Every now and then, Deborah Holloway says, people ask where she gets her hair colored.
“I say, ‘The Lord does this,’ ” she explains.
Turns out the color they’re admiring is the silvery, shimmering gray in the Raleigh, N.C., woman’s neat, parted bob.
Yes, gray hair, and Holloway is OK with it … now.
When she first started graying, she dyed her hair blond, then black when she tired of blond.
“I got tired of the hassle, the frosting, the foiling,” she says. “I decided to take what I’ve been blessed with.”
While Holloway’s decision seems just a matter of practicality, it’s actually emblematic of a slow-building revolution.
It’s hard to track precise numbers, but, in the midst of a Botoxed, nip-and-tuck, youth-driven culture, more women are choosing to let their manes age gracefully.
Some attribute the shift to the boomer generation’s affinity to counter prevailing culture. Others see echoes of the trend toward “greener” living and concerns about chemicals used in hair dye.
Clairol doesn’t have anything to worry about just yet; Americans spend billions annually to color their hair.
But women who embrace the gray say it’s more than a cosmetic choice anyway. The outward act is a reflection of inner change, a self-confidence and comfort in who they are and who they are becoming.
Diana Lewis Jewell heard some of those women’s stories as she researched and wrote her book “Going Gray, Looking Great!” (Fireside, 2004).
But when her publisher first asked if she would do a book on going gray, Jewell admits she was reluctant. She was a single-process blonde who got highlights four times a year.
“I was a happy little blonde,” she says, a sassy tone punctuating her memory. “I said, ‘I don’t think so.’ I didn’t think it was a beauty topic.”
By her own admission, Jewell would later eat those words. The first course was served after she relented and decided to write the book, then held a focus group of women who had made the transition to gray.
“The colors were fabulous: silver, pewter, snow, ice,” she says.
In that moment, gray didn’t equal age or fading away. It was beautiful.
Soon after, Jewell made the transition, too.
“Mine came in white around my face and charcoal salt and pepper in the back,” she says. “But that’s OK. I believe you make the first impressions coming in. I don’t care what people do when I turn around.”
Two years ago, she launched goinggraylookinggreat.com, a website that serves as a gathering place for “Great Grays” and “Silver Sisters” from around the nation and in 110 countries.
She’s talked about the transition on “The Today Show” and, recently, on “The Nate Berkus Show.”
Indeed, TV isn’t a bad place to look for high-profile women letting their gray show. There’s actress/yogurt advocate Jamie Lee Curtis, singer Annie Lennox, food maven Paula Deen and Oscar winner Helen Mirren.
And some younger celebrities such as Kelly Osbourne, Lady Gaga and supermodel Kate Moss have played with the look, giving it a nice dose of hipness.
Stacy London, co-host of “What Not to Wear” on TLC and a spokeswoman for Pantene hair products, has long, brunette hair with subtle gray streaks and a patch of gray near her hairline.
“It’s like a birthmark,” she says. “I didn’t have it when I was born, but it started to develop when I was about 7. So it’s a part of me.”
That’s why London was distressed when people started to ask her about dyeing her strands dark.
“You know what’s funny is all the sudden my gray streak has been associated with age,” she says. “Some people really love it and they ask me about it. But other people are saying, ‘You should dye it.’
“But the way I feel, I’ve earned all my scars and stripes. I really do try to embrace it. I try to embrace my imperfections, because your imperfections are what make you an individual. So to embrace your imperfections is part of having great self-esteem.”
She says she even has a “gray” clause in her Pantene contract that says the company can’t ask her to dye her gray or change it in any way.
“Amazing Grays” author Maggie Rose Crane (www.maggiecrane.com) says the process can be painful because it involves embracing the unknown.
“It’s about what it means to get old in a society that embraces youth,” she says. “Women are finding that it’s really inauthentic to pretend to be someone you aren’t, so it’s the discovery of the women they’ve become.”
Crane said she believes baby boomers, the generation that challenged the status quo in its youth, have made aging the new frontier.
“Aging is not a number, it’s a state of mind,” she says. “I know that what’s inside of me is more beautiful than the package could ever be.”
Crane says, because embracing gray is “symbolic of a journey,” it’s just one path that women may choose. Some may quit their jobs and pursue their true passions; others may end relationships.
“Not all women look good gray,” she says.
London also says she doesn’t begrudge any woman the right to dye her hair if she likes.
“Do what you want to do,” she says, “but don’t let someone else talk you into dyeing your gray if you don’t want to do it.”
Lynn Lyle, who lives in Raleigh, N.C., started going gray at 20 and liked it right away.
“I saw my mother and my grandmother with it, and I was looking forward to it,” she says.
When asked why, she answers matter-of-factly: “I always associated it with wisdom, not age.”