Mar 1, 2023–Attending an event recently, I discovered I’d forgotten my phone. So I actually kept my head tilted up and gazed over the crowd seated around me. You know what I noticed?
I was bobbing amidst a sea of white-topped heads. They looked like inverted mammatus clouds.
It is fascinating how we humans wear our hair as a flag to attract admirers and repel those we don’t care to engage. Like deer sticking their tails in the air.
As a lad, I early on noticed the power of hair as a signal.
“Oh, look at those dark curls!” old ladies swooned at 4-year-old me, sending me diving behind our davenport.
Sigh. Now how I miss that attention. My hair began getting salted in my mid-30s. At first, it lent a distinguished air to my then unlined face. Now, my own hair is just another one of those puffy white clouds.
But a funny thing happened as my strands grew first grayer and grayer, and then whiter and whiter.
You youngsters might not understand this. But ask any grayhead. They’ll confirm that when the pigment leaves your hair, you cease to exist to people under a certain age… say… 35.
Don’t believe me? Try this experiment. Find a seat in any age-divergent public place. Put your phone down. Then just watch the interactions of the passers-by.
You will witness the phenomenon of people turning into ghosts right before your eyes.
Any individual that is elderly, has white or gray hair, uses a walking aid, or just moves along at a slower pace than the posted sidewalk minimum speed limit, will begin to disaggregate. Their outlines will shift out of focus, their colors will pale, and their bodies become permeable, allowing both light and small flecks of spittle to pass through unimpeded.
Shortly they become scenery, even as others swirl past, bump by, and circle round them as if they are lumpy lampposts.
This behavior is not limited to white-haired slow-moving under-tipping soup-sippers. It is an outcome of humans’ tendency to gather into tribes. Oldsters, likewise, do not see or register passing youth wearing multi-colored coifs and tatted sleeves.
We are that dog in the Gary Larson cartoon of citizens madly fleeing a nuclear explosion, who is calmly looking out a car window at another dog on the sidewalk.
In the same way we pathetic humans ignore the panoply of human divergence and only see the dogs that look like us, doing their business on the sidewalk. Selective attention, that.
The alternative to going gray, though, is worse–coloring your hair. There is something unsettling when spotting a fiercely-dyed head topping an obviously more experienced torso. I am not to judge anyone’s choices, but I do wonder whether they think they are fooling us.
Still, I admire those who bravely let their hair reflect their age. Several times I have been a sexual harassment suit away from reaching out to touch a stranger’s hair, admiring it for its natural body, curls, or color.
So I say, wear your hair proudly if you got it, loudly if you dye it, and unbowed if you’ve lost it. Whether you wear it long, straight, curly, fuzzy, spangled, or spaghettied, never take for granted that 1/44,000 of an acre patch of follicles you cultivate atop your pate.
It’s who you are.