Grey Hairs / by Mandy Wintink


Grey Hairs

And a Midlife Crisis

I have always really loved feeling playing with my hair. I have been dyeing, highlighting, straightening, curling, crimping, scrunching, lemon-juicing, peroxiding, beer and avocado conditioning, up-doing, topsy tailing, pony-tailing, side pony-tailing, braiding, french braiding, cutting my own bangs, texturizing, salt-spraying for the beach look etc. forever… and those are just examples off the top of my head, pun appreciated. 

I first dyed my hair in the 8th grade. Like real dye. Not the sun-in-lemon-juice-peroxide highlighting that I did in the summer going into grade 8. That was just my gate-way dye. In grade 8 I decided to attempt to get my hair as black as black can be. I wanted it to look like the blue-black that Veronica’s hair looked like in the Archie comics. I didn’t even like Archie comics. I just loved Veronica’s hair. Nice ’n Easy had one that told me it would do the trick. It didn’t. And I remember it smelled like the same smell that we encountered when we dissected our frogs in science class — formaldehyde I later learned. 

Then I wanted it dark-red-auburn color. Like Natalie from the later episodes of Facts of Life, you know when they were running the store? That lead me into the world of hennas, which I stayed part of for a very long time. At one point I read that the longer you left it on, the redder it would get. So I spent 8 hours with a henna on my hair and under a plastic bag (which also increased the red). That became a common practice… and a frequent weekend chore.

During university I wanted blue hair. Not the Veronica blue, but like chunks of blue. The hair stylist I had seen at a salon told me it wasn’t possible. And she was right, to an extent. My first attempt turned it green and I hated it. But I knew my colors and knew that my yellow-bleached chunks couldn’t go any whiter and yellow and blue always make green. So I improvised and used a purple manic panic dye. That eventually worked. Then I got bored but still had these bleached chunks in my hair. So I did it pink. Then dyed it back blue again. Sometimes this was with black hair in the background and sometimes it was with a warmer, blondie-brown background. I was always playing.

And that’s all just about my hair dyeing experiences. I exerted an equal amount of time, energy, and money experimenting with an obsession for shinny hair. I bought every hair product at Shoppers and at the salon stores that would claim to enhance the shine. Frizz Ease was the best on the market back then and I have had a hard time replicating that. I still have a very old bottle of Friz Ease shampoo and conditioner sitting at my dad's in Winnipeg, that I can’t bare to use up knowing I can never replace it.  

Beer also works well for shine. I discovered that after a night of drinking and went to bed with the beer that got poured over me still in my hair. My hair was stiff the next morning but after a shower it was silky smooth and shiny! So I started doing that routinely. Avocados apparently work for some people, not so for me. And hot oil treatments weren’t bad but nothing I would do today. Serums are helpful but don’t produce the amount of shine that I was really going for. Then in grad school I figured out that stress was a culprit in preventing shiny hair. So I took anti-anxiety meds for my hair…. hahaha. Actually that’s not how it happened but it was a nice side effect. In the end, meditation and yoga help more than the anti-anxiety meds. 

What’s my point? Well, it relates to a midlife crisis and anyone who got a little smile from most of the things that I have nostalgically explained might just be in the same boat as I am. About a year ago now, while I was part-way through realizing that I was in a midlife crisis, I started working with my hair stylist to work my greys into my life and personality. She convinced me to get rid of the dark and highlight my hair with lighter tones. I actually grieved a lot and still do sometimes for my dark hair. Of all the things I have done to my hair, my long dark, straight, shiny hair, has always been my favorite. But there really isn’t any room for my grey hairs in that. My grey hairs aren’t straight, aren’t shiny, and certainly are not dark.

Ageing is clearly a process, one that I never really saw happening until after I turned 40. Part of that might have been because this whole ageing thing got sped up by having a child… a very busy child who still doesn’t really like to sleep through the night. Sleep deprivation is HORRIBLE for ageing. I have wrinkles and grey-hair growth happening exponentially now.  But… this is my life.

This ageing process shows up emotionally for me in many ways. Like when I’m at the gym. Since I have let my greys come in, wearing a ponytail is hard for me, admittedly. And at the gym I feel like I’m in a whole new old category that I don’t really know how to be in. I have also noticed that there are a lot of young women at the gym, which is super amazing for them. But it’s different for me. I have been going to a gym and doing weights and keeping in good physical shape for a long time… much longer than it was really popular for most women to do. Now, things feel different. It’s a thing to go to the gym, even for non-athletes. And like I said, good for them. But for me, I have gone from a place where others (mostly men) would comment on how fit I was and how awesome it was that I was a the gym at 40 weeks pregnant or they would ask me what I was training for and mention how hard I was working or they would express surprise when I kept up with them or even surpasses them… to this greying 40+ woman who has lost any of that kind of sexy-athleticism appeal. 

I have been thinking about this a lot, not just in a “poor me” way but with a bit of a “this is really interesting” way. Because it is interesting. I am a lover of life experiences and totally know this ageing thing is an experience — not one that I wanted but one that is inevitable. So last week I was at the gym, in the fitness studio, doing my own thing of a workout among a few other young peeps, and I was feeling a tad bit insecure. Part of me was like “they just think I’m so old woman here” and then the other part of me was like “they don’t even know I’m here because they are too obsessed with what they look like”. Then, a really amazing thought occurred to me. The thought was that I can actually be a role model at the gym, not just some ageing invisible person. And that’s totally possible because I know how my own brain works. I remember a few years back I was at the gym and there was this older woman (like 60’ish) doing bench press and she was killing it. She was way stronger than I was. And I was thinking “wow she’s incredible!! I want to be like that when I’m her age!”. And in all my time at the gym, she was a rarity. There are very few old, strong women at the gym. They exist, I know. But it was a different time. 

So my own thought about being a role model was very uplifting and actually, I think its also amazing because I don’t have DO anything differently. I just have to keep going to the gym, doing my thing, and being confident and happy that I am there. Because I have earned my right to be there. I have put in my hours. I am stronger than many women my age even though I am no where near my own PB. That’s why there are age categories! And while some of the people at the gym will not see me, they would never have seen me because they are just too obsessed with themselves. And that’s fine. Good for them. Enjoy it while it lasts, I have almost said to some of them. But then there are some young ones there who will see me, either very directly or out of the corner of their eye and they will take note and I am paving the way because that’s my lot in life. I didn’t get the privilege of being a woman with equal opportunities in life or sports or career. I was born too early for that. But by virtue of that, I am creating those opportunities for others. 

Then today, at the gym, I happened to notice the woman beside me while I was doing bar squats, lunges, and deadlifts. She was wearing tights and a sport bra with no shirt. She was in good shape. Skinny, but not heavily muscular. Possibly not an athlete per se. The thought cross my mind “enjoy it while it lasts”. Then I had to go over to her space to grab a weight. She leaned into me to starting talking but spoke softly to force me to lean into her. Then she whispered “I am trying to grow my grey hair in too. Do you find it’s hard?”. I looked at her and her really gorgeous dark hair, with NO grey hairs AT ALL. I realized she was older than I thought. So I paused there and told her how I was doing it, the process that my hair stylist was going through with me. I told her how I used to have dark hair as dark as hers and that I was still grieving a bit because I miss it. But I also told her how amazingly freeing it is to be in the process of embracing my greys and we both talked about how we don’t want to dye our roots. And I told how my mom did this too recently and how amazing my she looks and how happy she is. We shared a few more moments and then the conversation ended naturally. 

I walked away smiling to myself, grateful that I get to be her role model. 

I’m also grateful to the universe, my god, who looks over me. I put out a really great thought last week — or maybe the universe implanted the thought into my brain — that I was going to continue to age gracefully and be that role model. And within no time, I was affirmed. Thank you universe. Thank you for this process and this life experience.