Going Gray: What I Learned About…


Going Gray: What I Learned About Beauty,Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity and Everything Else That Really Matters, by Anne Kreamer. Originally published in 2007. 224 pages.

This is another one of those books which caught my eye as I was perusing the library shelves. I almost left it there because it would probably be best to finish the stack of books in the queue before adding another one to it. However, since the topic is one that interests me for a number of reasons, I picked it up. I’m glad I checked it out. Despite the fact that it started to go off point at about the half way mark, the first half was worth the time I spent reading it.

Kreamer started out with an excellent premise after being taken aback a bit by a photo of her 49-year-old self with her dyed brown hair. She wondered about the authenticity of the choice she’d made many years earlier to start dyeing her hair, since she began to gray a little earlier than usual. This epiphany of sorts led her not only to begin the process of letting her gray hair grow in uncolored, but also on an exploration of the how’s, why’s, and wherefore’s of a culture where 2/3 of women over aged 40 dye our hair.

I color my hair as well, but just as my greater journey towards health led me to stop chemically straightening my hair, I have recently begun to wonder if I should stop coloring it also. I haven’t gotten off the bottle yet, but the urge to do so is getting stronger and stronger the healthier and stronger my body becomes.

The best parts of this book are to be found in the first 100 pages. Kreamer starts with the day she embarked on her journey, and then transitions into the history of events which have gotten us to where we are today. She explores the beginnings of the cosmetic and chemical “advances” that put hair coloring within the reach of average women:

Three or four decades after the baby boomers’ countercultural transformation of the culture, we have held on to the hedonistic forever young part of our Woodstock dreams much more tenaciously than the -open-and-honest-and-authentic part. p. 38

She continues:

Our present era of mainstreamed artificial hair color began in the 1950s and 60s. But the tipping point came, I believe, during the 1980s–when the oldest baby boomers entered middle age and the grand illusion of permanent physical youthfulness really became widespread and almost obligatory. I don’t think it’s coincidence that Ronald Reagan, a man with *impossibly black hair in his seventies (as well as glowing, ruddy skin) blithely and belovedly presided over the country during that decade. p.39

She touches on the technological advances in mass media that give average women hope that they can look youthful until the day they breather their last. She uses her Hollywood insider contacts to get the take of those whose livelihoods depend on appearances. She interviews many friends, acquaintances, and relatives of all ages to get a read on the thoughts, fears, and motivations which compel them to color (or in a few cases NOT color) their hair. The passionate engagement she documents-on both sides of the issue- serve to reveal the emotion bubbling beneath the surface on the topic of our hair, aging, and what our hair represents as we age.

Most of the women I talked to for this book admitted that their number one anxiety about letting their hair go gray was not a fear about how quickly they were closing in on their actuarial death dates–rather, it was that they’d instantly be seen as sexless, grandmotherly old ladies.

There’s an entire litany of responses I could offer up to that quote, but this is a book review. It was this part of the book where Kreamer goes off on a weird tangent which I found unnecessary for a woman happily married for more than two decades, whose children are all grown up. I appreciate that there are many women who approach their 40s in relationship situations far less idyllic than myself or Mrs. Kreamer, but her foray into the bar scene and onto Match.com left me cold. I didn’t see the point and because of it I found those parts of the book less satisfying as it moved forward.

Near the end of the book, Kreamer delves more into the practical realities for those women ready to take the plunge and dump the dye. She talks about appropriate clothing, colors, and the wardrobe overhaul necessary so that she didn’t in fact, look like a grandmother. The end of the book, like the beginning, was far better than the middle. She also delves a it into  how gray hair is viewed in the professional realm.

Overall, because of the subject matter and historical context, I enjoyed the book. It isn’t a grand slam, but it was enjoyable enough, and written in a conversational tone which enabled me to read it in two days. I am not a fast reader, so that’s saying something.

On a personal note, it was a good and revelatory experience for me to embrace the truth that the coloring of my hair is an exercise in sleight of hand. Because I have the ethnic advantage of wrinkling late while spending the majority of my time during the week with people of different ethnicities, there is a certain boost that comes with hearing, “You don’t look that old!” Letting the gray come in might certainly interfere with that vain enjoyment. I’ve gotten into the habit of enjoying photographs which remind me that we are simply not the 40-something women of our grandmother’s generation, for better or for worse:


That’s my personal take on my journey to embracing the skin I am in. As for the book, I give it a grade of C.

Content advisory: Frank talk about sexuality, including two or three bits of profanity from interviews Kreamer conducted.

*My 92-year-old grandmother is only about 50% gray so it’s not necessarily true that everyone of a certain age has a completely white head. Graying is genetic.


27 thoughts on “Going Gray: What I Learned About…

  1. hearthie says:

    I’ve never been bothered about aging in general (the specifics annoy me), because my mom always owned her age – and her salt & pepper colored hair. Mom was dynamic and intense at my age (43) and really didn’t slow down until her 60s.

    But we no longer embrace the sophistication, the wisdom, the skill, the self-knowledge of the older woman, our society’s primary value is our SMV. That’s plainly ridiculous, I’ve not been on the market for more than two decades and neither have you.

    But our society is broken, and we know that.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Booky McBookerson says:

    But will she give up makeup? LOL 😉

    My 80 year-old father has gray and black hair, so yeah, not everyone goes completely gray.

    For a non-chemical alternative there’s always henna. I say do whatever is most fun or freeing! If that means a 50 year-old woman wants green hair, who cares? Not me!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Elspeth says:

    What you said about specifics reminded me of something my GMIL said to my oldest daughter last month when we were up visiting her.

    “Getting old isn’t bad, but it sure is inconvenient!”

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Booky McBookerson says:

    I mean the book author. It’s just kind of funny talking about creating an illusion with her hair while, judging by her bio pic on amazon, she’s good with creating an illusion with makeup. Not a dis (because I genuinely don’t care what others do), just an amusing observation I can’t help making!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Elspeth says:

    I knew you meant the book author.

    I was just thinking about how some girls start wearing makeup as early as 13 years old. Since I presume they are not attempting to look younger, nor older really. Trying to look sexy maybe?

    In any event, while makeup certainly can be used to create an illusion, I can see where it isn’t assumed to be promoting a lie of sorts, in the same way that coloring your hair to appear younger might.

    Nevertheless, if the goal is greater authenticity, then you’re right. She’d have to go all the way with it to be truly authentic and ditch the makeup as well.

    For me, it’s about making decisions regarding to what degree I want to put certain things in or on my body and for what reasons.

    I look good enough with red tinted lips (and the man likes it enough) that I don’t see that going away until I am just obviously too old to pull it off. Foundations have gotten more expensive, from better companies, and worn less. It felt weird when I first started going out to shop bare-faced, but I do it sometimes. A lot of times actually. I decided I’ll take my chances and keep wearing deodorant too, LOL.

    Truth is, if I wasn’t convinced I could look good with gray hair, I probably wouldn’t be considering it. The book author is attractive also. The years have been good to her. I wonder if the book would have been born if that were not the case.


  6. Booky McBookerson says:

    Some days I’ll put on makeup for no other reason than it makes me feel better, though mostly I don’t bother much.

    I don’t get all overly concerned with whether this or that is or isn’t vain. That goes down a rabbit hole similar to the modesty debates, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Robyn says:

    Cosmetology is in my blood! I’ve got 500 hours in at hair school (many years ago). My sister is a hairdresser, and I grew up in a home that had a hair salon business it, my mom was a hairdresser. I will NEVER stop colouring and playing with my hair LOL. As I age I might purchase some fun wigs along with some hats, but only for ease of time management. When I get to the age that the time between breakfast and lunch is spent getting ready to go out to do a little shopping, and it’s afternoon nap time before I’ve even made it out the door …. yeah, it will be time for a wig.

    I love the idea of a green or a blue wig. For me, hair is an accessory that is alive 😉

    With the make-up and aging. I’ve found that I actually look younger with much less make-up. I do have wrinkles and such, but the make-up gets into those lines and accentuates them. So if I try and look younger I end up looking older, so why bother, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Elspeth says:

    If you like the hair color Robyn, you should totally go for it! I do think the questions the book raises are worth consideration, such as the why’s behind what we do.

    One of the things I am learning about dealing with my natural textured hair is that there is always opportunity to play with it and change it up even without coloring it.

    And like I said, I expect I can look fabulous with my gray hair so long as I continue to take proper care of my health and fitness. For me this isn’t about authenticity, as much as it is about health and purity.

    With makeup, I am finding that a little goes a long way. I wear far less now than I did 10 years ago. Like you, I think I look older with too much of it. Even though I don’t have any lines yet (yeah I check, LOL), there’s something about the eyes and the tone of the skin which gives away that you’re 40-ish or at least approaching it.

    But since I get *dressed* most days of the week (as in skirt, nice top, wedges, etc), I feel more put together if I polish it off with a little bit of makeup.

    What Booky says is good: to each her own. If nothing else, it’s good to consider why we do what we do. So many women I think aren’t even aware that they are buying nto the culture’s insistence that everyone try to look as close to their 26-year-old self as possible, and how fruitless not to mention expensive that is.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Elspeth says:

    In the interest of authenticity, 😉

    Most days I am in workout wear until at least lunchtime. 6AM till Noon are the hours which I do the most house work, homeschool, etc. Not to mention morning workouts.

    After lunch is when I get dressed for real because that’s usually when I am going to be out and about. Even our co-op is from 12:30-4 PM.

    So if I give the impression of June Cleaver, um…NO. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Robyn says:

    You are completely right, we do need to check our motives, (gee, i hope I didn’t sound contentious to your opinion) I wasn’t really agreeing or disagreeing; just sharing my opinion. I also, get fully dressed “almost” every day: shaved/waxed, make-up, hair, jewelry, nails painted. Rarely does Darrell come home from work and find me on the couch in my PJs LOL. (it has happened though).

    Like today. I just texted him and said, “I totally fractured my time management this afternoon plus I needed an extra heating session on my back. I hope you are ok with Grilled Cheese and Soup with your chocolate milk?” (as an aside, we don’t ever buy it, it was on special so I picked it up for him as a treat surprise) His response: “You’re good; you’ve got some serious points banked on the supper circuit!”

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Elspeth says:

    Another issue that this author raised was the fact that even though she isn’t older than her husband, he isn’t graying (or at least wasn’t when she wrote the book). She hated the idea of looking older than him.

    This is a thing I thought about also, because my husband actually is two years younger than me. He’s 43, but he is graying faster. Beautiful white goatee, gray around the edges of his hairline, etc. If that were not the case, I am fairly certain I wouldn’t even be considering letting my gray show at any point before age 50.

    I kind of sympathize with that perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Booky McBookerson says:

    That is a good point. My husband is 9 years older than me so no matter what I do, I look younger in comparison. I’m sure if that wasn’t the case, I’d be more concerned about it!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Elspeth says:

    Yeah. Can’t be doing that Barbara Bush thing. Husband wouldn’t go for it anyway. He encourages me in my vanity, LOL. When people say I look good it makes him look good.

    Just kidding. Sort of.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Elspeth says:

    There’s an usher at our church (beautiful lady) who wears a ponytail like this one, and it is HER hair.

    Isn’t it funny how easily we are convinced that we look better at 40+ if we work to look as close as possible to what we looked like in our *prime*?

    Forever Young is just a song. If you’re fortunate to have a man with 3-inch thick wife goggles you get to play pretend with that a little (and I don’t take it for granted!) but “out there” you might as well own where you are and be the best you can be within that context.


  15. Elspeth says:

    I almost made this a rabbit trail post but decided that I would just go on a rabbit trail from right here in the combox. Saw this post over at Scott’s place:


    There a few thoughts there that are tangential to what we started discussing here.

    The notion that the only acceptable reason for a married woman to want to be attractive is for her husband. If that is true, then I fail that test. I have truly gotten beyond wanting other men to find me attractive. In fact to the extent that it was ever an issue it only became an issue as a result of spending too much time ingesting the wrong types of media and information, particularly while online. Until that point, the fact that my very attractive husband finds me beautiful was very validating to me. I have come full circle back to that point.

    Nevertheless, I desire to be the most attractive me I can be for reasons other than my husband’s enjoyment, although that is my primary reasoning for wanting to look good.

    A close second is that I want to want to look good next to him, which requires upping my game a bit. When women tell you point blank that your husband is handsome, you believe it and act accordingly. Again, maybe it’s shallow and typically female and anti-Christian but I’m just being honest.

    Third is that I have a real thing about being a stereotypical big black woman, *shudder*. I want to like what I see when I look in the mirror for my own encouragement. I want clothes shopping to be fun. I hated it when for three years after the births of both our youngest kids I had to shop plus sized, *shudder* again. And yeah, I want to look good for my age because black women have a bit of an edge when it comes to being able to do that and I want to take advantage of that edge.

    Do these reasons make me less of a good Christian woman than I should be? Do they reveal a high level of superficiality in my thinking? Are they sinful?

    Also, about the nature of beauty in general. There are without question, objective standards of beauty. I would never argue that. I did okay in the genetic lottery (I’m trying to get out of the habit of denying that). I certainly didn’t win the grand prize, but I didn’t pull a ticket with no winning numbers, either. This isn’t really about insecurity on my part, but I have to ask:

    What do we as Christians reveal about ourselves when we call whom God has made “not good enough”? Mind you, I am not referring to the results of unhealthy, self-destructive human behavior. I mean the girl who inherited her father’s bulbous nose and her mother’s close set eyes, for example?

    We have always judged others based on appearance, as Hearthie noted here:


    But as she noted here, there is something to be said for improving upon what you can improve upon without having to fear being vain:


    I meant to keep it short and sweet and work my way up to a question (heck this is as long as a post NOW):

    Is it necessarily wrong and vain for a married woman to say she desires to be beautiful for reasons other than wanting to look pretty for her husband?


  16. Major Styles says:

    Interesting book. My mother just let her hair go gray (at 78) and it was a major decision for her. As the author mentions, it is the connection between grayness and sexuality that is a hard thing for older women to accept. I keep telling her she looks great to do my part. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Mrs. H says:

    “Is it necessarily wrong and vain for a married woman to say she desires to be beautiful for reasons other than wanting to look pretty for her husband?”

    I would say it depends on what those reasons are and it all lies in the middle ground. We don’t want to present ourselves as slovenly to the world as some kind of statement about how the body and the material world pass away and only the spiritual matters. We also don’t want to dress in a way that is so counter cultural for the sake of modesty that we draw undue attention to ourselves within the society we live. (the Amish) On the other end of the spectrum, we don’t want to be so obsessed with looks that we spend inordinate amounts of time and money to look good for the sake of impressing others or giving a false front to our actual age or station in life. Time and money that would be better spent attending to our duties and the needs of our families.

    Other than married women looking good for their husbands and even single men and women presenting their best so as to attract a mate, we have to consider that our appearance should reflect something of the fact that we are the Imagio Dei. It’s not vain or wrong to want our dress, hair, physique, and makeup (for women) to reflect that dignity. So beyond being attractive to the opposite sex or our spouse, there is a certain duty to God to modestly reflect the dignity in which we were made when we present ourselves to others. We can do this by enhancing our best features in a modest way and downplaying our not so great features at any given stage of life.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Elspeth says:

    I appreciate and agree with your thoughts, Mrs. H. I figured I would just be as candid as possible with my own reasons. Modesty and age appropriateness are squarely within the scope of my efforts.


  19. Elspeth says:

    The time and money also important considerations. Excess money is not available for me to spend on such things. I do put an hour a day 6 days a week into fitness. I think that”s a sound investment that my family appreciates.

    At 5:30 AM, it doesn’t much interfere with family life.


  20. Mrs. H says:

    “Excess money is not available for me to spend on such things. I do put an hour a day 6 days a week into fitness. I think that”s a sound investment that my family appreciates.”

    I’m in the same boat here. No excess money available to even be extravagant in pursuing beauty. However, some daytime/night time moisturizer and a few cosmetics/hair products bought at Wal-Mart are well within both the budget and modesty needed to keep my looks within being an act of charity to my family and others. Wouldn’t want to scare anyone unnecessarily. LOL

    And yes to the time invested in fitness. It doesn’t have to cost anything and the benefits outweigh the time put in. Savings on health related costs, better sleep and more energy to get things done throughout the day.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Elspeth says:

    You sparked another thought. We don’t have a lot of excess cash, but my husband actually feels pretty strongly about being willing to spend on certain things related to personal care and upkeep.

    For example I actually buy makeup that costs a little more than drug store brands. I only buy it every 6 months or so, so…

    But this past week I figured I would go drug store. Holidays are coming, fall school stuff we paid for, etc. My husband vetoed that and sent me to Ulta to get the one that is better on my skin. Which brings me to a point.

    It is often automatically assumed that when a wife spends any money on clothes, shoes, hair care, or makeup it is because she is a shopaholic or vain, etc. Sometimes it is actually an act of submission on her part. I would much rather be cheap and crunchy, or at least I used to be that way. I found peace when I got on board with husband’s wishes from the inside and not just in action.

    And then other people can spend money on those kinds of things and still save, be charitable, and take care of responsibilities.

    It’s really an area where so long as one is not overtly doing the wrong thing (blatantly immodest, etc) it’s hard to make judgments on it where others are concerned. So I try not to.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Elspeth says:

    One of the first things I did when I decided that I was going to stop chemically straightening my hair was research any and everything I could about getting maximum growth because at some point, the straight stuff is going to have to be cut off.

    Got tips from any and every where but the most helpful stuff was from the other natural hair black girls on Pinterest and Instagram who had gotten real results. Eat well. Check, but I wasn’t seeing any huge difference the first quarter. Drink more water. Check, but I was already doing that. Then I ran across hair vitamins, these extremely costly supplements that I simply was NOT going to pay for. But I figured I could find out what was in the ones that many of the gals swore by.

    I concluded that if I added biotin and B12 to my daily life, along with liquid iron (which I need anyway because I’m anemic) it would be good enough. Now usually I color my hair every 3 months or so and by the time I get around to coloring it, the gray is *just* starting to peek through. I last colored in late August.

    Last week (6 weeks?), my husband said, “man, your hair is growing back in fast! You just colored it.” I hadn’t noticed it but he studies me far more closely than I do myself, and that’s saying something. I told y’all I look for lines, LOL.

    This morning I noticed that the hair really is growing in quite fast. Good news is, it seems as if something I am doing is working. I suspect it’s the vitamins. The *bad* news is that I have to decide if I’m ready to get off the bottle. I told myself I wasn’t gonna do that until I lost every single pound and every inch of weight I need to lose, and I’m still 17 pounds and several inches shy of that. I have a vision I’m working with. I already told you all I wrestle with vanity. Just pray for me if it bothers you.

    Si I have to decide if I’m going to color or not. I only have a little gray around the edges, but…le sigh. I’ll figure it out. Or husband will state his preference and that will spare me the trouble.


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