Growing up, I was in awe of the color of my Cherokee grandmother’s hair. It was that shiny, beautiful black hair someone has to be born with. It never turned gray; not one strand. As my mom got older, I was happy to see that she had inherited both her mother’s hair color and its longevity. I knew it would be different for me; my hair was blond when I was a child, and darkened into a sandy brown color by the time I was in high school.
Realizing that I probably wouldn’t follow in my mom’s and grandmother’s footsteps, I made a promise to myself:
I would be one of those women who accepts the passing of time, and grows old naturally, with dignity, instead of trying all sorts of artificial methods in a vain attempt to look younger than I am.
I was especially proud of my strong convictions regarding my hair. I just always knew the right decision for me was to let gray happen naturally, and treat it as a badge of honor. Something I earned, through hard times, learning hard lessons, from which I always emerged a better me than the me who had entered into the struggle.
Screw that. Change of plans. I’m going to embark upon a full-throttle dye-job mission just as soon as I can.
When I made those plans, I didn’t have gray hair. I hadn’t yet been let in on the big secret: Both my mother’s and my grandmother’s hair came from a bottle. Don’t ask, don’t tell, I guess. But most of all, when I decided to age gracefully, the world could still see me.
I wasn’t invisible, yet.
Now, I’m probably asking for a ration of shit for having feelings outside the politically correct spectrum about this, but I’m not going to lie about the way this subject makes me feel.
All my life, I’ve been gently steered away from broadcasting feelings that were too ANYTHING. Too loud. Too angry. Too negative. Too accusatory. Too sad. I think my mother considers feelings to be a personal struggle, not something one vomits all over the neighborhood.
She raised me to listen to your feelings, not to talk about mine. And most of the time, I’m okay with that. But something I never thought would bother me is really, really bothering me. And the way I’m feeling is exacerbated by guilt, because I feel like I’m letting my inner feminist down.
I’d read about this: how a woman turns 40, or 50, and suddenly the entire way the world interacts with her changes. The articles I read always blamed the hair, or the waistline, but I didn’t buy it. I felt sure that was just not true.
You know. Because it hadn’t happened to me.
I’d heard my whole life about how men go gray and it’s like they’re suddenly highlighted. My mom always told me, “Gray-haired men look distinguished. Gray-haired women just look old.” I always disagreed; let me make that clear. I know lots of women with lovely silver or white hair and they’re striking. But some of what she said; be it public perception or truth; has merit. Gray hair on a woman — even a striking one — feels like it gives the impression of aging first and attractiveness second. Even to me. When I see a man with gray hair I don’t go straight to “older man”. I still think “handsome man” first (you know, if he’s handsome).
I have felt, for the last year or so, like everyone looks at me differently.
Or maybe, indifferently.
But like most messy life stuff, I’m beginning to see that “society doesn’t see me anymore” phenomenon as a whole other phenomenon, now that I’ve stopped to examine it. And like everything else, it’s about me.
I was always youthful looking. In the 25 years since high school, I didn’t feel as though I changed very much. But in the last three years, and even more just in the last three months, I’ve started FEELING older. In my head, I always saw my high school self. But turning 40 ignited something in me; I turned on myself. I felt older. I felt fatter. And most recently, I felt grayer.
I looked into the mirror and for the first time, I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me.
It was terrifying, seeing this stranger instead of the girl I’d always seen before. And I still don’t know if that girl is gone,
Or if she’s just become invisible.
Because maybe it’s not the world that doesn’t see me anymore.
Maybe I’m only invisible