Scared that grey hair wouldn’t cut it in a youth-obsessed world, journalist AMY OLIVER started dyeing in her 20s. But she’s felt liberated since she embraced her natural colour (and reveals why her husband is thrilled, too)
PHOTOGRAPHS VICTORIA ADAMSON
It has been a tough journey, but I’m pleased to announce that I’ve finally stopped hitting the bottle. My not-so-secret habit was costing thousands of pounds, hundreds of wasted hours and nearly resulted in divorce when my husband felt he could take no more. But today, at the grand old age of 38, there is something I can say with absolute certainty: ditching my trusty brown hair dye and letting my natural greys grow out is the best decision I’ve ever made.
As a child, my hair, like my mother’s and paternal grandmother’s, was almost black. My battle to cover my greys began 13 years ago when, at 25, silver strands seemed to appear overnight and shone from my scalp like a warning to shipping. I ignored the old wives’ tale that plucking them out would increase their number threefold and, lo, they sprouted at a fierce rate.
At first I embraced it, ignoring the stares and shock. (The moment a new colleague on the newspaper where I used to work exclaimed: ‘Oh my God! You’ve got grey roots! Just how old are you?’ has stayed with me.) My fate was sealed when another former colleague advised me to dye it. It was, they said, the only way to be taken seriously in a youth-obsessed industry. To my – and my purse’s – eternal regret, I did what they suggested.
Suddenly, my hair was important, when, in truth, it had never meant a great deal to me. For most of my childhood, it was long with a slight wave and required no maintenance. During a rebellious phase at secondary school it was pillar-box red before I decided to shave it all off (well, it was the 1990s).
In my 20s, I spent hours straightening it, but that was the extent of my grooming. I balked at paying more than £3 for shampoo and thought mousse was something you had for pudding. So imagine my surprise when a single colour tint cost close to £100 and three hours of my time at a rather ordinary salon chain in London. After the deed was done, I stared at myself in the mirror and realised I’d actually paid someone to dye my hair the same colour as my mother’s mahogany sideboard. It was cheap, tacky and glowed red under certain lights; I looked like a Poundshop Duchess of Cambridge.
My grey roots came through after just a week. After three, the stripe down my centre parting was so obvious I could have lived with a family of badgers. I tried to last four to six weeks before my next appointment, wearing my hair up or using hair make-up – a bit like eyeshadow – to cover my roots. Once, I found myself applying it in the bathroom at work with another woman doing the same. She voiced concern about the amount of chemicals we were both using because we were dyeing so much. ‘I’ve read they can cause Alzheimer’s,’ she said.
For some insane reason this did not deter either of us. Maybe because the comments my newly dyed hair got were all positive. ‘It takes ten years off you,’ my mother said, kindly. I wasn’t so sure, but it did mean I faded back into the ‘normal’ and therefore acceptable background.
On one occasion, I was due at a party and couldn’t get a salon appointment in time. In desperation I bought a £6.99 at-home kit and slapped it on. To my eyes the result was the same. Enough was enough, I thought, I’d dye it myself from now on.
Except I couldn’t. I found brushing the dye on to my own roots impossible; I could never reach the back and couldn’t see if I had covered every
Amy hiding her roots in 2014, left, and ditching the dye in 2017