A few months ago I had an existential crisis while sitting in a hairdressers chair.
I went in all light and breezy, filled with that desire you get in the summertime to change things up. I came out three hours later less a few inches of hair, plus a balayage situation, and filled with crushing questions about how I’m choosing to live my life.
Seems about right, doesn’t it?
To back up, I initially booked the appointment because I was overdue for a haircut, but also because I wanted to colour my hair. Greys have been creeping in for a while now and while I love and embrace #CroneLife , I wasn’t quite sure that I wanted to embrace it all over my head.
So, then I figured that if I was going to colour my hair, I might as well do something fun with it. Hence, balayage – which is a method of painting dye onto the hair to create a natural, graduated colour effect.
It takes me ages to decide on something, but when I do decide, I need to do it right away. Like, now. Nower than now. Yesterday!
I booked the soonest hair appointment I could, and got it done. The thing is, it was a long process. And while I have very fine hair, I also have a lot of it. I was sitting in that hairdresser’s chair for hours, literally just taking a good long look at myself in the mirror. And while I first spent a great deal of time trying to figure out why all hair salons have such unflattering overhead lighting (seriously every. single. one. I’ve ever been to. Is it just me? Why are they like this?!) I soon began to question what, exactly, I was doing.
You see, I’ve started to wonder if Calgary is changing me. That may sound overdramatic, but living in a small town is drastically different than living in a big city. The standards are different, the minimum acceptable degree of done-up-ness is different, and everyone just looks a bit more smooth, formal, and put together. Very few people are stomping around in muddy rain boots and slouchy toques here.
I remember missing this level of attention to appearance when I first moved to Squamish. Staring at my closet full of heels that I never wore anymore and feeling like I never had anywhere I could wear my nicer clothes, my dressier coats. It was (and maybe still is) silly, yes, but it’s also about how you construct your image of self, which I think is a fairly important practice.
But now I’m back to the big city. And while I still live in a way that’s true to my core values, I feel like things have begun creeping in. I drive more. Things are further apart – playdates aren’t down the street anymore, they’re twenty-five minutes away. There are more places to shop and even though I still shop almost exclusively at secondhand or consignment stores, I feel like because there are more options, I am buying more.
Life feels more frenetic. Between Olive and school and work and all the social commitments that come with the good fortune of having a life full of loving friends and family – it’s just busy, you know? We eat on the go occasionally and though I try to refuse straws and bags, and recycle all packaging wherever possible, I know I’m generating more waste than I used to.
I’ve always allowed for 20% non-compliance. If I can live well 80% of the time I don’t begrudge the occasional lapse – the fast food, the hangover, the new purchase here or there. But was it starting to be more than 20%? And more often?
I was thinking about all of this while in that hairdresser’s chair, realizing that there I was, someone committed to natural living, a lady who brushes her teeth with baking soda and swears apple cider vinegar can cure anything that ails you; sitting with a headful of chemicals slowly sinking into my hair.
This feeling was only compounded when I was getting care instructions from my lovely stylist after the appointment was over, and realized that I would have to use protective shampoo now. “There’s no point in getting a gorgeous dye job and then using shampoo that strips it and washes it down the drain,” she remarked, as she held out the bottle.
I hadn’t considered this. It hadn’t occurred to me in my rush in booking the appointment that I’d have to switch up my bar shampoo. I haven’t done anything more than henna my hair in ages but she was probably right. For years, I’ve heard questions from readers about whether my baking soda and AVC shampoo/conditioner routine was colour-safe, and because I didn’t colour my hair, I couldn’t offer firsthand advice. I never heard back from anyone who tried it and now, faced with a head of expensive hair colour, I was suddenly terrified to test it myself.
I bought the shampoo.
It is as natural as you can get. Stringent regulations and naturally formulated and recyclable bottle etc. etc. etc., but goddamn, I felt guilty each and every time I used it.
Seeing that shampoo bottle sitting innocuously on the edge of my bathtub felt like damning proof that Calgary had changed me. It didn’t feel good.
On one hand, it’s just hair. But any woman reading this knows that it’s also never just hair. Our hair often morphs into an expression of who we are – the breakup haircut, the drastic dye job, shaving our heads to make a statement or refuse the burden of beauty. Hair becomes a declaration, a visible way to say the things we might not be able to put into words.
So then, what was I saying, freshly coloured and back to shampoo? Greys silenced and natural pigments camouflaged? Guys, this was soul-searching, deep-thinking, resonant, heavy shit.
And it didn’t end there. This hair-crisis continued. I had it cut it shorter again, then decided that wasn’t enough and had my sister Hilary trim it for me in BC.
Then I tried to cut it myself which, predictably, didn’t go well because no one should ever cut their own hair, especially not using some weirdo method they found on the internet where you put all of your hair into a ponytail on top of your head and just cut straight across (WHY DID I THINK THIS WOULD WORK?) and I had to go have it fixed.
I’m finally at a length I love, but during all of this cutting and cutting and cutting, it felt weirdly like I was trying to get back to some part of myself. It felt like a need. Like if I kept shearing it shorter and shorter I’d also be removing all of the pretence and mind-clutter and dissonance of my Calgary life. It felt like a way to take stock and simplify and be able to see myself better. To get to a more distilled, simple version of myself.
I think it worked.
I put the shampoo away and will use it for guests when they visit. I went back to my bar soap and ACV rinse, colour be damned. It’s beautiful, but I don’t know if it’s me. I was given a beautiful bike and I’m using it as much as I can; leaving my car at home whenever possible. I cleaned out my closets, and although I never stopped using cloth grocery bags or produce bags, I am working to re-double my efforts towards zero-waste (or waste-reduced) grocery shopping and snack preparation.
Long, navel-gazing story short, I realized that life requires this sometimes. A recalibration. A long, hard, hours-long look in the (hairdresser’s) mirror where you can reevaluate your actions and see if they’re what you really want to be doing. A chance to make deliberate, conscious decisions, absent any external pressure – real or perceived.
I don’t think I want to spend every few months in a salon, diligently erasing any trace of grey hair. Growing old is an opportunity denied to many, and I don’t want to risk erasing this reminder to gratitude, too.
I’m so happy I’m here. Thirty-three. Grey hair don’t care. I’ve felt more alive and attractive and engaged with my body in the past three years than I have in a long, long time.
I’ve been a maiden. I’m still a mother. It’s time to welcome the crone.
This hit home on sooooo many levels.
I turned 40 this year – I feel like everything is falling apart in my body, and have been yoga-ing, sleep-consulting, chiropractic-ing, therapying, etc. – trying to “fix” my body & brain. All at once, as if that is even a reasonable approach. Most likely, looking inward, writing, drinking more water, and going to bed at a decent hour would solve 99% of my problems. (Seeing that written out makes it seem so obvious.)
I am also in Calgary, and it is REALLY easy to be busy, even if you aren’t really doing anything. The city is flipping 50km+ from end to end, it takes time to get everywhere! I have three kids, and work full time, so we have limits on what they are involved in. run club + scouts/guides. We can’t manage any more time or money than that. but the pressure to have them also in music, or dance, or gymnastics, or karate…gah.
One thing I am super happy about here though is our green bin. We create a ton of waste as part of food prep, and picky kid/toddler eating, so having a better location for all the pasta leftovers, fruit cores, etc. at least alleviates a ton of garbage guilt.
Thanks for writing!
Aging is a precious gift. The gratefulness you feel for this privilege and the ability to use your hair as a daily reminder is refreshing.
I too am in my 30s (38 to be exact) and slowly, happily, naturally greying. My 4 year old daughter currently loves my “light” hairs.
There are moments of doubt on a rare bad hair day, but those days existed before the grey hair.
Periodic navel gazing and reevaluation are natural. However, I don’t believe you will regret your decision. I have not yet.
I just really, really loved this post. There’s something about aging that seems to make (some) people more comfortable with who they are. I’ve been experiencing it the last few years and it’s beautiful.
You’re hardly at the crone stage! I just turned 40 and have had this strange realisation that I’m surprised I don’t look like I did when I was thirty. How could I possibly expect to freeze myself in time. Why would I? I can only assume that those few years of Cosmopolitan magazine buying got in a little. Somehow, I too believed the mass media idea that women shouldn’t age. I was shocked. I’m still wrestling with my expectations but I’m much more forgiving of myself. And you should be too! Because of you I made my own produce bags, and I’m using Argan oil on my face. And I bought a reusable straw. X
Please don’t say 33 is the crone age. I turn 42 in a few months and I don’t really see myself as that old even though I am living with terminal cancer and have really grey hair. I will say this though: I wish someone would have told me how good I would look when I stopped colouring my hair. Of course I stopped because it all fell out during cancer treatment but, honestly, I was the laziest hair colourer (can’t think of a better word). I would let my roots grow out considerably until I couldn’t take it any more and THEN I would colour it. I hated spending all that time in the salon chair, spending the exorbitant amount of money, or even doing it at home and staining the bathroom sink. Now I notice grey hair on women everywhere and never once do I think they should “do something about their hair”. Also, I used to worry that people would think I was the grandmother and not the mother of my three young daughters and that hasn’t happened once yet either. I stopped worrying about the crazy Calgary expectations awhile ago. Maybe it is just the neighbourhood I live in that seems fairly laid back. Sometimes it is hard being an outlier (like a vegan in Alberta, or a stay at home mom in a city of people who are convinced they need a bigger house and a tropical vacation every year) but as Dr. Seuss is rumoured to say (but is probably misattributed): “The people who matter don’t mind and the people who mind don’t matter.” We need more natural so-called crunchy people in this city so thank you for writing this post.