Don’t let the minor flaw of Anne Kreamer’s provocative book, Going Gray: What I Learned About Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters, keep you from a gusto read.
Sure, it’s peopled with the author’s fabulous friends and colleagues—such as Nora Ephron, Anna Quindlen, and Emmylou Harris—who are all of a certain well-heeled socioeconomic stratum. (After reading this book, one has to wonder how millions of poor and/or immigrant American women deal with graying locks.)
But the book’s subject—how and why an entire generation of women got hoodwinked into believing that dying one’s hair equals forever youth—is just too good a conversation to ignore.
Let’s hope it opens up a juicy debate.
After all, as Kreamer, now in her 50s, notes: “I had never before closely considered what the color of my hair communicated to the world. Artificial color was simply what I had always done, what almost everyone my age did, and what I unthinkingly assumed looked good.” How many millions of American women utterly understand this statement?
It seems Kreamer thought herself a youthful 49 until she saw a stray photo of herself with her teenage daughter. In a clarifying moment, she saw herself for what she really was— a middle-aged woman with her hair dyed too harshly. What for, she seriously considered?
So Kreamer let her natural gray hair grow back, and this book is the journey it took her on.
With her warm prose, Kreamer confronts her fears of growing older—losing her sex appeal, losing visibility and viability, losing relevancy—and knocks down each fear as she confronts just what difference having the bonnet of youth makes in a youth-obsessed culture. Adding up her hair-color expenditures of the past two decades ($65,000, not factoring for inflation, and if she’d invested that money, her accountant told her, she’d today have $300,000!), Kreamer writes how many women now begin to color and highlight their hair in an unending go-round beginning in their 20s.
She further asks: does it surprise anyone that hair care was the largest growth segment of the enormous personal-care market during the 1990s? Or that hair companies set out over a generation ago to specifically target young women with their ads, first making Kreamer’s mother’s generation believe that it’s okay to dye your hair, and today telling women that if you don’t cover up your gray, you’ve "let yourself go."
Kreamer also goes undercover in both the dating and work worlds to see if gray equates with “dismissed.” What she finds runs counterintuitive to what she and many might believe: that gray hair does not hinder romantic choices—in fact, in some of her online findings she showed that it even helps up the ante and brings her more interest! But often it does hinder women in the work world, where youth masquerades as relevancy.
Next up: men. She reports that the $1.54-billion-dollar-a-year home hair-care market has saturated its female base and is now setting its sights on males.
As Kreamer herself concludes: “…hair, as ridiculous as our obsession with it may be, is a very real, visible, emotionally central sign of what each of us is trying to be—a sort of personal flag. To dye or not to dye, that is a question.”
Janet Kinosian, a Los Angeles-based journalist, writes for The Los Angeles Times, Reader's Digest, and dozens of other publications. She recently reviewed Dancing With Rose for AARP The Magazine Online.