The Big Issue : Edition 450
THEBIGISSUE24JAN--6FEB2014 11 MY WORD WHEN MILETA RIEN'S HAIR STARTED CHANGING, SHE HAD TO MAKE A DECISION... Grey Area DYE IT WAS THE wedding that undid me. Up until that point, I had been pretty firm in my resolve not to dye my gradually greying hair. I was determined to age gracefully, authentically, like Judi Dench or Helen Mirren. But, amid all the self-imposed pressure to look my very best on the Big Day, I caved. And when the colourist washed all that toxic, scalp- tingling gunk down the drain and I saw myself restored to dark-lady glory (with red highlights), my first thought was, I look like me again! I hadn't realised how much those ashy strands were depressing me, making me feel tired and washed-out when I looked in the mirror. It was a slippery slope from then on. So when those first silver needles started poking through my scalp, I had a decision to make: re-dye or not? If I'd kept my hair short at that point, I probably would have let it go. But because I'd started growing it longer, the regrowth manifested as an awful, super-noticeable ring around my parting. I tried holding out, but couldn't stand it. So, back to the bottle. This decision came with an extra topping of guilt: I could not stand the wait involved in scouting around for cruelty-free hair dye and instead bought bunny-torturing major brand from the local discount chemist. Now, I'm a vegetarian and care deeply about animal rights, so this act was totally out of character. I made myself sick. I mean that quite literally; I felt nauseous for days after. It must have been the chemicals. The woman in the mirror had guilty eyes, even if her hair looked really great. Next time I planned ahead and searched for a cruelty- free hair dye. This stuff completely covered the grey, didn't sting my scalp, didn't make me sick. I liked it so much I ordered another box immediately, so I'd already have it in the house for next time. But the 'next time' had begun to weigh on me. I found myself scanning my scalp every morning to check if the roots were showing through. And noticing my exact shade of henna on ladies of A Certain Age (I started calling it 'menopause red') or, worse, old ladies with patches of pure white pushing up through the jet-black rinse of their last salon trip. There has to be a more attractive, more dignified way, I thought to myself. I thought this again the next time I spent a resentful hour in front of the bathroom mirror, combing henna gunk through my hair, and yet another hour washing it out, cleaning up the bathroom and chucking away all the packaging. Screw this, I thought. Next time I get a haircut I’m going to have it chopped short again and start over natural. And I did. I was careful not to mention the reason to my hairdresser. I knew she'd only start going on about foils or something. I know there are ways of making hair dye look more 'natural', but I'm not interested because: (a) I can't afford it, and (b) the process is still time- consuming and boring. There's something demeaning about spending so much time and money covering up the evidence of ageing, as if we've committed some terrible crime. Especially when blokes like George Clooney don't have to go through all this nonsense, but get called 'silver foxes'. No one accuses old George of letting himself go, do they? The other day I looked in the mirror and noticed the first silver strands appearing again at my temples. I felt genuinely excited. I felt like me again. Fiction writer and freelance journalist Mileta Rien studied at RMIT and has been published in numerous anthologies. She blogs at miletarien.wordpress.com.