Going, going... grey

BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce has admitted she feels she has to dye her grey hair to keep her job. But going grey is rarely easy for any woman, whether in the public eye or not. Sheena Grant reports.

THERE comes a time in almost every woman’s life when she has to ponder one of the big questions of ageing: to dye or not to dye?

For most women (and all female TV presenters over the age of 40) it’s a dilemma that barely merits thinking about.

In a society that increasingly seems to value youth and looks above all else, why wouldn’t you reach for the first bottle of colourant you can get your hands on when the grey hairs start to sprout? And anyway, hair dyes are something many women use throughout their lives. It’s about the most natural unnatural thing you can do your hair.

Men are largely spared this problem. We seem to prefer a man with steely-grey locks to one whose hair retains an implausible matt-black finish whatever his age: compare, if you will, pictures of Sir Tom Jones before he ditched the hair dye, and after.

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Hair dyes have been around for more than 4,000 years. The Assyrians used henna and other natural substances while Romans tried a fermented mix of leeches and vinegar to create a black tint. These days the UK market for hair colouring products is worth �175 million.

But say, just say, you were thinking about going au naturel. What could you expect?

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One woman who has taken the plunge is public relations consultant Sharon Morrison, 56, who lives at Weeley, in Essex. Here, she gives an insight into the reasons behind her decision to go grey - and the reaction she got from those around her.

“Actually mum,” my children told me, “we prefer your hair the way it used to be.”

No, this wasn’t their response to a perm gone wrong or a ropey cut: this was about me having grey hair.

Like all of my friends, I’ve been dyeing and highlighting for decades. In fact for many of those years, I didn’t know what my true hair colour was, but I knew that one day I’d have to face being grey and was dreading it.

Getting breast cancer and having chemotherapy meant my decision to embrace the grey was sort of forced on me. I lost my hair and when it started to grow again, it was steel grey in places, white in others, I decided not to reach for the hair dye. As much as I wanted to go back to the security of medium golden brown (with caramel highlights), I thought I should take advantage of my situation and turn a potentially-ageing hairstyle into a short, funky look.

As I was getting used to the close crop and the new colour, which I thought looked good on me (despite the double-takes and instinctive kerb-falling reactions from friends and acquaintances), my teenage kids admitted that they preferred my hair colour the way it used to be - and, they added, perhaps I’d think about growing the hair a little longer too.

Were they concerned that their friends might think I looked like a granny? Yes.

Did they think I looked a lot older? Yes to that too.

Then my sister took me to one side and said that someone at the school fete thought I was her mother and my children’s grandmother.

All this could have made me fall off the waggon completely, but I held my nerve until I could get a more objective view. I confided in a friend who, sadly, agreed with the kids. Being grey was just plain ageing. To top it all I saw a picture of Jane Fonda, at 72, looking fabulous, with the style and colour hair I used to have. To say I was depressed would be an understatement.

My confidence knocked, I started studying grey-haired women in their 70s and 80s and wondered if that’s how I looked. I even stopped doing Sudoku in public as if that might mark me out as being older than my years. Then I felt angry that the colour of my hair should become such an issue. Clearly grey was more than just a colour, it was a sort of litmus paper that indicated I was, in some way, ‘past it’. I’ve always been used to people enjoying my company and taking my advice because of what was going on inside my head, not on it.

I run my own PR consultancy, so I know how important image is. I also understand the pressures some women feel to look younger to hang on to their jobs, or even their men, but I now wear my greyness like a badge of pride. I know, despite the views of my nearest and dearest, that I’m making it a little easier for other women to follow my lead. Until they do though, I shall enjoy making an entrance and cutting a dash wherever I go, because, believe it or not, my greyness is making a statement and I’m enjoying it.

Sharon Morrison is the author of “Even the eyebrows?”, a practical family guide to handling cancer and its side effects. Available from Amazon and www.eventheeyebrows.com

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