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FIRST GRAY HAIR: WHY IT’S TIME TO STOP ESTIMATING AGE 'BY PHOTOS'

Over the past weeks, the world has been talking about Alexandra Grant. She is the woman with whom Keanu Reeves came out for the first time in many years. Grant is an artist who explores "the use of text and language through the various media such as painting, drawing, sculpture, film, and photography". She aims to explore "the ideas of translation, identity, (dis)location, and social responsibility". Alexandra also created the grantLOVE project which is a non-profit program that helps artists and non-commercial organizations involved in art projects. Besides, she co-founded X Artists’ Books in cooperation with Keanu Reeves.


But the greater part of the talk about Alexandra Grant is not based around her personality and achievements but around her appearance. The artist has gray hair, and she does not hide it at all. Many people were delighted with the fact that Keanu Reeves was dating the girl of the same age, unlike many other Hollywood celebrities (for example, Leonardo DiCaprio whose partner Camila Morrone is twenty-two years younger than him). But in reality, of course, this is not quite true because Grant is forty-six and Reeves is fifty-five. Of course, the age difference is not so big, but it still exists: Alexandra is nine years younger than Keanu.


Even if we ignore the overwhelming fact that a famous actor is dating a partner of similar age, this situation still generates questions. Why do Alexandra Grant's appearance and age cause such a craze? Many thought that Grant looked older than her age and even confused her with Helen Mirren who is seventy-four. However, if you take a closer look, the artist's age can be guessed only by her gray hair. If you put aside this feature, it is almost impossible to tell how old she is judging by her appearance.


We are used to associating gray hair if not with old age, then at least with the beginning of the aging process. In fact, the graying process is still obscure, but it is being actively studied. Scientists often explain it by the fact that hair starts to turn gray because of the depleted hair follicles which stop producing pigment. The hair that has a color won’t change it. But after it falls out, gray hair may start to grow. And the chances of that increase with age.

The average European might go gray in his or her early twenties

Contrary to the popular belief, stress can’t cause graying. But heightened psychological pressure may cause hair loss. It’s possible that in place of the lost curls, gray-colored hair can start to grow. In addition, white hair might be associated with various medical problems that should be diagnosed by specialists. These diseases include vitamin B12 deficiency, vitiligo, or thyroid disorders.


The age when a person goes gray can be partly explained by genetics. If your parents’ hair turned white early, you are likely to go gray at the same age. In fact, people of African and East Asian origin go gray more slowly. And vice versa, it is quite natural for Europeans to go gray in their twenties. Moreover, hair can turn white at different speeds even in one person. Particularly, the body, nose, chest, and pubic hair can turn gray more slowly.


We are accustomed to associating gray hair with mature age, but it’s not that simple. According to experts, the average age when people’s hair noticeably turn gray is about thirty-five years for women and thirty for men. These figures are not at all similar to what we consider the "old age". And in this situation, it’s hardly possible to talk about "premature" graying.


Perhaps, the reason is that it’s customary to conceal gray hair. First of all, this restriction applies to women. Not incidentally, the fact that women's gray hair looks "untendered" is discussed with similar frequency in both social networks and slick magazines, and it is impossible to talk about this in isolation from the theme of sexism. A couple of years ago, gray hair came into fashion. And it’s not about natural gray color, but about a complex coloration that was tried by many celebrities such as Ariana Grande, Cardi B, and Rihanna. In all other respects, a huge industry is built on hiding gray hair. For example, in the United Kingdom alone, women spend about seven billion pounds a year (more than nine billion dollars) on hair coloring. Of course, coloration is not always intended to conceal gray hair. But it is impossible to deny that many women turn to specialists for this purpose. For example, the subject of the BBC material Kate Dinota says that her first gray hair appeared when she was seven, and her mother noticed it. By the time she was fourteen, Kate had decided to color her hair. Years later, when she was twenty-eight, she calculated how many hours and resources she had spent trying to hide her white hair. She counted about one thousand hours and eighteen thousand dollars spent in hairdressing salons. After that, Kate decided to stop coloring her hair.


But a huge number of women still choose to conceal their gray hair. And the females preferring not to hide it are perceived as those who defy conventions. White hair is usually associated with mature age. So supposedly, if women don’t color gray curls, they no longer hide their ripe age. And vice versa, relatively young females who choose not to conceal white hair are often automatically considered older.

The fact that women's gray hair looks "untendered" is discussed with similar frequency in both social networks and slick magazines

This is largely due to the way our thinking works. Daniel Kahneman, a famous psychologist who won the Nobel prize in Economics, explains that the way we study the environment consists of two components. The first is responsible for automatic decisions that we are used to. The second involves a more serious analysis. In certain situations, only the first component comes into effect. For example, we can form our first impression of people in less than a second after meeting them. And there is no guarantee that this impression will be correct. Such an approach often applies to gray hair: if we are used to thinking that gray hair is typical of women who are sixty and older, it is logical that our first thought about Alexandra Grant will be that she is also more than forty-six.


In general, there could be nothing wrong with this idea if both gray hair and age were completely neutral categories for us. But this is not the case — age, especially when it comes to women, is still perceived as something negative, and gray hair is considered a sign of "negligence" which is vicious in itself. When we automatically draw a parallel between gray hair and old age, we simultaneously put a woman in a discriminatory hierarchy — the one where she supposedly becomes worse because she doesn’t want to look younger.


Of course, it is unlikely that we will stop noticing someone else's gray hair and get rid of all our usual associations. After all, people become tolerant as they get older. But perhaps, with time, we will learn to perceive both gray hair and age in a neutral way, as a category that tells us nothing about the person, apart from the natural features and his or her personal choice how to look like.

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