXAMS in order to wear the title of Architect with a capital ‘A’ thank you very much.


That was the day I decided that maybe a few streaks of grey would help lend me the credibility and respect that I so sorely lacked in this male-dominated field. I began noticing all the beautiful women around me donning their natural greys, pining after their luck. I was 27.  


how-to-cover-grey-hair-by-shellgreenier-300x229Finally, after years of waiting, I got my wish and got my first grey hair! Right at my left temple, too- I couldn’t believe it! To date, I still only have a handful, but each time I notice a new streak of silver, I squeal with delight and point it out to my wife, who smiles and laughs at my utter giddiness. Just last week she held me in her arms and said, “When you wear your hair up like that it really accentuates your greys,” which, of course was a HUGE compliment! “You know, you must be the only woman who is excited about getting silver hairs!” she giggles at me.


That can’t be right. Can it? I started wondering how other cultures treat silver foxes, and why women in America are so quick to cover up their natural beauty.


gp_aDespite the obvious benefit for my profession, I also think that a silver sparkle is beautiful! Each glittery strand is a badge of honor, an award for my own life experiences. Every year I grow older and wiser, so why wouldn’t I want to show my true age? (I’m 35 ⅔, by the way).


“Granny Hair”

22-clip-in-hair-extension-colour-grey-110-gram--texture-straight-[4]-502-pInterestingly, I might be onto something. A recent fashion trend has appeared to highlight a renewed interest in grey. Young women (and men) across America, Europe, and Asia in their teens, twenties, and thirties are starting to intentionally dye their hair shades of grey. Because… why not? Silver is sexy! I may not care for the hashtag #grannyhair, but I love the looks that people are embracing.


In the UK, there has been an 83% spike in sales of gray hair color products compared to the year before. Celebrities are trying grey on for size, and looking fabulous while doing it. Perhaps this will be the year that natural gray becomes truly embraced?



Why does hair turn grey?

2010 American Music Awards - Arrivals

LOS ANGELES, CA – NOVEMBER 21: Singer Pink arrives at the 2010 American Music Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on November 21, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for DCP)

Despite the hottest trends, we will all someday learn to rock the salt n pepper look. Grey hair is caused by a lack of pigmentation and melanin, just like what causes some people to be born Albino. The process as we age is called Achromotrichia, and it normally begins in our twenties (late twenties for women), eventually turning the hair gray and then white.  What causes this change is actually the death of the melanocyte stem cells in our hair follicles. By age 40, more than 60%  of Americans have some gray hair. Interestingly, it’s your nose hairs that usually grey first! Followed by head hair, beard, body hair, and eyebrows.


So it’s not stress? Some studies have shown evidence for a link between chronic stress causing and premature achromotrichia, but no definite link has been established. I know that in my brother, Kurtis, he started going grey after a severe car accident left him in a state of partial comatose. We don’t dye his hair either. There’s also a stress hormone cortisol that accumulates in human hair over time, but whether this has any effect on hair color has not yet been resolved. Sometimes, malnutrition is also a factor, causing hair to become lighter, thinner, and more brittle. Thankfully, most of us in the U.S. are safely protected from this risk.


Do Other Cultures Fear the Grey?

There is a long history here. In ancient Egypt, women used oil and the blood of a black cat to cover their sparkle. The Romans blended ashes, walnut shells, and earthworms for a dye! (check out Encyclopedia of Hair for more interesting facts)

In Native American cultures, hair holds much more symbolic significance, and is treated with much more respect and caution. As one would expect, tribal culture is much more in tune with nature, and respects the traditional path of aging.

white wolf elders“You were given a sacred color of hair to wear and you were never to bleach (whiten) or dye your hair. Even the word dye/die when used for coloring states the death or divination of a God-given thought and purpose. … Bleaching ones hair to change spiritual status, does not make one an Elder or Pre-dating Spirit, for you are born who you are, chosen, and elevated by God, not by Mankind. In Native ceremony when ocher and hennas were used on hair it was understood that it was for a Sacred purpose and Spirit (God) inspired, and the natural color would naturally return… Cutting your hair usually occurs when one chooses to make a major change in ones life, putting past misdeeds behind them, and beginning a new/knew life. In Native teachings many tribes cut their hair during the mourning process, which symbolizes the deep wound to ones sensibilities caused by the piercing hurt of a loved ones passing.”White Wolf Pack

china black hairIn China, most people are born with very dark hair, but it is not uncommon to see greys in the population. However, their entire Communist parliament is filled with men who dye their hair black, in order to keep the impression that they are going to live forever (and lead forever).


A Cure?

For the truly rich and vain, there is actually a cure for going grey. The  anti-cancer drug imatinib has recently been shown to reverse the graying process. But you might not be ready to order it on amazon quite yet. Those drugs cost a pretty penny, and vanity might not be worth that price tag!


Thankfully, I see more and more women proudly sporting their silver streaks. I call mine sparkles. The fact that there is now demand for young folks to brazenly sport the grey look just like any other color gives me hope. I might just have to go order myself a set of silver hair extensions, just because I can.

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