The Grey Experiment

“You look tired!”

“You don’t want people to think you’re letting yourself go.”

“What a shame! You have such a youthful face.”

“No, really…how old ARE you?”

All of the above statements have been made to me by friends, relatives and surprisingly, complete strangers. What they are all commenting on is the color of my hair; not a complete head of grey, but a village of silver and white that sprang up at my sideburns and crown beginning at the age of 19.  Yes, 19. This early onset of grey is genetic; both my sister and I inherited the premature greys from our mother. Three traceable generations before her went grey in their early 20s. I remember a story about my great grandmother almost becoming an “old maid”.  As her male relatives haggled with potential husbands over her dowry, her dark hair became fully grey. By the time she was married at age of 30, which was considered over the hill in those days, she was perceived to be much older due to her hair color.  It probably didn’t help that her husband was also almost 60.

Speaking of perception, societal pressure for women to maintain a “youthful” appearance is evident in the way we react to graying hair.  A recent UK news story spoke of scientists isolating the gene that causes hair to lose its pigment. The end goal would be to eventually create a pill that would target that gene and “stop the clock” on the greying process.

Guess I’ll be needing that pill, huh?

When I saw my first white hair at 19, I promptly plucked it out.  At the time, I was also dyeing my hair to match my moods (thank you, Manic Panic).  As a result, I never allowed enough of the grey to come in to be noticeable to myself or anyone else.  Paradoxically,  a baby face with a head of silver had become a beauty trend.  Girls and young women purposely dye their hair different shades of gray before their biological clocks have them looking so au naturale. So, where is the disconnect? Going gray is only acceptable if you choose to do it and are visibly in your 20’s as opposed to it happening naturally. J-Lo is 46 years old with amazing skin and body fitness. If she stopped dyeing her hair, she most certainly would have some greys. Would that make her any less of a sex symbol? Would her younger boyfriend leave her? Would the world tell her that she was letting herself go?

gray_20something yr old
The grey 20 something year old…

I wanted to see how long I could go without reaching for the L’Oreal bottle. I decided to stop dyeing my roots in June of 2015. I was already sporting a tan and the village of grey coming in on my head was being oxidized by the sun giving it a reddish and blondish hue depending on the light. My clients complimented my “highlights” and my deepening bronze skin tone. It was still all positives once September rolled in and I started my semester.  Within the first three weeks of school, I got my first comment. It came from a girl who had a penchant for blurting out whatever was on her mind  in the middle of class no matter how inappropriate (social pragmatics = 0). Sitting outside our classroom, she looked at me and said, “What’s up with your hair?” I asked what she meant. “You don’t dye it,” she replied in a flat tone. While I was mildly annoyed in the moment, it didn’t deter me from maintaining my decision to keep it REAL. I told her I liked how it looked and kept reading my textbook.

By the end of October, there was a solid inch of grey hair from my crown downward. The tan was also fading and as the semester became more rigorous, my hair was going up in a bun most days to be out of the way. I arrived to school sometime around Halloween and the security guard in front of the gate stopped me from entering. He asked for my ID and when I showed it to him, he did not believe it was me. He kept saying that it did not look like me. I took my hair down and shook it out to match the style in the grainy image on my card. Still, he was adamant that it wasn’t me in the ID. He then called over the other female guard to show her my ID. All this time, there were young people filtering past us and none of them were being stopped for IDs. So, I made mention of that. The answer: They’re students. Before I had a chance to answer that I, TOO, was a student, the female guard playfully hits her colleague and tells him it is my ID, it’s just my hair that was throwing him off. They both laughed and instead of apologizing to me for all the trouble, he thought it would be a good idea to compare me to the bride of Frankenstein with her grey streaks and wild up-do. Your Halloween joke was not funny.

As final exam time approached in early December, I had experienced a few more incidents. The post office worker who told me I was “brave” for leaving so much grey. The 20-something year old boy who made a crass comment about the color of “other hair” on my body. And the handful of much older gentlemen who complimented my hair and asked how I take such good care of myself. More than anything else, the little comments were wearing me down; things like you look so tired, school is aging you, stop putting your hair up if you don’t want people to say anything. I found myself near tears as I wrestled with the urge to dye my hair again. In the end, I made an appointment just after Christmas and dyed my locks back to black. What broke me was the idea that major judgements that could affect my future, both personally and professionally, would be made based on the “age” of my hair. I left the beauty salon feeling like I had my armor back, not my youth.

 

Additional Reading:

http://www.karger.com/Article/Abstract/369413

http://recil.grupolusofona.pt/handle/10437/6666

https://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=QD_eCQAAQBAJ&oi=fnd&pg=PA133&dq=hair+color+and+self+esteem&ots=ExFkYHlghp&sig=AG9Y01Aw1VmXoihOo7WiY9a2_iw#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

 

My Social Clock is Ticking

Depending on the society you live in and/or culture you identify in, there are certain expectations of accomplishment by the milestone ages of young adulthood. Much like the tell tale biological clock, the social clock ticks away throughout the lifespan signaling you to get your shit together with the rest of your age group. Career establishment, finding a life partner, starting a family, buying a home and so forth are markers set in a chronological order determined by society (hence it being a social clock). The biggest enforcers of this clock are within families i.e. your parents. They will assess you as you progress through young adulthood and give verbal reminders of where you “should” be by the age you are. They make fun comparisons to other people in your age group, usually friends and relatives who have accomplished what you have not. Society doesn’t do you any favors either, as the media drills what is appropriate for your chronological section of the population. Suddenly, the guy in the Lowes commercial kind of looks like you, as he sands down his deck and gets ready to grill some food for his family. The 20 something year old actress with her swollen baby bump stands next to the mid 30’s journalist with a smaller bump and they compare pregnancy symptoms and the helpfulness of their respective partners. You get the picture.

What happens when you haven’t satisfied all the “shoulds” for the age that you are? This is an existential exploration that some are perfectly okay with (i.e. they don’t care) and others derive extreme distress from. Here is where it gets personal.

I spent the bulk of my 20s in suspended animation. I don’t want to say it was time wasted; however, my eating disorder coupled with maladaptive cognitive distortions kept me from really establishing myself in the world as a career person, continuing my education or having a healthy romantic relationship. It wasn’t until my 30th year that I entered “the game.” I recovered, met and entered into what became a long term cohabitative relationship and went back to school to establish a more stable career. Now 35, I am at another transition point. The career is established, but my mind and body yearn for something more. I decided to go back to school again to make that happen. The relationship is no longer and the biological yearnings have kicked up their volume three-fold. I’m the healthiest physically I have ever been in my life, but emotionally I feel like I am in what psychologist Erikson described as the conflict of young adulthood – intimacy vs. isolation. His theory notes that a secure identity makes intimacy possible because you will be able to open your own self up to a permanent commitment to a partner, share in their interests and values as well as be faithful and develop love. If intimacy isn’t achieved, then isolation is the result, which for those who rejected intimacy or had insecure identity produces a sense of self-absorption or loneliness at the other extreme. You’re essentially in a state of searching for the ONE…beginning with YOU!

All those self-help books and talk shows do have a point when they stress being in a relationship with and loving yourself first before anyone else can love you. Attraction and passion come a lot more easily than compassion and love. American society is very attraction and passion driven. The latter two qualities are only possible if you have a secure sense of yourself. Starting from childhood, how your parents raised you will determine what sense of self you develop by early adulthood. Did they make you feel warm, supported and safe? Or were they nurturing in practical ways, but not very emotionally demonstrative of their love? Were they absentee due to work or their own life struggles, making you feel like you were last on the priority list? Although many people can still have a healthy self concept in some pretty gnarly childhood circumstances, the warm, supportive parenting style i.e. authoritative is going to set you up for success in the intimacy department.

Your parents might play a huge part in setting you up for success or failure, but taking responsibility for your own actions, thoughts and feeling is also important. Doing the work to build a secure sense of yourself. In exploring some of my existential issues, I find myself wishing I belonged in the “I don’t care” group who continue along their life path paying no mind at all to the social clock. The thing is, they have created their own social clock or as the English expression goes “they walk to the beat of their own drum.” Live for you; not for others’ expectations. I find that I haven’t been doing enough of the former and I’m not alone. And as if we need any more motivation, know that the buildup of stress hormones in the blood at this early age can cause your organs and body systems to fail sooner by the time you make it to a ripe old age. So, take a deep breath, let go of the distress and open your heart to loving you and creating a time line of goals that resonate with your needs and desires, separate from family, culture or society. The time is now…

 

 

What’s my age again?

How old would you be, if you didn’t know how old you were?

There are some days where I feel about 100 years old. My body moves like it’s made of lead and all my senses are dulled. Thank god those days are few and far between. Most of the time, I marvel at the amount of physical work I am capable of; something my unhealthy 25 year old self would have fallen over just thinking about. There is  a lot to be said about the statement, “You’re as old as you feel” which ties into the question that opened this post. With proper exercise, nutrition and stress reduction and/or mediation coupled with good genetics, a person can certainly look and act a lot younger than their chronological age. Our functional age is based on how capable we are to carry out physical tasks in daily life and also encompasses psychological, environmental and physiological factors. This is especially important amongst the elderly population, where their ability to function at a younger level helps maintain their vitality.

How old do you think she is?

Behold, Edna, a woman approaching 100 years old, who happily works with her trainers at the gym doing a medley of exercises in her adorable leopard print leggings. Energy, strength and personality exude from her tiny frame. Her mantra? “Don’t let yourself get weak.” We could all grab some inspiration from her, as excerpted below from a Women’s Health Article published in March 2014.

http://www.womenshealthmag.com/fitness/97-year-old-woman-doing-squats

Edna’s positive and motivated mental state counters the physiological reality of her age and its limitations. As we age, we lose muscle mass (sarcopoenia), bone density (osteopoenia) and collagen, which weakens our connective tissues. It takes more effort to do a lot of the activities of daily living in addition to the fun stuff like working out, chasing your grand-kids or climbing a trail.  The psychophysiological relationship is fascinating to me because it essentially shows that a good attitude, social interaction and familial/community support can override a lot of what would limit you physiologically. It can also do the opposite when the above three things are non-existent. Even as a young person, a negative attitude (I can’t do that) mixed with social isolation (Leave me alone) and no sense of community around you (I have no friends) can have drastic affects on how you function. Ask that person how old they feel and the answer probably will not match their chronological age; nor will it be for the better.

How old does this toddler feel if she’s conked out while standing?

So, take a moment to do a little metal inventory and ask yourself the opening question. What are the factors that made you answer the way you did? Are you doing too much? Too little? Have you not seen a friend or family member in a while because of a hectic schedule? Are you surrounded by energy vampires? This self searching will allow you to pinpoint what needs to change in this moment in order to feel more like the number you deserve to be. Life is already too short as it is. Make every year count!

Scrubs beyond skin deep

One of the most common body treatments offered at spas is the body scrub. It consists of a head to toe exfoliation followed by a shower and moisturizer application. Outside of the spa setting, body scrubs are available EVERYWHERE. Just walk down the bath-and-beauty isle of any drugstore and you will see numerous brands of scrubs for the body and face (remember St. Ives Apricot Scrub…available since forever). Specialty shops like The Body Shop or Bath and Body Works also carry them in a variety of flavors and consistencies. With all this choice, how does one pick the right scrub and how can you tell the difference between them all?

Universally speaking, body scrubs will improve circulation by way of the tiny capillary networks that feed the skin. The friction of rubbing the scrub into the surface of the skin causes these networks to flood the surrounding tissues, making you turn a little red. The boost of “nutrition” helps the fresh skin cells in the deepest layer of skin known as the dermis to migrate to the surface. The lifetime of a skin cell is 30 days. Once it migrates to the surface it officially “dies” and becomes saturated with keratin, a protein whose fibers coil and bind to form a protective layer over the skin to keep the outside elements from damaging it. Keratin does the same thing for hair and nails. Age and hormones (for women) will change how the cells turnover, making skin uneven and rough.  The scrub itself is exfoliating away the surface layer of dead cells, helping along the natural order of things. In addition, it can unclog pores, helping skin to breathe as well as keep the naturally acidic pH in check, so you will smell fresh.

Now that the science behind exfoliation has been explained, let’s take into account what is going on with your skin. Are you prone to oiliness? Do you shed like a lizard? Do you have sensitive, reactive skin prone to breakouts? Do you want to prevent ingrown hairs and bumps? These are all important factors in choosing a scrub. Here is how I would break down your decision.

SUGAR OR SALT

Most scrubs on the market are either sugar or sea-salt based. Sugar based scrubs are more moisturizing than salt based because sugar molecules bind to water, thus retaining moisture in whatever state they are present in. The sugar exfoliates and holds moisture, so that skin will feel hydrated post scrub. This molecular action enhances the job of the moisturizer, helping to keep the skin properly hydrated. If your skin is the type that flakes off when the seasons change or has a tendency to remain dry no matter what the weather, sugar based it the route to go. Sugar is also best with skin that is highly sensitive, as it is not as abrasive in texture as salt.

Salt based scrubs, aside from being the most aggressive texture for exfoliating, draw everything out of the skin, including water. These types of scrubs can effectively address rough patches and clogged pores because the properties in sea salt ionically bond to positively charged impurities that would be found on the surface of the skin and lodged in pores. Reference my post on DETOX treatments  for a more in depth chemistry lesson. Often, the salt based scrubs will have eucalyptus essential oil added to them, which acts as an antiseptic and antimicrobial agent on the skin. Salt based scrubs are potent; therefore skin absolutely needs to be moisturized well post treatment in order to ensure hydration.

Addendum: Other scrub bases can consist of fruit seeds, ground nut shells and oatmeal (St. Ives anyone). People with allergies, especially nut based ones should be wary of the seed and nut shell varieties, dependent on their level of reactivity. The oatmeal based scrubs are super gentle and not very abrasive at all. They are often used to relieve the itch and discomfort of chicken pox, mosquito bites, hives, sunburn and for a gentle exfoliation of the face.

SCENTS and FLAVORS

Marketing, marketing and more marketing. Flavors and scents of various scrubs on the market are designed with the buyers’ eyes and noses in mind. However, certain essential oils, as the aforementioned eucalyptus oil described above, can have therapeutic affects on the exterior and interior of one’s body. Scrubs with lavender, vanilla or chamomile essential oils are soothing to the skin, helping to neutralize redness, prevent bacterial growth and tone down the itch and irritation of such conditions as dermatitis, eczema and acne. Also great for congested skin are lemon and orange scented scrubs, as the essential oils of both help the lymphatic system do its job of clearing out toxins. They also control excess oil production and aid mature skin to retain moisture. Lastly, mint oils like spearmint and peppermint have similar therapeutic qualities as the eucalyptus oil. They boost circulation to the skin through the menthol component that cools on contact and then vasodilates those little capillary networks. Best of all, they stimulate the nervous system, which can leave you feeling completely invigorated.

With the above in mind, you can now expertly peruse your spa menu and/or drugstore beauty aisle armed with the therapeutic knowledge of a beauty practice that is beyond skin deep. You can also make your own scrub, using the information above to tailor it for your specific need. Some recipes for homemade scrubs can be found here:

http://www.fromnaturewithlove.com/recipe/recipes.asp?category=16

http://wellnessmama.com/3628/luxurious-sugar-scrub-recipe-easy/

Here are some of my favorite Over-The-Counter Scrubs:

Ignore the marketing label. This scrub smells amazing and has been a godsend in the heat and humidity of Summer thus far. I don’t use a moisturizer after because the sugar and oils in its recipes do the work effectively.
Another one that is super hydrating, even though it is salt based. It has an extremely clean after-feel on the skin and the scent is not overwhelming, just fresh.

and lastly,

Forget the product description. This scrub is saturated with essential oil of eucalyptus and super effective at removing heaps of dead skin, especially near the bikini area. Goodbye ingrowns.

SOURCES:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exfoliation_%28cosmetology%29

Worwood, “The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy: Over 600 Natural, Non-Toxic and Fragrant Recipes to Create Health – Beauty – a Safe Home Environment” (1991)