When the lights go up following an afternoon movie in cinemas across Asheville, one notes a sea of white, silver and pewter atop the heads of moviegoers. That view makes me ever-so-comfortable.
But my comfort didn’t come naturally.
I wrestled with it for years — whether or not to continue bleaching my hair the blonde color I opted for at the tender age of 28. There was my mother’s statement when I was 48: “Colleen, why don’t you stop frosting your hair and let it go back to the color it was?” I wondered: Was she being mean? Or did she really think my hair could revert to the rich mahogany/chestnut hue it was when I was a young woman?
I’ve spent whole decades of my life punishing my hair — brutalizing it, in fact. If I had heard about this type of chemical pollution happening anywhere besides my head, I’d be the first in line with a sign, protesting.
For years, I sat through the process whereby my hairstylist pulled my hair strands through a rubber perforated cap. She then painted those same strands with bleach. The fact that she wore rubber gloves to protect her own skin should have concerned me, but the only time it did was when I was pregnant. Even then, I pooh-poohed my concern, saying, “Well, they wouldn’t allow these products for pregnant women if they weren’t safe.” My naiveté makes me shudder.
This hair coloring process was called “frosting,” as if giving it a confectionary name would make it more palatable — or less toxic. The technique was all the rage. One time the cap slipped, and the process left me with alternating light and dark bands (the signature look of a skunk). I had to sit through a redo. And I did. I was like a drug addict. I couldn’t stop. My addiction went on for the next 40 years.
When I first came to this town, 8 years ago, I tried desperately to find a hair stylist who would do me the supreme favor of managing my macabre ritual with the hair products I’d used in my home state. I even provided stylists with the same color code number and name of the products she used.
Asheville stylists’ response? “We don’t do that here.” I remember thinking, “Damn purists.”
Oh, they offered supposed natural product alternatives but nothing akin to the alleged poison I’d been using. I feared I’d have to “go underground” to get what some here consider an illegal substance.
Then a strange thing happened: I began to wonder what would happen if I ceased the assault altogether. Perhaps I could ease into aging, after all. Maybe I wouldn’t have dull, gun-metal grey hair. Maybe I’d have the polished pewter locks my Nana did, a lady that I, as a young child, set up in a back yard chair, unpinning her bun, allowing her waist-length hair to tumble.
On those occasions, I began the 100-stroke ritual she promised would make anyone’s hair silky. When I finished, she’d take a quarter out of her apron pocket and hand it to me, saying in her cockney accent (dropping the h’s: “Ere’s a quarter, Colleen.” I’d thank her, and when she didn’t notice, deposit it right back in her pocket for our next session.
With her in mind, I made my decision: I’d honor her memory and join folks in this town who accept their aging gracefully. With that, I went cold turkey and stopped. No more bleaching. No more foils.
Now, here’s the kicker: My natural hair gets rave reviews. That alone is pretty funny, since no one praised the frosted version in years.
An added bonus? My hair is naturally curly. Once I ceased stripping the strands and stopped exposing them to chemicals, they began dancing around my head in ringlets and curves — happy as can be. I find this all truly amazing.
The picture below is a contemporary of mine who knew the beauty of “natural” way before I did. Diana Stone is a Leicester psychologist and Open Heart Meditation instructor whom I recently met at Staples (I stopped her mid-store to praise her hair).
Yep, Diana and I. Two women in Asheville who accept our aging gracefully. My question: Why didn’t I know, years ago, how much easier life could be?
My question to readers: Have you relinquished those punishing routines or found other, less-invasive means? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.
Colleen Kelly Mellor (firstname.lastname@example.org) came to Asheville eight years ago for a quieter lifestyle, but that didn’t happen. On a mountain road, four years ago, her husband was hit head-on by a 12-year-old girl in a truck. He “died” following surgery (staff shocked him back to life), and they’ve been crawling back ever since. In this column, Mellor opines on life in Western North Carolina as only the “born again” can do. Published in the Wall St. Journal, among others, Mellor adds her senior view of a region often touted as one of America’s “Best Retirement Towns.”