In our war-torn, terrorist-ridden, disease-ridden, inequitable, cataclysmically climate-changing world, it’s hard to imagine a more superficial topic, literally and figuratively, than hair color. Believe me, after researching the topic for a year and interviewing hundreds of people across the country, I know this. But we are people, all of us, not saints.
We worry about getting sick and whether we’ll have enough savings to take care of our parents and our children, let alone ourselves. And, in our various tiny ways, we try to contribute to solutions or salves for the big, profound problems – but we also care about how we look.
And hair, and its color, as ridiculous as our obsession with it may be, is a very real, visible, emotionally central sign of what each of us is trying to be – a sort of personal flag. So please bear with me for one more column on the subject.
The majority of the women I interviewed, as research for my book, were highly concerned with a loss of sexual attractiveness as they aged, and the color of their hair was central to their sense of attractiveness.
In a poll that accompanied a piece I recently wrote for Time, an overwhelming 79 percent of people believe that gray hair is a disadvantage in social life. In a separate survey, I asked 500 people the following questions:
- Do you think men find gray hair attractive in women?
- Do you think women find gray hair attractive in men?
Less than 30 percent thought men found gray hair attractive in women while a resounding 90 percent found gray hair attractive in men. Talk about a double standard!
So I decided to make myself a guinea pig and put the gray hair vs. brown hair to the acid test on Match.com. I assumed that if I accurately reported my age and posted a photo of myself with gray hair and then, three months later, the same image but with (Photoshopped) brown hair, that the photo with the brown hair would be deemed more attractive by more of the Match.com men.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. Among Match.com-ers in New York City, Chicago, and – most shockingly of all – Los Angeles, three times as many men were interested in going out with me when my hair was gray as when it was dyed. This blew my mind.
And I’m not alone. ABC’s Good Morning America conducted a similar online dating experiment with Gail Cohen, a 61-year old widow from Dania Beach, Florida and she had similar, and surprising, results.
Twice as many men (and men younger on average by two years) were interested in dating Gail with her natural white hair, than with the photoshopped brown.
I’m not certain how to interpret our results. Maybe the men sensed that if we were being honest about the color of our hair, we’d be more accessible and easier to date. Or maybe the gray made us stand out from the overwhelming majority of Match.com women our age who color their hair.
It remains a mystery, but I was heartened by the results – it seems to me there is a much wider range of attractiveness than that which is presented to us by the media.