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Gray and Beautiful, going grayFelice has been asking me to write this piece since BA50 began, finally I have. It’s about hair, the precious protein that adorns our heads and souls, and my journey to come to grips with going natural.

Our bodies go through many stages as we age, but I feel our hair is what many of us are most attached to…I certainly am. Maybe it’s more akin to our generation from the 70’s and our long hippie hair, etc. Hair allows us wonderful self expression.

I had been coloring my hair for almost 15 years…yes, that messy poison is applied regularly at great costs of time and expense. I went through many stages to cover those little gray strands invading my raven-colored head of hair. The many progressions included little boxes of color I bought at the drug store, henna purchased at health food stores, exotic natural pigments procured at exotic hair salons, and finally expensive hair salon appointments reaping lovely brown shades resulting from single process and double process ordeals. Mind you, by the end I was touching up my roots on a weekly basis with wands and pens and shoe polish (not really, but it felt like it) to keep this color alive. How much money did I spend,and why? It’s because people don’t really like change and we certainly don’t like change in our bodies. Of course the primary reason for all the color fretting was because I was working in the young media world and couldn’t bear to admit I was aging.

At the same time my husband and I began talking about retirement and the long-planned goal we have to take our boat to the Caribbean for repeated extended winter stays. The trips sounded so exciting, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was concerned about how I’d color my hair on a 39-foot sailboat. How would I go away with a head full of brown hair and return with the shock of mangy white streaks?

I began to obsess on hair color, and found myself observing and sometimes interviewing anyone that looked good with gray hair. Was it the right haircut? The clothing? The style? The confidence? The lack of interest in it? I was wondering why it looked good on some and not on others. This went on for a few years.

Then at the age of 49 I left the advertising sales media world and it was time to give it a try. My dear friend and I decided we would go through the “de- coloring” process together. We began only coloring with “wash out” color and allowing our natural color to come through. It was a little scary to see what nature had given me for my real hair color and in fact I really had no idea what to expect. Slowly what emerged was quite a melange of hair colors…my dark brown, gray, left over color, a few highlights.

Now smart men know to never talk about a woman’s hair or weight, however one day my husband meekly asked why my hair was four colors. That was the point when I knew I had to do something more aggressive. So, I began calling around to highly recommended colorists to learn the best way to stop walking around with my hair looking like a chef salad. Finally, the best piece of advice I received was to cut it all off. Impulsively after spending months on this project I went to the best local stylist and told him to do it.

It was quite a shock for me, my friends and family. Picking up my husband at the train station that evening, he walked right by me, not recognizing the new me. Most of my friends absolutely adored the new look and my nerve. I may have gotten some sad looks from people who thought I was sick, and one comment I got was that the gay and lesbian community has done a great job making this kind of short hair popular. I didn’t actually like my hair so short (it was about one inch long),  but I could at least stop fretting about the color. I quickly bought large earrings and daily put on gobs of makeup to draw my own attention away from the gray, butch, bald look I could only see. Avoiding mirrors helped and changing the colors of my wardrobe to only cool colors, focusing on purples, blues, gray, black and white created a new illusion. There were, however, a few advantages. I never had to think about how I was wearing my hair and it was a breeze after a shower, but mostly, I just couldn’t wait for it to grow back.

Then one day a great friend marched into the house with a copy of More magazine with Jamie Lee Curtis on the cover sporting her new short, gray hairstyle and she said, “This should be you.”  She told me about the More model search and made me promise to go in for the casting. This struck a good chord with me as I have a high school and college history of acting and singing. I have always loved the stage, so this was not a far-fetched idea.

Thinking this could be a way to better accept my new gray hair transition, I got up the nerve to go to the model search, with a friend. We spent the morning waiting with hundreds of gorgeous women all looking to be discovered. It was easy to quickly realize where I stood amongst these tall, willowy, stunning women and I made the decision to find my marketing angle elsewhere: it wasn’t with the beauty and fashion modeling world, but rather the commercial modeling world. What made me marketable was my gray hair…to the commercial world my look is the approachable mom next door; the doctor; chairman of the board; modern, hip grandma.

This is where my sales and marketing experience came into play. A few hours each week went toward breaking into the modeling industry. Not quite sure exactly what I was doing, it took about six months to chip away at the industry while continuing on with other things in my life. I took some classes and some personal coaching and agents were willing to take a risk with me. I got a few stock model jobs and then finally got my first big break in a Birds Eye print campaign. I actually booked my first job! Business grew to numerous print jobs and about a year later I began booking TV commercials. To date I have been a part of at least a dozen national commercial spots.

And to think this whole career change to commercial actor and model came from being tired of coloring my hair…who knew? So my path of reinventing myself came in a very unexpected way. I DO have those days where I’ve thought about hair coloring again, but those thoughts don’t last long because I’ve built a nice new career and I couldn’t imagine going back to being a slave to my hair. There are too many more exciting and interesting things to do in life, and winters on our boat in the Caribbean here I come!

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