Fifty shades of grey.
While some people show theirs off in a chic way, others claw their way to the salons for cover-ups.
One such person who conceals her silvery highlights is 44-year-old business research assistant Desiree Yaw. She routinely dyes her hair once every three weeks for 10 years, saying that the white strands stand out like a sore thumb, making her “feel messy, untidy and unglamorous.” It does not help that she has been remarked to look so every time her white hair peeks out from under her black.
Until she retires at the age of 60 to 65, she says she has no intention to stop dyeing her hair.
Ms Yaw is not the only one doing so and Bee Choo Ladies, one of the most successful local Bee Choo outlets, can attest to that.
Co-founder Crispin Francis says its herbal treatment for oily scalp and white hair, which turns the white into copper-red, is the most highly sought after service. He believes that wanting their beauty to last is what drives 30 to 40 percent of his customers to return monthly for touch ups on their white hair. “Not that they need to, but they prefer to,” he says.
Self-presentation at the workplace
Another reason for hiding the whites is the belief that silver strands appearing beneath black hair is not becoming of a professional at the workplace.
Mr Francis says a customer’s profession usually helps determine the kind of treatment she seeks and undergoes at Bee Choo Ladies. He says a customer, who is a doctor, usually chooses the colourless treatment that leaves her white strands as they are because she does not wish to have coloured highlights in her hair.
Going grey has its perks too, especially when it is taken to mean the person is older, mature and experienced. It is no wonder some women choose to make the leap and look better than they have ever been.
Celebrities like Andie MacDowell, Helen Mirren and Jodie Foster hit the red carpet with ‘silver fox’ hair at the Cannes film festival in July this year (2021).
In Singapore, former model Nora Tien and TV actress Hong Huifang have stopped colouring their hair and letting the grey grow out.
This has also been the case for 31 year-old Ava, who declined to give her full name. Ava teaches drama and this puts her in direct contact with students, school teachers and parents, many of whom she feels, tend not to give young people the time of day.
Ava, who looks much younger than her 31 years, and having to wear comfortable clothes in order to show movement during her classes has robbed her of any imposing demeanour, she says. But letting her greys grow out has, she feels, given her an air of seniority and she has been taken seriously by others.
Ms Yaw, on the other hand, says while her workplace is not bothered with the appearance of silver hair, it is she herself who is still compelled to cover up. “I want to look presentable and not want white hair to stick out when I meet my managers and colleagues.”
The concerns for greying can extend beyond being self-aware of one’s appearance. At some workplaces, for instance, greys or signs of aging can have far reaching consequences.
It is found consistently in studies examining how older adults are stereotyped that this group tends to be seen as less competent, capable and intelligent than younger counterparts. A survey on “Ageism in the Workplace” by Randstad Singapore had found that two in three respondents, aged above 55 years old, feel deprived of training opportunities and further career growth as they age, and that attempting to look younger is important for professional advancement.
No more battle to keep the greys at bay
For some, greying comes early — when they are in their 20s and 30s.
At Bee Choo Ladies, two in five customers seeking treatment for white hair are below 35. “They could have five, six strands of hair and they [are] already [coming in for treatment],” says Mr Francis.
For Ava, her first grey appeared when she was 23. “I guess I was surprised, and thought that it’ll just go away after a while. But when [the white strands] really started to grow out, I tried to pluck them and had people do it for me too. Even my hairdressers would initiate it,” she says.
“Apparently, [aging] is a bad thing,” she muses.
“For those with premature greying hair, it seems to be a real problem. They get very stressed because any white hair that grows out will stay white forever,” Mr Francis says. This is because once a hair follicle stops producing melanin, the pigment giving colour to hair, the change is permanent.
Financial adviser Jacinta Klassen, 39, has been bleaching her hair for the past nine years.
She says when she made the switch to an industry that gave her the liberty to colour her hair, she has not turned back since. “I really liked how my personality and style came through with the simple change of the colour of my hair.”
Her platinum blonde hair has been well received by people around her, with many commenting that the colour suited her. “Many of my customers do like the style, and they say I’m brave to try [out] the colour [that] everyone is trying to cover,” she says.
Mr Francis says unlike men, women “probably can’t get away with saying things like, ‘I want to look older, I think it’s nicer, I look more mature.’”
“But if it was a guy, and he’s a doctor or lawyer and [has] silver hair, he will actually look distinguished,” he says, adding that male customers are therefore more inclined to opt for the colourless herbal treatment that allows them to keep their grey and white hair.
As important as being presentable might be to some, perhaps society might do better with placing less emphasis on how people look, and base their self-worth and esteem on something more substantial instead.
Ava says she has tried them all – plucking, dyeing, herbal treatment. But she has since stopped. Encouraged by colleagues and friends that grey hair suits her, she is finally embracing her natural look.
Yet, family members and even her parents continue to advise her to “do something about it”. Today, she is no longer affected by their comments and lets their words fall on deaf ears.
To inspire positive outlooks on aging and raise funds for mainly low-income patients, St Luke’s Hospital has gone a step further and spearheaded the #GoSilverSG social media campaign. The drive releases a filter that colours the hair silver to portray how one might look in their golden years. The campaign is part of the hospital’s “Celebrating Silver” initiative, showcasing stories of older adults living their best lives and defying general stereotypes of aging.
Ms Klassen feels that “grey and white hair is beautiful on anyone, especially with a full head of [it].” Afterall, having a head full of white hair is better than having no hair.