January 20, 2011

To Color or Not to Color

Posted in Breast Cancer, Family, Women tagged , , at 8:01 am by Liliana

My sister Branka

My sister Branka

I am fifty one years old. I have streaks of gray hair.

My hair is naturally dark brown, almost black. It has reddish overtones. Streaks of gray appeared when I was in my late thirties and without really thinking much about it, I started to color my hair. No matter what color I used, it always turned washed out red. I didn’t like the look, but coloring one’s hair seemed to be the thing to do.

Every woman my age colors her hair, right?

After my breast cancer diagnosis, I decided to let the gray grow out. And I have. For the last five years, I have not colored my hair.

My hair is very fine, very straight, and does not have much body. If I could choose any type of hair that this world has to offer, this would not be the type I would choose. But it is what it is

The fact is, even thought I have lots of gray, it really isn’t that obvious. The black, brown and reddish overtones seem to camouflage it naturally. So, people hardly ever bring up the topic, and I have been able to stay under the radar.

My sister, two years younger than I, always had thick, wavy, gloriously rich honey brown hair. When we were young girls, Branka had long, thick braids that I pulled mercilessly because I was jealous of the admiration they incited.

Now, Branka’s hair is still thick and rich, but it is also gray. Last year she decided to stop coloring. She got a short, snappy, modern haircut.

Wherever she went women complimented her and thought that she looked fabulous. Women admired her courage.

The men thought she looked old. They didn’t like it. They told her she looked better with her hair colored.

Our family from Europe was relentless it its assault. “You look old and sick,” was the consistent message buzzing over the ocean.

She resisted for months.

My sister works as a part time interpreter and patient advocate at a large university hospital. She is hoping to get a full time job and she goes to a lot of job interviews.

She felt that people talked to her differently and that her chances of getting a full time job diminished with her hair gray. Tired of all the fuss and all the commentary the topic fermented, she finally capitulated.

She colored her hair.

She claims that her hair will be gray again the moment she can do what she really wants to do.

I think she looks fabulous either way.  I just wish the choice of whether to color her own hair, or not, was left entirely up to her.



  1. Jelena said,

    Yeah, many of us are in this boat, and it does feel unfair that gray-haired women are perceived and often treated differently from men. I thought it was a problem that was unique to older women–and I do believe that it affects women more than men (in terms of self-image, if nothing else), but I have to admit that I see older men in a similar boat. As the workplace is flooded with very young, very capapble, very competitive people of both genders, I’ve seen older, gray-haired men lose their confidence and become marginalized professionally, too. But women have always been judged (and have judged themselves, to varying degrees) on their looks, so it’s a more compelling issue for us. I think the answer is to confidently press forward regardless of the hair color choice we make. As for me, gray since my late 20s thanks to my genes, I’ve needed the extra boost of not being gray. But I look forward to letting the gray hang out one day!

    • Liliana said,

      you make some very good points. Everyone is being judged more and more purely on the basis of youthful looks.

      You look beautiful the way you are. The most important thing is to have the choice.
      Hugs to you.

  2. lazarusdodge said,

    I realize I’m treading on slippery ground here – but thought I’d add my own opinion from the other side of the gender fence.

    I’ve never been bothered by gray hair on women. I’ve had friends who turned gray in their 20’s while most of us, now in their 50’s, see more of it in our heads and beards.

    I think the most attractive parts of a woman are her eyes and her voice. I listen and watch carefully – that tells me more than any gray can. My wife does color her hair – she doesn’t hide that from me. But if she decided not to, I wouldn’t love her any less than I have for the past 30 years. Lord know I’ve gone thru my own changes – and had her faithfully by my side when i went thru my own cancer diagnosis and treatment.

    Yes, there is, and always will be, age discrimination. Have felt it myself even though my gray is limited to my beard and memory. But if that affects the way you see me, listen to me, or judge me, then it’s your loss.

    Wonderful writing you do here – keep it up. And don’t ever worry about the gray!

    – Jeff

    PS – Found you thru a comment on Good Blood, Bad Blood. Hope to keep up on your entries as we move ever onward!

    • Liliana said,

      Thanks, Jeff, for your honest assessment of this “slippery” topic. I couldn’t agree with you more.

      I love reading John’s postings on his Good Blood, Bad Blood blog.
      Thanks for coming my way.
      Best to you,

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