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21 August 2017Last updated
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Real Women

My journey to grey

Alison Young, 51, received sceptical looks when she declared she was going grey to make herself look younger and more attractive. But she stuck to her guns and soon found herself a member of the silver sisterhood, with
a Facebook support group – and, most importantly, renewed self-confidence

Louisa Wilkins
5 Apr 2016 | 03:58 pm
  • Alison Young.

    Source:Stefan Lindeque/ANM Image 1 of 2
  • Alison Young.

    Source:Stefan Lindeque/ANM Image 2 of 2

When I announced to friends that I was ditching the hair dye after 27 years, I was told that I was “brave”. Let’s save that word for those who deserve it. I prefer to use patience; self-acceptance and discovery when discussing my transition to grey. Several factors contributed to me going natural. I was fighting a continuous battle to hide my silver roots; as soon as I left the salon, I had to schedule my next appointment. The chemicals left my scalp inflamed and irritated and I begrudged the time and expense.

Then there was that photograph: the one of me at a party with a brunette and a blonde. My hair was witchy black, harsh and ageing. I pictured myself in 20 years time with a black ball of frizz against a pale and wrinkled skin, and I knew the time had come to grow old gracefully. Besides, it was fashionable now. The glossy magazines had pictures of Cara Delevingne and Rihanna with flowing silver manes. Even Tom Ford put grey-haired models on the runway. They called it Granny Hair.

But there was a difference between their super-coiffed locks and my 1/8-inch roots. These girls were part of the instant-gratification club: one afternoon in a celebrity stylist’s chair and they were done. My grey was going to take at least a year. And, what lurked beneath the 27 years of fake colour – would I be platinum, slate, charcoal or salt and pepper?

In preparation, I stocked up on paraphernalia to help me through the tough times; like a smoker relinquishing a 60-a-day habit, or a sugar addict on a diet. I bought designer scarves, root touch up products, hairclips, hair bands and pins, all to conceal my secret.

I was excited to start. I watched YouTube channels for inspiration and was in awe of the beautiful women with their distinguished greys. I started a Pinterest board and imagined that one day I might be an inspiration to others. There are not many grey-haired women in Dubai; perhaps I could even start a trend?

Soon, however, the initial enthusiasm passed and reality kicked in. Here I was with one inch of untouched roots in stark contrast to a black-boot-polish backdrop. Friends no longer made eye contact as they were drawn upwards to the silver, flashing like a neon sign. They say that hair grows on average half an inch per month. That meant it was going to take 12 months to reach the top of my ears – how depressing. But I had read that it gets easier as time passes so I kept focused on the prize.

Then, in month four, there was a turning point.
I discovered a new confidence as I became bored with the scarves and the touch-up powder. I had an evening planned at Cavalli Club, one of Dubai’s most glamorous nightclubs. I laid out my clothes for the evening: a short black dress and five-inch heels… but what would I do with my hair?

It was difficult enough to feel at ease in this place as a mature woman, but with transitioning grey hair? A wig in a cute brown bob sat on my dressing table, but it was hot and uncomfortable. At the last minute, I decided to wear my skunk stripe with pride. I’ll never forget the sickening feeling as the limousine pulled up outside the club and I took my first tentative steps on the red carpet. Photographers lingered and I turned away terrified that I would be snapped. The glamorous hostess led us to our table and a feeling of fight or flight came over me. Now was my chance to make a swift exit. We could grab a take-away pizza and hide at home. Then the hostess leaned down and whispered in my ear “you look lovely”. The next phase of my journey had begun.

Shock and awe

There were many hurdles over the coming months but I promised myself that the grow-out would not hinder my enjoyment of life. I visited my favourite restaurants, travelled abroad, and attended social events and parties. Thankfully, I had the support of my family and virtual friends around the world who were on the same path. A few Facebook groups specifically for those going grey gave me daily encouragement.

Sometimes I dressed my hair with accessories; other times I went natural. There were plenty naysayers at the start. One lady expressed shock that I should even leave the house, implying that I had a contagious disease! Several women questioned why I wanted to add years to my appearance unnecessarily – they were missing the point. I knew that my natural hair colour would be more flattering, with silvery highlights to brighten my complexion and a cool tone devoid of the brassy tinge that comes from exposing dyed hair to the sun. I devised an appropriate response to these doubters: “I’m going grey to make myself look younger and more attractive”.

Selfie revelations

When you are colouring your hair every three weeks, it seems as if it grows fast, but the reverse is true when you are trying to get rid of the dye. Months five to seven were particularly tough. All I had was a widening stripe of grey that looked as if I was overdue a hair appointment. Then at month eight, it started to get easier and I felt more like my old self again. I was proud that I had stuck with it this far, and in the mirror I no longer cringed at my ugly multi-toned hair. On the contrary I mastered the art of taking selfies, seeking out the best lighting to catch the sparkle and swirls of silver.

Different colours in clothing suited me now. Where before I had worn orange, yellow and lime green; grey was my new best friend. Pale grey highlighted the white streaks; charcoal enriched the dark. Purple, royal blue, black, fuchsia and silver all brought my skin to life. My make-up was also given an overhaul. I’ve never been an eyebrow gal, but now well-groomed brows balance and frame my face. Out went the black eyeliner pencil; in came the softer grey, navy blue, eggplant and teal. Lip colours become more vibrant: bright pink and reds in full, creamy densely textured movie star lipsticks.

By the third quarter, I was no longer considered a newbie in my Facebook groups, but a seasoned transitioner. From my several months’ experience, I was able to offer advice to others starting out. I shared with them the products I used to enhance my hair, the tricks to get through the tough times, and I assured them that it would get easier. Some newbies told me I was their inspiration; just as I had said to those who started before me. Occasionally, I would come across another ‘silver sister’ in Dubai, usually a tourist, and we would exchange a knowing smile.

A badge of honour

In month 10, I travelled to Paris, the silver-haired capital of the world, where the likes of Christine La Garde and Brigitte Bardot ooze silver glamour. For the first time, I relaxed with my grey hair: no longer the odd one out, but blending with the chic Parisian ladies. In France, silver hair represents experience, knowledge and wisdom, each strand worn as a badge of honour of life’s accomplishments.

With four inches, I could tie my hair back and hide the offending brassy ends. I had some long layers cut in too, which made it blend better. Then, when I hit the one-year mark, I cut out as much of the remaining dye as possible. I am not the platinum colour I had envisaged. I still have a lot of natural black in my hair, but with beautiful highlights of silver. A natural jet black stripe at the front frames my face and adds dimension. No hairdresser in the world could match it, I am unique.

I have learned several lessons in my journey to grey. I was determined and patient. Having learnt the art of patience, the world became a much less stressful place.
I gained a confidence I never knew I had and realised that beauty comes from within and not from a bottle of hair dye. My grey hair does not make me look or feel older. My natural colour softens my wrinkles, brings out my eye colour and makes my skin glow. I have also enjoyed creating a new colour palette of make-up and clothes.

But one of the most satisfying boosts of all is receiving compliments from all those who judged and doubted my decision at the start. This is one of the best decisions I have ever made. Grey is the new me.

My 50 shades of grey

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Month 1

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Month 2

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Month 3

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Month 4

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Month 5

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Month 6

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Month 7

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Month 8

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Month 9

Louisa Wilkins

By Louisa Wilkins

Editor