Why Does Everyone Want to Lowlight Me?

Ten years ago, no one would have even THOUGHT of suggesting lowlights.

Ten years ago, no one would have even THOUGHT of suggesting lowlights.

I hadn’t even heard the term before July. And then, during a routine trim shortly after my forty-fifth birthday, there it was: “Have you ever considered lowlights?”

“Umm, what?” I asked the overcoiffed twenty-something standing behind me holding scissors.

“We could work them in with highlights, and you wouldn’t even be able to tell.”

I tried not to look completely baffled as I put my expertise in antonyms to work. “You mean…some darker, and some lighter?”

She nodded, and flipped her wrist in a hand-shrug to express how simple it was. The scissors glinted menacingly. “And you’d only have to get it redone like every six months. It would hide some of this….”

Her cheerful voice trailed off as she fingered my part.

“The gray?” I asked, feeling like we were discussing the Voldemort of the hair world: That-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named.

“It would look really pretty!”

I declined.

Several months later, I had almost exactly the same conversation with another young woman wielding scissors. I told her what I’d told the first one: “You know, I actually like my hair.”

There was a time that ponytails worked. The bangs, however....

There was a time that ponytails worked. The bangs, however….

It’s an unpopular sentiment, but it’s true: I like my hair. Except for the fact that it’s nastily staticky right now, and I never make time to style it properly, which results in my trapping it unflatteringly in ponytail each morning and my mother-in-law asking me repeatedly if I’ve ever considered bangs, I like my hair. It’s brown. I’m lucky that it’s about fifty shades of brown, and so the gray that’s been creeping in had always been mistaken for just another shade of brown. But in the past two years, maybe because of bots or maybe because I’m halfway to ninety, the increasing population of non-brown hairs can be positively identified as one of the fifty shades of gray.

My sole venture into highlights, fifteen years ago. The fishing trip was much more successful than the hair.

My sole venture into highlights, fifteen years ago. The fishing trip was much more successful than the hair.

My mother edged toward the cliffs of gray hair at about my age, maybe a little younger. She took it upon herself to fight it the way everyone fought it in the eighties. It wasn’t called lowlighting then, it was called L’Oreal. My adolescent siblings and I made ruthless fun of her at the dinner table the day she finally admitted to doctoring her ‘do. She stood her ground, refusing to give us the pleasure of knowing exactly how and when she made her magic.

Mom and Dad, when their hair was at its lush, brown peak. (Dad's peak was rather more of the crest of a dune not far above sea-level.)

Mom and Dad, when their hair was at its lush, brown peak. (Dad’s peak was rather more of the crest of a dune not far above sea-level.)

Not long after, though, she stopped. I’m not sure why, and hesitate to guess, because I’d probably be wrong. She eased naturally into salt-and-pepper, then steel gray, then a lovely silver.

Mom was slipping gracefully into gray; The Andrews, c. 1988. Dad was sliding down his dune of dudeness. David's hair had definitely hit an apogee, Susan remained a natural blonde for fifteen more years and I...wall, I still havent learned to shut my mouth.

The Andrews, c. 1988: Mom was slipping gracefully into gray; Dad was sliding down his dune of dudeness. David’s hair was definitely summiting, Susan remained a natural blonde for fifteen more years and I…well, I still haven’t learned to shut my mouth.

As far as lowlights, I don’t know which way I’ll go. I don’t want to look older than I am, although if I really wanted to look younger, I’d get a tattoo. I don’t want to appear any more unkept than I already do. I also don’t want to come off as a suburban matron grasping to look like what she’s not. I didn’t always like my hair. And I won’t always. But for now, I like my hair. So I’ll go with Nolighting today.

Okay, so I don't exactly like my hair HERE, but it still looks brown. Right? Right?

And when my hair is in a less-than-photogenic state, I use diversionary tactics, like sitting with Gbot. People look at his hair, instead.

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15 thoughts on “Why Does Everyone Want to Lowlight Me?

  1. Hadn’t realized how much Susan and your mom look alike — in that picture aside from the hair they almost look the same age! (compliment to your mom of course rather than anything negative re Susan.)

  2. Actually, MY Mother-in-law bought me the dreaded bottle of L’Oreal when visiting–told me I should use it–probably thinking I looked too old to be her daughter-in-law!
    I really don’t remember using it, having been so insulted!!
    You forgot the wig of our Mount Edgecumbe days!! Now THAT was something else!!! I’ll send you a photo!!
    Love, Silver Haired Mom
    PS I love your hair.
    PPS: You make the case for global warming. When sea levels rose, the vegetation disappeared from the dunes.
    The Guru

  3. I love your hair too :0), but yes, I’m not above a little color, I like being blond!!! And too true, mom NEVER colored her hair, it was all Grandma’s idea. You’ll have to add a picture of the wig! I find it interesting that of all the things Mom has kept (everything), the wig is not among them, and it might have been one of the funn(i)est!!!

  4. I distinctly remember her admitting to coloring it–but maybe it was only that once. Or maybe she threatened to color it, but never did. But it’s nothing to be ashamed of: why only yesterday, at the Children’s Museum, Gbot colored his hair blue while painting the rocketship.

  5. Betsy, great little introspection on our society’s idea of beauty… Unfortunately, even as a men, we gray-haired folk are not immune to this type of ‘suggestion’. I started turning gray at sixteen/seventeen and now, at the ancient age of 46, I am nearly completely silver (hell with gray, I worked hard for this color, it is SILVER). Family members and friends alike often suggest coloring. “You would look so much younger…” Why would I want to do that. I worked my whole life to get older… 🙂

    • Thanks, Patrick! Congrats on your hard-earned silver. I’m sure it’s very handsome. I had a friend who at fifty, was graying, and made the ill-fated decision to color his hair. He’s lucky to have great skin–almost no wrinkes. But when he sported unnaturally dark hair, my eyes bee-lined to the inconsistencies–the chin that wasn’t quite as taut as it should be, the forehead that wasn’t as smooth. Now that he’s salt-and-pepper again, I don’t even notice those details. Once again he looks like a fifty-something who looks young for his age instead of a thirty-something who looks old for his age.

  6. I am glad I’m not the only person who has no idea what the hair stylist is talking about when she suggests various treatments and options for me! She always assumes I’m Paul Mitchell or something, when in fact I wouldn’t question her decision to cut my hair with craft scissors if that were all she had. Loved this!

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