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Silver, Not Salt by graygirl
Yona Zeldis McDonough

Dispatch to
from: David Breithaupt

ggirl Beth Frerking in Slate
ggirl Anne Kreamer in Time
ggirl Akiko Busch on Rivers
girl Meredith Allen on Popsicles

ggirl YZ McDonough on Barbie

ggirl old wive's tale
ggirl Crackers

ggirl Juggling in Bryant Park
waiting for Vince Vaughn


Cosmetic Makeovers

The Jewish Forward
American Sexuality Magazine
Hip Mama

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Going Gray, Looking Great
Just what is it about gray hair

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Good News: It looks like the revolution may in fact be televised. Stay tuned for gray

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the musical
and now for a little COLOR

  Before GG:

Tribute to a Firefighter
circa 1981

Silver, Not Salt

It began predictably enough: the first gray threads I found in my hair when I hit my thirties.  The threads soon turned to ribbons, but I had just had a baby (my second) and was in no shape to deal with the gray. Gray was interesting, I reasoned. Gray was subtle, intellectual and hip.  Soon enough the baby became a toddler and her older brother started school.  I woke up one morning and decided that the gray was neither intellectual nor subtle.  Gray was simply old.

I began to plan my campaign.  First in my line of attack was a series of home treatments inspired chiefly by antics best suited to a rerun of “I Love Lucy.” There was the Five Minute Color Solution. It worked all right; it just looked like I had looked like I dipped my head in large vat of shoe polish. I dumped the stuff in a hurry and moved on to various mousses and gels that stained the grout in my bathroom shower, more towels and pillowcases than I care to think about and left ominous black drops--squid’s blood? Primordial ooze? —across my dining room floor.  It took a while, but I realized that I would need professional help.

So began the round of hair colorists and dyes, the highlights that turned brassy and orange, the dark browns that were ashy and possibly lethal.  I switched to henna, which was, I hoped, less toxic, but the two-step process demanded about three hours of my time every six weeks and I grew weary with the upkeep.  Still as soon as I saw the gray sprouting at temples and hairline, I would quickly dial up the colorist for my next quick fix.

But all along, there was a soft, subversive voice in my head that said, Why do I have to color my hair? Why is twenty-five the template when I am about to turn fifty?   I thought of a woman I saw regularly at my gym: small, strong, with short gray hair, bright blue eyes and very red lipstick, even when she was sweating on the Stairmaster or doing a killer set of squats. I admired her but more than that, I envied her.  She wasn’t a slave to the tedium in the colorist’s chair; she owned her age with pride and with panache.  I wanted to be like her. And a month or two shy of my fiftieth birthday, I decided that I could. I told my hairdresser that I wanted to toss my box of henna away, and then, as the gray started coming in, I asked her for a short, head hugging crop.

It was a bit shocking at first.  My children were upset—there’s so much gray, can’t you fix it?—though my husband, Lord love him, was a fan from the start.  Friends and acquaintances that hadn’t seen me in a while went overboard complimenting the new coif.
But most important, I loved it, not only for the way it looked, which I did think was cool, but more for the way it felt: light, fresh, liberated, and, paradoxically younger than I would have imagined.  I adopted the red lips of my role model at the gym, and these days, paint on a coat of Chanel’s Fire even to walk the dog.  (Hey, I never said I didn’t care about the way I looked; I just got tired of dying my hair as a means of maintaining it.)

In June, I’ll turn 51; it will be a year since I cropped and dropped—the coloring that is.  I can imagine doing all sorts of things in the next decade: flying to Paris, with my husband, for our twenty-fifth (appropriately enough, our silver) wedding anniversary.  Taking up tennis or tap dancing—maybe both.  Writing a new novel, and another one after that.  Seeing my son off to college, and my daughter too. But I can’t imagine coloring my hair again; not when I’ve experienced what a blessed relief it was to just up and quit.    Forget the salt and pepper—it’s silver, I tell myself. Let it shine.

Yona Zeldis McDonough is the author of the novels “The Four Temperaments” and “In Dahlia’s Wake,” both from Doubleday.  She is currently at work on a new novel, tentatively entitled “Jackpot.” 


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