Look At Life: Grey Hair

24th May 2013

Grey Is To Dye For

Heather Harris

According to all the (blonde and auburn-haired) gurus at London Fashion Week earlier this year, grey is the new black/ red/gold/mouse…

No longer the domain of our grandmothers, a silver top now apparently symbolises the cat that got the cream. And to prove it, 45 year-old supermodel Kristen McMenamy has even featured in Vogue Italia with waist length Goldilocks hair – but in silver.

“You can get older and still be rock and roll,” the (incredibly young looking) supermodel said. “I thought all my grey hair would make a beautiful picture.”

Nicola Moulton, from Vogue’s British edition, agreed. “We're seeing models and younger celebrities embracing things like wrinkles and a smattering of grey,” she explained, as McMenamy’s appearance prompted raised eyebrows in some quarters. “It doesn't stop a woman looking beautiful…” she added. “It just makes her look more attractive by speaking volumes for her confidence.”

Which is all very wonderful when written down in black and white, but in reality the fashion and beauty world simply don't practice what they preach. When it comes to magazine covers, we are about as likely to see models with crows’ feet and grey hair as we are to see a spare tyre or blackhead.

Despite their own protestations that they've turned society's obsession with youth on its head, the media's tolerance to women ageing is, in fact, zero – the same as its preferred dress size. The very fact that Vogue Italia sold out (and that Lady Gaga, Pink and Pixie Geldof all recently hit the headlines for their grey locks) highlights that it is a sight newsworthy because of its rarity.

“Celebrity goes blonde,” doesn't really have the same wow factor, unless, of course, it’s referring to George Clooney. Ironic, isn't it? When George or Richard Gere or our very own silver fox Tom Jones decide to ditch the Grecian 2000 (or its 2013 equivalent) their virility rating seems suddenly to be head and shoulders above their brown haired counterparts. Words like 'sophistication, authority, experience' and just plain 'sex appeal' are liberally applied.

Compare this to one viewer's description of the Cambridge classics professor, Mary Beard after she wore her hair long and grey on BBC's Question Time: "A vile spiteful excuse for a woman who eats too much cabbage and has cheese straws for teeth." That reaction prompted Guardian columnist Anouchka Grose to query, "Why are women with long, naturally grey hair such targets of hateful criticism?"

Even stunners such as 56 year-old model Yasmina Odd, who wore her hair long, grey and curly in an M&S TV ad was hit with comments like ‘bag lady’.

And when Croydon's favourite cover girl, Kate Moss, dared to venture out in public with a few ashen locks along her parting, her PR machine went into overdrive, explaining that they were actually ‘greylights’… because we all rush to have these put in every six weeks, don't we, ladies?

The age-old truth is that holding back the years is still a multi-million pound business and if we all stopped dying our silver tufts, the top executives at Clairol would go grey overnight…

…except that they wouldn’t, because, according to Men's Health magazine, “Despite common folklore there is no evidence that stress causes grey hair.”

It does, however, cause it to fall out as many alopecia sufferers including TV presenter Gail Porter have reported.

Sadly, like so many other of our most unwelcome characteristics, hair colour is all down to genetics. Hair comes from cells in the root of each follicle and as people get older the pigmentation begins to slow down turning the hair grey and eventually white.

It’s called achromotrichia (great word for Scrabble…). The rate of greying is inherited and sometimes people can even be born with grey hair (a shock for any midwife!). The order in which the greying happens is usually: nose hair, hair on the head, beard, body hair and finally eyebrows (think multi-coloured politician Alistair Darling).

In an accidental scientific discovery, the drug Imatinib has recently been shown to reverse the appearance of grey hairs. However, according to medics, “It is much too expensive with potentially severe and deadly side effects to be used to alter a person's hair colour.”

Let's hope the youth-obsessed beauty industry hear about this or there could soon be a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘drop dead gorgeous’.

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