Sali Hughes grey hair
Photo: Sali Hughes
Photo: Sali Hughes


I’m going grey – and I’ll style it out however I damn well please

Faced with a salt-and-pepper look, Sali Hughes is taking back control – and reaching for the grey dye – in spite of horrified critics who seek to derail her

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By Sali Hughes on

I’m going grey. It started about five years ago, with a single, bright white hair nestling in my fringe. As I’m not some sitcom archetype, I didn’t scream, wail or fall into existential crisis. In fact, it didn’t bother me in the slightest. I like being the age I am, it was wholly inevitable and I’m naturally intrigued by any changes in my appearance. I often think grey, silver and white hair extremely chic. But, gradually, a colony of whites sprouted, until the entire area around both temples looked grey while the rest of my hair stubbornly resisted transition. Being a brunette is part of the signature look I’ve enjoyed my whole life, so I changed my hairstyle to conceal the greys. In recent times, and despite being positively delighted to have reached my forties, I’ve gradually become even less enamoured with my salt-and-pepper look.

If, as your years advance, your hair naturally falls like some pearlescent satin nightgown, then I positively envy you. Mine does not. It is naturally two-tone at the front, one shade of brown at the back and doesn’t look set to expedite to total coverage any time soon. I can’t dye it back to its former colour (I’m allergic to the PPD and PTD present in all 100-per-cent grey-covering dark dyes – believe me, I’ve done seven solid years of intense research on this), so I’m presented with two choices: let nature have its way or bleach my hair white and tint it temporarily with silver, platinum or ice-cream shades of pink, green or lavender. I certainly don’t relish the maintenance of the latter, but nor do I particularly like the look of the former on me personally, and so, in the new year, I plan to don the gown of no return and go permanently grey overnight. My job allows no painful growing-out period hidden under hats, and even if I were a vet, doctor or CEO, I’d honestly have no desire to embark on it. I feel more in control by making a drastic and sudden change, so I can get on with enjoying my new look. My real colour will just have to play catch-up when it’s ready.

Despite spending my life defending the very concept of beauty to complete strangers, even I was shocked at the reaction to my plan. Both social acquaintances and women online I’d never met were horrified that I or anyone else would choose not to let nature take its course and apparently felt completely comfortable in telling me point-blank to step away from the bleach. While some women felt I’d look “too old”, many others felt personally offended and let down by my decision, telling me repeatedly that I should “grow old gracefully”, an expression more likely to send me hurtling down a path towards extreme facelifts and a cryogenic chamber. A brief internet search yielded thousands of articles and posts calling for women to stop dyeing their hair at once, as though this was less about a simple choice of hair colour and more about snatching back control from the patriarchy.

I believe in the pill, in abortion, antibiotics, orthodox medicine, hair dyeing, contact lenses and Botox, and however else you’d like to proactively interfere with nature’s process for your continued happiness

This vehement belief that one should “embrace” whatever nature “bestowed” (and other words so wistful they border on the emetic, usually spoken by the young and thin) are notably selective, given that they are usually directed at women. Personally, as a woman and feminist, I positively relish defying nature and will continue to do so for as long as it makes me happy and causes no one else any harm. I believe in the pill, in abortion, antibiotics, orthodox medicine, hair dyeing, contact lenses and Botox, and however else you’d like to proactively interfere with nature’s process for your continued happiness. As long as you question your motives and acknowledge how society may have played its part, then your due diligence is done and feel free to crack the hell on. The implication that to conceal grey, smooth wrinkles and wear make-up signifies a moral weakness and a pitiful ignorance to the ways of the patriarchy is maddeningly patronising and as sexist as the problem it purports to oppose. Especially when that belief becomes critical, insulting or dictatorial, as it so frequently does, including between women who really should be on the same side. I feel no more obliged to go grey than I do to stop painting my nails or shaving my legs. I am as authentically myself with red lipstick and obviously false lashes as I am barefaced in pyjamas with egg yolk down my chin. Anyone with a prescription on how I or any woman “should” look should perhaps wonder whether it’s really the 60-year-old woman with the Jayne Mansfield hair, or they themselves, who is really letting down their gender.

All we “should” be doing, as ever, is encouraging women to do with their bodies whatever they damn well please. In the past 48 hours, I’ve seen some women dismiss grey hair as “grannyish”, “too old” and “drab”, while others criticised their dyed contemporaries as “fake” and “helmet heads” in “denial”. If some women want to save a load of time, expense and chemicals by opting out of the dyeing cycle, and if very many of them feel a sense of liberation, then I enthusiastically applaud their choice. I’m as likely to gawp in admiration at a grey-, white- or silver-haired woman as I am at any other. Likewise, I don’t care if your hair is dyed red, blonde, green, purple, fake, real, short, long, curly or straight, either badly or well looked after. None of it affects my life and nor should it inform how I show myself to the world. This common perception that the personal choices of other women are automatically steered by a judgement of different-minded women (see also: the frequently and equally unpleasant discourse of the natural birth versus elective caesarean battlefield) is understandable given the unending anti-women media and marketing narrative, but to pick a side is wholly unhelpful to everyone. The prescriptive judgement of how women should look and any qualitative value placed on their choices is exactly what we should be fighting against. It wasn’t our game to begin with. Let’s not play it and, for goodness sake, let’s get out of each other’s hair.


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