CHRISTA D’SOUZA confesses: Yes, gray hair does make you look old!

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There is an atmosphere in the air, can you feel it? Middle to late middle-aged women who decide to embrace the gray.

Everywhere I look, a female contemporary takes the plunge. I like to think of myself being a bit ahead of the curve after making this change two years ago.

It was a big decision and took colorist Josh Wood three times (if you’re a natural brunette like me, as opposed to a natural blonde, the transition is more complicated). But the results, if I say so myself, were fantastic – not only aesthetically but also psychologically.

Because I was myself, I became an evangelical. It wasn’t enough that I had done it: I wanted every other middle-aged woman who was a slave to the bottle to do it too.

Christa D 'Souza (pictured) who turned evangelical when she transitioned from brunette to gray hair two years ago explains her decision to go blonde since UK salons reopened

Christa D ‘Souza (pictured) who turned evangelical when she transitioned from brunette to gray hair two years ago explains her decision to go blonde since UK salons reopened

You may remember it was on the cover of Inspire. Why Every Woman Should Go Gray At age 60, was the headline, praising my peers for “no longer being such a slave to youth! Embrace the gray inside! That hair helmet is starting to look like a wig! ‘.

I was evangelical because going gray, as Josh called it, made me feel pervertedly younger. Or maybe I mean more adventurous. Because it’s quite a bold thing to do, when society expects a woman of a certain age to hide the gray, almost like it’s bad ways not to. Well, here I was, a champion of ageism who took a stand.

I’m not saying I didn’t do it too because I thought it would suit me. I knew it was going to happen. I had been browsing Instagram feeds and silver vixens magazine shoots for months, encouraged by how many younger women had adopted the look.

It was a fashion moment that I was piggybacking on – a fashion moment that suited me because of my light eyes and olive complexion – as much as it came to wanting to look awake.

At the same time, I made no statement. When you’re 60 and you have as much hair as I do, going a different color can’t help but make a statement.

If you’re unashamedly gray as you approach 60, an unspoken message is sent to the world that you think women should be able to have their cake and eat it too.

Christa said the choice of gray hair made her feel pervertedly younger and made her the guinea pig among her female contemporaries.  Pictured: Before

Christa said the choice of gray hair made her feel pervertedly younger and made her the guinea pig among her female contemporaries. Pictured: Before

And among my female contemporaries, I was definitely the guinea pig. Although they all thought it was a brilliant idea in principle, they wanted to see what it looked like before trying it for themselves. It was my own little way, as a postmenopausal woman, to do a radical act.

And then came the pandemic. If I could have seen Josh and went to the salon for regular titanium blue gloss shots I might still be a silver vixen. But lockdown forced me to take care of my hair myself. And I’ve never been good at it, often not washing for weeks because there is so much of it.

In other words, I was forced to let my hair do its own thing, and it hit some sort of existential crisis after my 60th birthday in May.

Christa said an elegant ex-model in her 70s told her she looked ten years older with gray hair.  Pictured: Before

Christa said an elegant ex-model in her 70s told her she looked ten years older with gray hair. Pictured: Before

As you can see from these pictures, I am no longer ‘grayish’. But let me scroll back a bit to explain.

It was during that window between lockdowns, in August, when I made my decision. My partner and I were invited to stay with some glamorous Greek friends in Mykonos for a week.

One night my hostess and a friend of hers, an elegant ex-model in her 70s, took me to a corner and read me the relact. What the hell had happened to me since last summer? I looked ten years older! Had I gone mad? I have to go straight to the hairdresser when I get back and not only chop everything off but dye it back to my pre-pandemic color.

I was of course extremely offended and spent the rest of the evening with my lips closed. But when we got back, I looked deeply at myself in the mirror.

Like many women, I was in a beauty coma for most of 2020, thanks to lockdown, as I was unable to get Botox or filler and never had to get out of my jeans and Uggs.

Looking back at photos of myself from last year, I suddenly realized that I didn’t look so much that I ‘let go’ as ‘given up’. It was the old tree that fell in forest syndrome – if no one saw me, why bother? And it was fun while it lasted, but it wasn’t real.

Christa realized she didn't look so much as if she had

Christa realized she didn’t look so much as if she had “let go” as “given up” while looking at photos from the past year. Pictured: after

I’d never noticed it properly before, but I do now: a ghastly gray tide line circling the outline of my head and crinkly white hair sprouting from the top of it. And my ‘sideburns’, they were white too.

Meanwhile, the ends of my hair had the color and texture of straw, and the charming Pippi Longstocking braids I’d had all summer suddenly looked a little crazy. With Zoom calls, that suddenly felt even clearer.

Why had none of my family or friends back home in England pushed me? My rude Greek friends were absolutely right: I looked ten years older. Or rather, I looked my age, 60. And in a world where 60 is the new 50, if not 40, that hurt.

Maybe they would have been less harsh if they had seen it when it was first done and I had access to the salon. They didn’t really catch it, after all, it’s the best light. But still. You have to be a certain kind of person to pull off ‘statement’ hair.

Someone like British Vogue’s deputy editor Sarah Harris, or model Kristen McMenamy, one of Josh’s clients. And I am not sure if I am that person. Not yet anyway.

My hair is not my crown, but my armor. It includes a great number of sins.

Christa (pictured) decided to make her hair blonde in buttery chunks instead of all over when the salons reopened

Christa (pictured) decided to make her hair blonde in buttery chunks instead of all over when the salons reopened

And so it was, when the hairdressers opened a few weeks ago, I went back. Not to Josh, maybe because I was feeling a little sheepish, but to Danielle, his faithful sous chef.

We decided to make myself a little blonder than before (to accommodate all the new gray I had accumulated over the past year), but in buttery chunks rather than all over, to keep it from looking overcooked.

The process took a few hours and involved foils, balayage – painting strands by hand – and lots of conditioner and shine. Danielle warned me it would be as high maintenance as my gray hair, but I didn’t mind. I like the way it looks.

We were in a traffic jam in London last week and a man in a white van leaned out of his window and said to me, ‘Hey, honey’.

He may have spoken to my dog, who sat on my lap and is undeniably beautiful, but I choose to think differently. The older you get, the more you change the goalposts. I know this, I realize it, but it doesn’t stop me.

When I am 70 I say to myself now, I will turn silver gray again. And maybe I’ll put it off until I’m 80 when I’m 70.

Does that make me a traitor to the cause? If so, I’m sorry to let you down. We all have our blind spots, and it’s clearly one of mine to look younger than me for as long as possible. I really hope Josh approves.

Don’t miss Christa D’Souza’s Everyday Ageism column in Femail Magazine every Thursday.

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