Like many women, Barbara Scully succumbed to her natural hair colour in lockdown. Friends said it was ageing, but she’s found it empowering. And now, she says, it’s here to stay
They say you should be careful what you wish for. About a year ago, when I realised that I was having my colour done once a month, I wondered out loud, just how grey I really was. Well now I know the answer. Very.
My last visit to my hairdresser was at the end of February and so by the time we got to early April, my grey roots were well established. And I panicked. Not so much that I was tempted to use a box colour mind you, because I remember what happened the last time I did that, to dye my hair purple. It was fine for about a week. But then my head slowly turned pink on top, purple in the middle and orange at the ends. I slunk back into my very patient and kind hairdresser, who explained that it would take months to undo the damage.
And they did warn us at the beginning of lockdown. ‘Don’t be tempted to use a box colour’ they said, ‘use sprays until we reopen.’ Easier said than done though, because when I went looking for a root spray, in early April, they were as rare in the supermarket as flour. It seems that Mná na hÉireann were baking up a storm and spraying their grey roots through the initial phase of lockdown.
Those root sprays are okay for occasional use but they make your hair feel sticky and kind of dirty so I only used my precious spray for going out. Then we stopped going out and I replaced the spray with what I thought was an ingenious solution – wide hairbands. I ordered these bands, beloved of yoga aficionados I believe, online and got four in various bright colours. I thought I had found my way through the hair crisis but because my old mane is a bit thin and limp, the bloody bands slowly worked their way to the back of my head as they unwound, so that I ended up looking like some kind of mad nun with a hot pink, truncated veil.
So, I abandoned my yoga bands and decided to hell with it. I was by then wearing no makeup, living in leggings and T-shirts, so why the hell I was fussing about my hair?
Although I have to admit that initially, every time I caught sight of myself in a mirror, my heart sank. It wasn’t a great look.
However, by the end of April something had changed. Either I was getting used to looking at the grey or some kind of critical mass had been reached, so that in dim light it may have looked like I had a grey streak in my hair. Instead of looking unkempt, I might have looked slightly, well, less like I just didn’t care. My girls weren’t convinced. They looked at me with a kind of soft pity. Poor old ma with her grey hair now on view for all the world to see.
By May I was enjoying the freedom of not worrying about my hair and not joining in the national preoccupation about when the hairdressers would open again. I realised that I really, genuinely wasn’t bothered. The birds were singing, the sun was shining, the lilac was out and all was well with the world.
I wondered if other women were experiencing the same liberation, not just from hair dye but also from makeup, that I was. So, I asked on social media, as you do. The replies were mixed. Some women missed the hours in the hair salon which they valued it as ‘me time’. Some missed wearing makeup and getting dressed for work. Some wished they had the confidence to accept their bare faces and grey hair, saying that confidence is the best makeup of all. But there were others who had made peace with their new natural look and like me, found the freedom of no longer even thinking about it, quite seductive.
A couple of years ago my hairdresser suggested that I might consider lightening my hair in order to get longer out of a colour. I am, or was, naturally dark brown. I agreed it made sense and so over the course of a few months I got lighter until I was one step away from being almost blonde. I hated it. I didn’t know who I was. But this version of me with my now natural grey hair, I recognise. I feel like I have experienced some kind of metamorphosis during lockdown which has revealed the real me. And I quite like her.
Friends’ reactions to my new self also varied. There were a few who said they liked it, another few who said nothing (make of that what you will) and one (or maybe two) who told me it was very ageing and to get myself to the hair salon as soon as they reopened.
For years I have tried to teach my daughters that they are way more than how they look. I hate that girls begin, relatively early, to see themselves as the sum of their parts and criticise bits they dislike. This insecurity remains with us through life and fuels a huge beauty business. Anti-ageing is a big part of that business and is one of the most pointless ‘fights’ you will ever engage in.
I am 58. I refuse to be defined by my age but equally I refuse to deny it. I am no longer brunette. I am silver haired. Yes silver, not grey. Silver is the colour of the moon and the ebb and flow of the tides. Colour psychology says it is soothing, calming and purifying and signals a time of reflection and change as it illuminates the way forward. I love that. And if this whole coronavirus lockdown has given us anything, it has been the time and space for just that. For change and reflection.
Even my girls have come around to liking this more authentic me too. Although one of them remarked, “you have a tan now Ma, you mightn’t look so great in the deep winter when you end up looking like a dead aul wan.” She has a point. But with a good cut and a few highlights I might revive.
Gloria Steinem famously said “women grow more radical with age, someday an army of grey-haired women may take over the earth.” I feel more radical. And having lost two stone due to a diabetes diagnosis last year, I feel younger than I have in years. I am ready, sisters. Oh yes, I am ready.