Toxic Beauty in a Plastic Bottle

If my hair looks great, I feel great. My favourite look is shiny black and dead straight, although it took me years to appreciate this style.

When I was young, I hated my hair. I wanted curls — or at least waves — but my hair had other ideas. I tried to impose my will upon it by getting it permed and scrunching it with gel. But it would not be coerced, and the new curls quickly evaporated, leaving me with my original, straight and gleaming hair.

After the birth of my first child, my hair surrendered and developed a wave! But it was frizzy and gross. Then I started to go grey. I resisted dying my hair for a long time. Eventually, my hairdresser was so embarrassed, that she brusquely instructed, “You have a lot of greys, you have to start dying your hair.” I was shocked. Shocked that she was so blunt and shocked that old age was creeping onto my head. I capitulated and started dying my hair, to hide the greys and have continued to do so bi-annually, for the past decade.

I used this photo for the cover of my new book. I felt it would sell better if I didn’t show my greys. Why?

However, a few things bother me about hair dye. Firstly, a lady I know who was diagnosed with breast cancer, said her specialist told her not to dye her hair. Why? Clearly, there’s something we, the public have not been told about hair dye. Secondly, the last couple of times I had my hair dyed, at two different salons, my entire scalp felt like it was being burnt with acid. And I don’t like that the dye is literally painted all over your scalp, and not just the hair itself. I tried henna, but the colour wouldn’t stick to my hair and I heard even henna dyes are quite harsh. And thirdly, I am very worried about the plastic footprint of hair dye and where the chemicals will end up. The salon staff wear gloves for protection, but what happens to it after it’s washed down the sink? Who’s going to protect the fish? Once I used a hair lice treatment for my young children and the bottle label stated it weakened and dissolved the shell of the louse, so I wonder what it does to crustacean shells in the ocean? If we wash things down the drain, how can it NOT end up in our waterways and thus the ocean?

I wish we were all honest about greying hair. If no one dyed, then it wouldn’t be such a worrisome experience for me

The energy used by my hairdryer and straightener at home are weighing on me too. What if our collective hair regimes are contributing to climate change and the death of our oceans? I am so concerned by these issues, that I’m trying to go all-natural with my hair care by using water only, intermittently with shampoo bars, and letting it air dry most days. But my hair is going through a totally disgusting phase. It’s wiry, frizzy, greying and totally gross.

The new grey growth is so obvious that this week my daughter became upset and stated compassionately and indignantly, “Mum, you’re too young to have grey hair.” She doesn’t perceive me as being old, and to her, the greys seem to be an insult to my youthfulness. I lamentably informed her, that I started going grey many, many years ago. She found this challenging and distressing, how can someone as cheerful, adventurous and energetic as me have so many greys? I don’t think the fault lies in my child’s innocence, it lies, in our lies.

I’m concerned about the grey flecks in my hair. Should I care what people think?

Why does my child associate greying hair with much older people? I believe the media, and us as women, have created this altered perception of the aging process. I started greying in my thirties, yet how many women in their thirties do you see with greying hair? I believe it has a lot to do with how women are presented in the media, which doesn’t generally show images of the greying process. It seems to be that women are presented as young and beautiful until we reach the age where we can be categorised as seniors with fully grey hair. What about the three decades between the first grey and full grey, why are they socially unacceptable? Why aren’t women still presented as beautiful and vibrant with grey flecks, in this prolonged phase — which lasts about one-third of our entire life? Why do we have to pretend it doesn’t happen and that it is not beautiful? Why do I feel unattractive when my greys are showing? I don’t think it is ugly, I think society is telling me it is. Does that sound like a drastic claim? Well look around, how many women allow themselves to go grey naturally and how many media images do you see of grey flecked hair?

I do care about my appearance, but I am feeling rebellious and resentful toward this constant, toxic upkeep to hide my increasingly greying hair

The pressure to maintain this false notion of beauty is so great, that some women I know, have their hair coloured every six weeks, as soon as new grey can be seen. Why should there be this much pressure on us to pretend we’re not the age we are? And why do we pretend grey hair doesn’t occur until our senior years? I wish we were all honest about greying hair. If no one dyed, then it wouldn’t be such a worrisome experience for me. But I fear we’ve swallowed the belief that if someone allows themselves to grey naturally, they’re viewed as a bit of a hippy, perhaps unkempt and not caring about their appearance, perhaps even weird or unattractive.

Me — wrinkles and grey hair, au naturel. I’m not happy with this current phase ☹

I do care about my appearance, but I am feeling rebellious and resentful toward this constant, toxic upkeep to hide my increasingly greying hair. Why can’t we be beautiful and zestful, with greying hair? I believe it’s possible… but maybe not in our current society. I am feeling very down and feel rather ugly with my newly unveiled greys. I am very tempted to cover them, but then I am stuck in the toxic loop, again and again and again. How much poison will I put on my body and into our waterways before I think I am old enough for society to accept I am the appropriate age to have greys?

Can this perception be changed? I believe so. I LOVE that grey has been in fashion this year. Even young women are having their hair changed to silver, and doesn’t it look pretty? Doesn’t that show the power of fashion? Surely if young women can be viewed as beautiful with silver hair, then aging people should be viewed as beautiful with greying hair or fully grey hair.

To grey or not to grey, that is the question

I posted about this issue on my Facebook page a while back and my followers left loads of positive comments and sent lovely photos of themselves greying and fully grey, but most didn’t have hair as dark as mine, so their transition looked great. But what about people like me, brunettes with greys? I hardly ever see women with hair like I have now. Can there be a fashion trend that allows women to grey naturally, without the stigma that we are ‘elderly’? There are decades of transition between youth and old age, why is society telling us this long and important phase of our life is socially unacceptable?

We all want to look beautiful, but that ain’t how I’m feeling now. I am trying really hard to not cave in. But I am struggling and am not happy with the current results. As much as I am yearning to book in with a salon to hide the regrowth, I am not ready to give up (yet). I am challenging myself to see how long I can last. I will style it nicely if there is an important event to attend, and I found a spray bottle of colour for emergencies, but I feel that’s cheating — a little white lie. Other than wearing a hat, is there any advice on what I can do?

I love to wear hats on a bad hair day. Is this the solution to my greying hair?

Maybe the answer is a pair of tweezers. Hmm, can you tell I’m frustrated?

To grey or not to grey, that is the question.

Thanks for reading!

If you’d like to find out more about me, I’ve written an eBook, Plastic Girl. My journey from religious fundamentalist to a loved and loathed environmental crusader is a hell of a ride. Plastic Girl, an entertaining biography, culminates with my appearance on ABC TV’s ‘War On Waste’. You can binge read my mini eBook in just 2-hours. Plastic Girl is available from Amazon US, Amazon UK, or Amazon AUS.

8 Replies to “Toxic Beauty in a Plastic Bottle”

  1. I’m very dark brown and growing out my grey. It’s highly frustrating and I feel unkempt. To try and look more ‘professional’ for work as they are big on appearance I am straightening my hair perfectly every morning. I hate this too but I feel it’s a concession I have to make. I’m determined to stick it to the point where I will even go to an interview next week without dyeing it. But I do look a mess

  2. Well, at least you are addressing the elephant in the room.
    I am blondish so my grey hairs don’t show much.
    But you should do what you feel you should do. Sometimes our feel-good actions are not the best ones for us or our environment. But stop feeling responsible for absolutely everything.
    If you want to dye, find the least toxic.
    For lice – comb and command recomb.
    It worked a 100 years ago, it works now.
    Thank you for at least talking about it. Starting this awareness and addressing our own demons -“must I look like I am 30 when I am 50” ??
    For all “uncomfortable “ questions my kids ask me – I always ask “why do you say that”? “what do you actually mean” and then I look for the rational answer ; hair starts to go grey for these reasons. So it can be when you are young, older or elderly. It doesn’t as such define anything about anyone.
    Is it good to be young? Is it better than being “old”? when are you “old” actually? Nothings beats a good logic conversation with only facts. All of a sudden it’s dedramatised.

  3. Gray all the way!
    Embrace your greys and be proud. Don’t let the media tell you they’re not beautiful.
    I too have long dark hair with greys streaked through. I am making a stand by not covering them up any more. I like to use a hair straightener which makes my hair glossy and long for special occasions.

  4. I stopped dyeing my hair earlier this year. I am 37 & noticed my first greys at 31. I was colouring my hair every 4 weeks. I decided I am not comfortable with putting toxic chemicals on my head & washing them down the drain just because-as women-society expects us to hide the ageing process. Also finding brands of dye that don’t test on animals isn’t so easy. My mum only recently grew out her greys at 66 years old. She looks so much better. I don’t want to spend the next 30 years trying to hide my age. Growing older is a beautiful privilege.

  5. So… a thought from a bloke !
    My hair (what is remaining!)…has moved from 200 shades of grey to white.
    It seems that this a normal part of growing old gracefully(or not so gracefully!)?. (I am over 70 )..

    Some say that men who dye there hair are a bit odd?. (see the”President ” of the US!) and yet it is normal for women to use colour until the day they depart this plastic covered planet.
    Maybe it is time for us ALL to accept that what is inside the person is way more important than the packaging?..
    Media, convention, tradition and marketing and advertising pressures seem to do their best to unsettle folks from just being “them” whatever the external image depicts. Naive these comments may be and purely of course from a male perspective. Happy to be beaten over the head with reactions accordingly 😉

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