In seventh grade, I had a teacher all us jerk kids called “Skunk.” His dark hair was streaked with gray right in the front, giving him the stripe that inspired his nickname.
We called him Skunk to his face. While there was fondness behind the teasing, I would not have blamed my teacher for wanting to haul off and punch any one of us in the face.
What seventh graders don’t yet know is that one day, they will not be 12.
Karma patiently waits.
I look at myself in the mirror now. Though they are still few, my own gray hairs are really starting to pop. I’ve given up plucking them. It’s annoying, and that old saying about three more grays coming up in one’s place rings true.
My grays are springing forth from a concentrated area: in a patch above my left eye. You know what this means: I’m working up a skunk stripe.
Caitlin Moran, in her hilarious and strident book, How to Be a Woman, takes on gray hair as a feminist issue. She chooses not to dye, essentially because she objects to all the money and work that is demanded of women to look younger, hotter, and less real.
Like my science teacher’s, Moran’s grays have rallied together to form a perfect stripe, streaking through a head of black hair. Unlike my science teacher, however, Moran wears her hair big and puffed up. It’s a glorious mane.
Her hair isn’t solely a feminist statement. It’s a cultural one as well. In an interview with Terry Gross, Moran notes that her gray stripe is just as much a nod to Morticia Adams as it is to Susan Sontag.
“And between those two vectors of culture, I lie,” Moran tells Gross.
Each time I visit my stylist, I tell her that next time I’ll get my hair colored. Yet with each time I say these words, I become more and more of a liar.
Secretly, I’m not sure that I want to dye away my little stripe. It’s kind of cool, and with time it could become seriously righteous. Since I’m trying to grow my hair long, I’m thinking that by the time it reaches my mid-back, I could have a badass tribute to Moran, Morticia, Sontag, and my science teacher. That, and every 6 to 8 weeks, I could avoid spending a shit-ton of money while sitting for hours in a salon chair.
Moran also makes the point that once you have some gray hair and a few lines, you’ve probably achieved a few bits of grown-up success. She writes:
“How odd, then, that as your face and body finally begin to display the signs (lines, softening, gray hairs) that you’ve entered the zone of kick-ass eminence and intolerance of dullards, there should be pressure for you to . . . totally remove them. Give the impression that, actually, you are still a bit gullible and incompetent, and totally open to being screwed over by someone a bit cleverer and older than you.”
I don’t think that baby-skin and perfectly colored hair screams gullibility, but I would be thrilled if my little gray stripe warded off dullards, like garlic against vampires.
My thirtysomething friends and I like to talk about how awesome we are, now that we are in our 30s. We frame our argument around the indisputable fact that being in your 20s might be a lot of fun, but it’s also a big cluster, and we are so much smarter now, and we have learned to suffer no fools.
We have entered the zone of kick-ass eminence. I can only assume that each decade going forward will enhance this eminence.
I wonder how irritating it was for my teacher to have been called Skunk, day after day, by a classroom of pubescent pukes. Did he think about coloring his hair, or was he impervious to the taunting, having entered his own zone of eminence?
I like to think – and hope for the sake of his sanity – that it was the latter.
At my next hair appointment, I’m not going to lie and say that I’d like to get it colored next time. Instead, I’m going to try something. I’m going to let my skinny gray streak get fat.
And once my hair gets long, reaching half-way down my back, I’m going to toss my glorious locks dramatically. Then I’m going to arch an eyebrow – the left one, sitting under the streak - and dare a dullard to cross my path.