That is the question; and what, pray, is your answer?
I am pretty sure everyone reading this is familiar with the phrase ‘silver fox’. But to err on the side of safety, allow me to explain that it is used to refer to handsome men of a certain age who are going grey, and looking better with every strand that turns white.
The original poster boy of the ‘silver fox’ brigade was Richard Gere, who was grey even when he was young and should by rights have had a full head of black hair. Since then, the mantle has passed on to George Clooney, who has embraced grey hair (and now a grey beard) along with his sex symbol status. And over the years, such silver foxes as John Slattery (who played Roger Sterling in Mad Men) and Alec Baldwin (30 Rock and more recently, SNL) have had their moment in the sun – or should that be moon?
So what, you ask, is the female alternative to ‘silver fox’? What do we call a woman who is growing older, embracing her grey hair, and looking amazing as a consequence?
Well, the short answer to that is: there is no such corresponding phrase. And what’s even more disheartening is that it is difficult to find famous women in the world of movies, media or even politics who have decided to go grey with age and look glamorous while doing so. (All I could come up with was Theresa May, and you will agree, there is nothing remotely foxy about her.)
If you look at TV news, then on the international channels you have a fair smattering of ‘silver foxes’. Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer on CNN, for instance, have been white-haired for as long as I can remember. Back home, Rajdeep Sardesai has begun greying at a rapid pace, and now has more white hair than black (as does Karan Thapar).
But channel surf one evening and see if you can find even one female anchor who is greying with the years. There are plenty of women in their forties on news television who should – in the natural course – have a smattering of grey in their hair. But every major female anchor across channels has impeccably coloured hair, sometimes with the addition of a few glamorous highlights or lowlights.
In politics, too, the number of women who are unapologetically grey are few and far between. Sonia Gandhi has been slowly greying over the last few years, and Sheila Dikshit has had salt and pepper hair for decades now. But that’s about it, I think. Mayawati, Mamata Banerjee, Sushma Swaraj, Nirmala Sitharaman, Maneka Gandhi, Sumitra Mahajan, all of them sport a full head of black hair (natural or not, I leave it to your imagination). In the last Parliament, the only woman I can think of who sported grey hair with aplomb was Jaya Bachchan.
That’s not to say that women are not embracing greying in the wider world. You only have to check out the hashtag #goinggrey on Instagram to see some awesome women rocking their grey, salt and pepper, or white hair. But these women are still seen as outliers, the standard being women who don’t let a single strand of white show and monitor their roots with an iron discipline, checking in for colour treatments every four to six weeks.
I have to admit that this gender disparity in going grey doesn’t really surprise me. In the world we live in, there is far greater pressure on women to look good than there is on men. And in our culture, looking good has come to mean looking young, especially for women (women with white hair=old; men with white hair=distinguished). So, making the decision to let nature take its own course where your hair is concerned takes a bit of courage.
But I am getting the sense that this is beginning to change. I see many women around me saying yes to grey hair, and loving the way it looks on them. My sister is among them, though her decision was spurred by a medical emergency that left her with shaved head. When her hitherto-dyed hair grew back in an interesting shade of salt and pepper, she decided to keep it. It’s snow white now, and she looks absolutely amazing with it.
Would I be able to rock the same look, I often wonder. I am not sure just how much grey I do have – those six-weekly visits for a ‘root touch-up’ mean that I will never know for sure – and whether it will look as good on me as it does on her.
But the reason I can’t see myself going grey is more fundamental than that. The black-haired (with just a hint of auburn highlights) image of myself that I see looking back at me in the mirror seems the best version of myself. That woman looks the way I feel. And unless that feeling changes, the hair won’t either.
I will, as the saying does not go, dye another day. And then another. And another.