At the start of COVID-19, I talked a big game about smashing the patriarchy. But in this fifth wave of feminism, there would be no marches or burning of bras, no smashing of glass ceilings. There would simply be a collective refusal to buy boxed hair dye.
With salons everywhere shuttered and months of unchecked hairline regrowth looming large for us all, the moment had come to reject society’s relentless expectation that women adhere to a phony conception of youth and betray no signs of aging outwardly.
But that was then, this is now.
Things were going great guns right up until I visited my neighbourhood Shoppers Drug Mart. I was paying for my essentials (hand sanitizer, a box of 50 gloves, and wine gums), when the cashier asked if I qualified for the seniors discount. “Pardon?” She must have been talking to the woman social-distance standing six feet behind me.
“Do you want the seniors discount?” she repeated looking at me. I wanted to scream that I’m not even 55, let alone 50. Instead, I laughed nervously, fumbled for my wallet, then grabbed my bag and bolted.
Lord knows there are a million things more important than musing about grey hair—and one can’t help but feel distinctly shallow and vacuous even talking about it right now. But the issue it taps into is neither shallow nor vacuous. It goes to the heart of true feminism, or equality between the sexes, and rejects the convention that men get to somehow look distinguished with grey hair, while women look just plain old (with a side of tired for good measure).
My philosophical stance had held strong through every Zoom call with girlfriends who lamented the same thing. I even felt liberated as I embraced my soon-to-be-natural look.
We were divided into two camps: those who covertly asked their stylists to meet in a back alley, and those who relished the idea of saving literally thousands of dollars over a lifetime. My husband was firmly on my side, an enlightened thinker—although this may have more to do with his pecuniary nature. But all of us talking openly about it felt like the first step toward addressing the thorny subject of why women colour their hair anyway.
But then weeks turned into months and the longer my greys started to get, the more I wished them away. What happened to that steely resolve of just two months earlier? I’m 30 per cent grey, but I might as well be 100 per cent because that’s all I could see.
It wasn’t vanity, I was sure (my husband agreed, while pointing to my uniform of comfy sweats and Costco slippers); I’ve effectively stopped wearing makeup even when I go out, which truly is liberating. No, I think I may have figured it out: it taps into a keen sense of my mortality.
Each morning I looked in the mirror, I was vividly reminded that I am ever so surely headed for the back nine of life. Maybe it was COVID-19 that had already pushed this existential fear to the forefront, but it didn’t help that my grey hair was a daily reminder that my teen girls are growing up, that my parents might die, that life is too short and so very precious. If I could cover those greys for a while longer, could I freeze frame the nights we all eat together as a family now? Preserve those Zoom calls with my faraway parents?
So I capitulated. I texted Ashley at Attic Studio and promptly booked myself in shortly after it reopened.
As I sat in her chair, I couldn’t help but notice the new landscape. We both wore masks, and the salon was practically empty. There would be no blow-dry today, either. But with Dr. Bonnie Henry’s voice on an ASMR loop in my head—her calm voice of reason reassuring me that salons using proper precautions are safe to patronize—I felt no anxiety.
Instead, Ashley and I picked up our easy banter from the last visit all those months ago. She told me that so many women in this first week of reopening have been agonizing over the same dilemma: to dye or not to dye. Some revelled at being back in her seat, she said, while others struggled with their choice. Still others seem to have simply kicked the habit entirely.
She applied the dye then got to work on my hand and arm massage while my colour set. This is part of the reason why I always come back, to be honest. Ashley’s deft touch extends not only to my head, but to my hands, too. This time, she wore gloves and I felt more than soothed.
I bowed my head to enjoy the moment, if only for just a few minutes. God forbid there’s a second wave of COVID, but if there is, maybe I’ll get a second shot at liberation then.
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