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Video: Is it OK to just go gray?

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    >>> back at 8:19. with more of our special series "it's all about the hair." at some point everyone will have that first agonizing moment when you find your first gray hair. this morning we're asking the question -- is it okay to go gray? it started in the 1950s , when triese e advertisers encouraged women not to grow gray. that trend continues today.

    >> when they advertise hair coloring for men, it is all about getting a date or getting a job.

    >> honey, i think i'm going to need -- more time.

    >> the hair color ads for women don't present any incentives. they just say i noticed i was going gray, i better color it.

    >> reporter: in fact, it is not easy to find many examples of women with gray hair. of the 93 women in congress, only five had showing they are gray. of the fortune 500 female ceos, not one of the 15 women has gray hair. even on the silver screen , there are very few roles with gray hair.

    >> there's pressure for celebrities to always look their best. some people might see gray as a sign of them letting themselves go.

    >> reporter: while some younger celebrities like kate moss and lady gaga have recently made gray a trend, there is still pressure for women to cover up the gray.

    >> nicole kidman and jennifer lopez are not known for their gray hair. when you see that little strand peeking through, it throws you off a little bit.

    >> reporter: in a "consumer reports" poll, half of the women in the survey said they color their hair.

    >> people want to look young so they're given roles, they're given opportunities, they're given jobs, they're not thought of as on the verge of retirement.

    >> reporter: but one group of women are proud to be gray. we sat down with the founder of the silver sisters club at rare bar and grill in new york city to discuss the silver dilemma.

    >> i stopped coloring my hair about a year-and-a-half ago.

    >> i've been gray now for almost two years.

    >> i stopped coloring my hair about a year-and-a-half ago.

    >> i've been going gray now for about eight years and i'm happy about it.

    >> i think it is the freedom of not dealing with the roots and the every three, four weeks of having to color it.

    >> i like feeling a little bit different. are we rebels because we're going gray? the response is so unbelievable.

    >> there is a part of rebelliousness about it. then also finding kind of a personal strength that you can present yourself as you are and that feels really good.

    >> i like it because i really, really for the first time i love my hair. i love the color , i love the texture, i love everything about it. and that is -- 40 years in the making.

    >> to the silver sisters! yea!

    >> genevieve is the beauty editor of "more" magazine, ann kramer is the author of "going gray," harriett cole is the creative director of "eboni" magazine. are they rebels for going gray?

    >> at this point in time, yes, they are rebels. but i think going forward we'll see more and more women daring to go gray. it is the most popular topic on the more.com website right now in the forum section. it is the number one most discussed topic.

    >> ann , you were 48 when you decided you looked at a picture of yourself with your 16-year-old daughter and said it's not working, i'm going gray. in the process you conducted a very interesting social experiment. you went on match.com.

    >> yeah. it was match.com.

    >> you put a pick pu picture of yourself with your hair dyed and with it gray. what pd is it.

    >> three times as many men in new york, chicago and los angeles were more interested in dating me with my hair gray than they were with my hair dyed.

    >> why do you think that was? people would automatically assume the other.

    >> my husband suggests maybe i looked more desperate. it was just i am what i am, you're getting what you see and that would make it less daunting for a date.

    >> why do you think so many women are afraid to go gray? are we afraid to age?

    >> we live in a society that says women are supposed to stay 25. we know that's true. very few women have the beautiful gray hair that you have. my hair isn't naturally this color and i choose it dye it. but like my mother, she has had white hair since she was 30. she used to dye her hair all the time. back then color wasn't as good as it is today, so it turned green, it turned orange. finally she said, forget about it, i'm going to let it go white. she's 80. it's been beautiful for how many years. her hair is white. just like yours is gray. if mine were spectacular i might consider going gray. i think what's happening is that women want to be viable for a long time. they want to look like when you did the no-makeup, how daring is that to unmask yourself with whatever your natural color hair is. i think it is a real challenge in our culture where women are still -- we want women to appear young.

    >> we're getting mixed signals. there is the lady gaga and they think that's fine when she does it.

    >> i think that's an act of rebellion. that's a different phenomenon and not really related to what we're talking about.

    >> i think it is demonstrating gray is a color in and of itself. it is not the absence of anything. it's just a different color .

    >> is there a right way to go gray now?

    >> i think so. i think like any color , it requires some maintenance. ann has a great hair color . but you still -- you run the risk of it becoming sort of yellow or dusty looking. you still have to use certain products.

    >> you need a great haircut.

    >> you can't just do one thing. you have to think of the whole image. if you're going to do it, think about your color palate, think about the close you wear. i used to camouflage, the weight i gain. you have to sort of look at the whole package.

    >> embrace you, whatever it is.

    >> for you it's not going gray yet.

    >> not yet!

    >> ladies, thank you so much.

    >>> tomorrow, curly versus straight hair.

By Laura T. Coffey
TODAY contributor
updated 6/1/2010 2:22:20 PM ET 2010-06-01T18:22:20

No matter how dire the economy gets, no matter how broke women become, an essential truth remains: You’ll have to pry their hair dye from their cold, dead hands.

It’s not that the economic downturn hasn’t affected women’s priorities at all. The Professional Beauty Association reported that many have been extending the time between their hair appointments, foregoing facials, manicures and pedicures, coloring their hair at home and looking for other ways to save money. But go gray for the sake of frugality? No way, Jose.

Charla Krupp, author of the book “How Not to Look Old,” said that’s exactly how it should be — especially when the job market is so competitive. “Women cannot afford to go gray in this economy,” Krupp said. “When you’re competing for a job with someone who’s 10 years younger or 20 years younger than you are, being gray is the equivalent of wearing a necklace that says ‘57.’ Would you do that? You have to convey the message that you’re still in the game.”

Now brace yourselves, ladies: Krupp’s analysis goes even further.

“I tell women, ‘Go gray at your own risk,’ ” she said. “Going gray is step one of letting yourself go. There’s also letting your wrinkles show, getting fat, having bushy eyebrows. C’mon!”

To a small but increasingly vocal band of “gray-and-loving-it” women out there, Krupp’s sentiments represent fighting words. Many women who embrace their natural gray say they feel more content and more connected to their authentic selves. Plus they say their lives are less stressful: No more lengthy appointments to have their hair colored. No more panic when gray roots begin to show. And, they point out, just think of all the money they’re saving.

Courtesy Anne Kreamer
Anne Kreamer, author of “Going Gray."

Anne Kreamer, an author in her 50s who described her transition to gray hair in the book “Going Gray,” estimated that she spent about $65,000 on hair color over a 25-year period.

“If I had invested that money, my daughters’ college education or my retirement would have been taken care of,” Kreamer said. “It is an actual choice that makes a difference in people’s pockets.”

But does she truly enjoy having gray hair?

“I adore it,” she said. “It’s thrilling. It’s fantastic. My hair is shinier, healthier, more vibrant. People ... stop me, literally, on the street to tell me, ‘I love the color of your hair.’ That never once happened in 25 years of dyeing my hair.”

As liberating as all of that sounds, Kreamer readily acknowledges that she’s in the minority.

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“There’s not a single female senator with gray hair,” she noted. “Not a single female newscaster with gray hair. You can count celebrities on one hand: Jamie Lee Curtis, Toni Morrison, Emmylou Harris. For women to have a genuine sense of this being an option, a lot more women who are professionals will have to go silver, gray, alabaster or what have you.”

Slideshow: Silver foxes Indeed. It doesn’t matter that Meryl Streep’s hair looked fabulous in “The Devil Wears Prada.” It doesn’t matter that U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius is just plain cool-looking.  Most women aren’t ready to go gray. Not yet, anyway. These days, 50 continues to be the new 30 — in large part thanks to hair dye.

Todd Bush, a longtime hairstylist in New York City, suspects that people will keep coloring their hair no matter how many celebrities and power brokers go gray in their lifetimes.

“I’ve never once in 24 years had someone come in and say, ‘Make me look like Aunt Bee from The Andy Griffith Show. I just love that steel-blue-gray thing she’s rockin’,’ ” Bush said. “I don’t think I ever will.”

Why hair color gets us so worked up
What is it about hair color that triggers such an emotional response — and such a willingness to spend money — from so many of us? While this area of life may initially appear to be trivial, superficial or even silly, a closer look reveals that it’s anything but.

In short, people’s hair color is intimately tied to the aging process. And for many women — and men — aging is not trivial or silly at all. It’s downright serious. This helps to explain why hair color can get us thinking about our identity, economic viability, fertility and even mortality.

“How many things can you control as you age?” asked Linda Warber, a Seattle hairstylist for the past 24 years. “A lot of things you can’t control. Which is why people turn to color: It’s something you can control relatively easily.”

Kreamer said it goes even deeper than that.

“Everyone has a mental picture of when they looked their best, when they were at their peak of everything — physical powers, mental powers — and that’s the look that people want to freeze,” she said.

“But the reality is that we’re a constantly evolving creature. You can’t stop it in any way, shape or form. If you embrace your biological age, you can actually extend your life expectancy. They’ve done studies that point to that.”

Kreamer added that we don’t fool anyone about our biological age when we dye our hair. While doing research for her book, she learned that people can still guess others’ ages pretty accurately regardless of their hair color.

So why bother, then? Experienced hairstylists say there’s a reason — albeit an unfair one.

“It’s cliché but true: When men go gray, they look distinguished. Women look old,” said Bush, the New York stylist. “I mean, how many women with gray hair are sex symbols? How many female George Clooneys, Steve Martins and Anderson Coopers are there? None that I can think of.”

Video: Ditch the peroxide: Gray is great! David Stanko, a hair colorist at the New York salon Angelo David and a hair-color consultant for Redken, stated it even more plainly.

“In actual fact, gray hair is not that attractive,” Stanko said. “It’s rare that you have the Olympia Dukakis snowy-white, beautiful look. Or Meryl Streep in ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ — her hair looked snowy and white and clean. Just like gray paint, just like soot and dirt on your car, gray hair just looks dirty and old and unkempt.”

This impression of gray hair keeps us buying all those boxes of Clairol or Just For Men, or rushing back to the salon every five weeks. And even though those hair-color appointments require a significant time commitment, Stanko noted that those very appointments often represent the only real break a busy woman gets.

“It’s a haven for women,” he said. “They can turn off the BlackBerry. They can talk about themselves, or just sort of space out a little bit. It’s comfort time. It’s me time .... Plus it keeps people feeling good. When your hair is cut and shiny and colored, it’s like buying a new blouse.”

A symbol of self-acceptance
Autumn Lingle, one of Warber’s clients in Seattle, said she loves going to the salon and having her hair done. These days, though, she’s going in for cuts only, not for color.

Her decision to abandon the dye after years of maintaining a dark brown color had nothing to do with money or time.

“It was extreme self-acceptance,” she said. “When I turned 50, I accepted who I am. I still wear makeup. I still work out. I eat really healthy. I just thought, ‘This is it, folks. I’m not going to pretend anymore.’ ”

Lingle has been struck by how many of her friends have praised her for being so brave for going gray.

She figures her decision will save her about $1,200 a year — a sum of money she can use to pay for textbooks for her daughter in college. It’s also made her happy to think that her new look could give her more gravitas in her city government job in a suburb of Seattle.

The biggest motivation for giving up color, though, involved wanting to be herself.

“I like it. It’s very freeing,” Lingle said. “There’s some power in age and some relaxation with it.”

Lingle was hit with an unexpected plot twist, though. Not terribly long after her decision to go gray, she learned that the city government she worked for was cutting positions, and she would be losing her job.

Would she reconsider coloring her hair again before heading out on job interviews? She paused for a minute, then answered.

“No, I’m not going to dye my hair. I’m going to go as I am, take it or leave it,” she said with a laugh. “It will be interesting.”

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