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Sarah Hampson: I'm fed up with the age-defiance game, so my 'granny' hair is staying

"It's going to be a journey," my hairdresser said, pawing through my head of hair like it was a purse with something she had lost at the bottom.

Hairdressers know everything, of course, and mine is no exception. She knows about my three grown children. About my difficult first marriage; my happy second one. She knows about holiday plans. And she knew I was beginning to think about my visit to the salon in the same way I think about my eavestroughs.

It was a maintenance job. The kind you wish you didn't have to do. The kind you resent. But which you're told you must complete.

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"It's time," she pronounced with the solemnity of an obstetrician who knows when the inevitable is about to happen. It was time to figure out how to embrace the grey.

I figured I could be on-trend: So-called "granny hair" is in. Models parade down runways with it. Instagram is filled with grey-haired selfies. Celebrities are going silver. Lady Gaga, Kelly Osborne, Nicole Ritchie have all experimented with dyeing their hair silver.

Well, that's what I thought. I was soon to realize that the granny hair trend is only cool if you're 20 with silver hair. The word "granny" is said with confident, kick-ass irony. What granny do you know who can wear a bikini and stilettos into the wee hours? When you're in your fifties and you decide to show your grey, people can make you can feel as though you've stepped out of the house in your underwear.

I had been colouring my grey hair for almost 20 years. At first, of course, it wasn't that often. The few strands of grey in my dark hair were like uninvited guests at a party. They simply showed up, unannounced. And while I was always surprised and a little bit dismayed, few people noticed them, and I could easily put them out of my mind every couple of months with a visit to a colourist.

In the past five years, however, the few had become the many as the greys became their own little party, especially in the front, where a huge population of them had decided it was the best location to make a proper assault. I had become enslaved to the business of covering them up as though they were a hoard of embarrassing relatives, insistent in their bad manners, disrespect and gauche style.

"You're supposed to enjoy coming to the salon," my hair therapist told me from behind the chair, her hand on my shoulder. "And you're not." I nodded meekly at her reflection in the mirror.

So, I decided to give in.

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We had an integration plan. We wouldn't go cold turkey. Still, there would be a period of transition. The goal was to get to a point where I could lengthen the visits to every two or three months for low lights and high lights as I let the grey have its way – hopefully, with grace.

That all felt okay.

And then I went to Holt Renfrew and had a mini-meltdown in a dressing room.

I had an important event to attend. But I couldn't find anything that looked good. To be fair, I had a little avoir du poids – a French expression for having gained a few pounds, which makes it sound far more glamorous and fun than it feels – but I wasn't about to go the flowy, muumuu route of dressing. Nor did I want to feel like a sausage in a tight casing. Nothing seemed to be working.

Then the sales associate, who was trying to be helpful (I think), sat me down. "I'm going to tell you something," she said, fixing me with motherly concern. "And I want you to take my advice. Go fix your hair," she said. "Cover the grey. That's what you should spend your money on."

She asked how old I was. She then told me I was squandering the youthful years I had left. "You're making yourself look old before you need to," she offered.

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I had to recover with a skinny latte in a nearby café. My confidence was blown. My hairdresser later told me that many of her clients, who begin to make the transition to grey, turn back once they allow the white to be really obvious. "I can cover it right now, if you want," she said sweetly to me when I went to her with my meltdown story.

It was like I was daring to go on a tightrope walk between skyscrapers.

And I guess, in a way, I am testing my own resolve to own up to my age and not try to be the new 30.

We like the idea of aging gracefully, but few are willing to do it. And I like my age. When I look at my white hair, I feel a new respect for the body that has carried me this far, creating beautiful babies, taking me to wonderful parts of the world, grounding me in the moment, feeling hurt and pain and love and joy.

Some have said that the granny hair trend has a streak of defiant feminism about it. It does not. Grey hair on the young is not defiance. It's not acceptance of aging. If anything, it is a mockery of aging, because it is not real. It's fake grey. And getting old is a very, very real experience, felt in the bones.

My decision to integrate my white swath and other greys has nothing to do with feminism. Women should do whatever they want to make themselves feel good. And if that means colouring their hair or having Botox, fine.

I am just fed up with the age-defiance game in the same way that I get tired of being around toxic people. Simply put, I'm getting too old for the irritation. Too old for the pretense.

Women of a certain age like to say how wonderful it is to discover that they don't care what others think any more. And that's true. We can spend our lives worrying about how others perceive us as mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, career women, etc. etc. And you reach an age, post 40, where you finally have more confidence in who you are and what you have accomplished.

We believe we're becoming authentic but that's the very point when we're encouraged to cover up what is really happening with our bodies. I did it, too. And now I'm not. I'm starting to look at grey-haired style icons – Linda Rodin, Maye Musk, Diane Keaton – women who are not pretending with dyed-grey hair but rather rocking it with a frank glamour I admire. And the avoir du poids? An unfortunate consequence of my new sitting sport this summer – learning bridge, aided by little tea sandwiches. It slips off easily in the pool. But the white will stay.

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About the Author
Life columnist

Sarah Hampson is an award-winning journalist whose work started appearing in The Globe and Mail in 1998, when she was invited to write a column. Since 1993, when she began her career in journalism, she had been writing for all of Canada's major magazines, including Toronto Life, Saturday Night (now defunct), Chatelaine, Report on Business and Canadian Art, among others. More

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