Fifty Shades of Gray: Pittsburgh women who embrace their silvery manes
Karen Wolk Feinstein, president and CEO of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation: "People say you're so brave, and that's so hysterical. All I do is not color my hair!"
Interior designer Katy Sherman: "Once I was my natural gray, I have never had more men look at me or notice me. I've never had more comments on my looks."
Carnegie Museum of Art directorLynn Zelevansky; "It's more difficult for people who get gray as they get older because they associate it with aging, but I never had that association, so it never bothered me at all."
Lisa Shroeder, president and CEO of Riverlife: "I was raised by three strong beautiful Southern women -- my mother, my aunt and my grandmother -- who described themselves as 'early grays.' "
Cindy Feldman: Letting her hair go natural was a huge relief, and she gets tons of compliments on it.
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The only bondage in this story involves women and their hair color.
More and more are breaking free from the shackles of dyeing their gray hair and incorporating it into a striking new look. Locally, there are many prominent women who have eschewed the bottle in favor of their natural locks. They are going gray younger and with style, looking every bit as beautiful as women who color their hair and as distinguished as their male counterparts.
Here's what they have to say:
"I stopped dyeing my hair because the contrast between my roots and the brown color I was dyeing it was so stark I looked like I was balding," says interior designer Katy Sherman. "First it was every four weeks, then three weeks and when it became two weeks I went running in desperation to my hairdresser, Andrew Leo. I said, 'Just look at me! What am I going to do?' He threw up his arms with glee and said, 'You're never going to dye it again!' "
For years Ms. Sherman had been wondering what she really looked like beneath the dye. "You can see the roots, but you don't really know." Her glamorous mother had gone gray in her 20s and her beautiful mane of white hair became a trademark. When she made the decision to stop using hair color, she underwent a process known as balayage in which the dye was stripped out, avoiding the growing-out process with two-tone hair.
"Once I was my natural gray, I have never had more men look at me or notice me. I've never had more comments on my looks," Ms. Sherman says. "I basically look prettier. The coloring suits me much better. I'm getting more attention in general and more comments about how good I'm looking. It's the damn gray hair," she laughs.
"I colored my hair from the time I was 12 or 13 until I turned gray in my late 20s," says Lynn Zelevansky, director of the Carnegie Museum of Art.
Artistic even then, she jokes that she was a difficult child. Blond in her youth, she experimented with her looks through the years. "In camp we all started to put peroxide on our hair and sit in the sun, so it turned that lovely shade of orange. Then I was blond, and redhead for a while, and as I got older an auburn color.
"But it was a pain in the neck to color it and I realized if I stopped that I had something unusual for someone that young. People would ask me if I dyed it because it turned white in the front but was darker in the back. They couldn't figure out why someone my age had hair that color!"
Today, Ms. Zelevansky said she loves her gray hair and feels it's more striking.
"It's more difficult for people who get gray as they get older because they associate it with aging, but I never had that association, so it never bothered me at all," she says. "It was just another stylistic choice, to be gray, so I was the reverse of everybody. Instead of dyeing my hair when I got gray, I stopped dying my hair."
When Lisa Schroeder started to go noticeably gray in her early 30s, she wasn't surprised.
"I was raised by three strong beautiful Southern women -- my mother, my aunt and my grandmother -- who described themselves as 'early grays.' At first, I added highlights to blend the gray, but I realized that no one was fooled, least of all me. I had a wonderful hairdresser who was an artist and talked himself out of a job by saying, 'You'll love it as soon as it goes entirely gray because it will turn silver.' "
Ms. Schroeder, who is president and CEO of Riverlife, lived in Maine at the time and says the culture there was focused on a more natural and simple lifestyle.
"I share a giggle with one of my silver-haired friends at the frequency with which going gray is described as a brave decision. There will always be things in life that require bravery but, happily, this is a decision that made itself. I've always had a great reaction from my family and friends, and I don't think of it as unusual, so I am surprised and, admittedly, delighted, when I get unexpected compliments from strangers as I'm going about my business, in airports and restaurants and the like."
"I was gray in my 20s, and I dyed my hair for a long time, years and years. I was so sick of the money I had to spend and I never liked the dye job -- it looked horrible and unpredictable," says Cindy Feldman. "My hair was very dark brown -- it was a hard color to dye to make it look right. I was very self-conscious. Then my husband and I went to an Emmylou Harris concert, and she was totally white. My husband said, 'You're crazy. Look at Emmylou's hair; she looks great. If she can do it you can do it!' "
Ms. Feldman is active as a mother and volunteer, especially for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars through an annual luncheon benefit she has hosted. Letting her hair go natural was a huge relief, and she gets tons of compliments on it. But she thinks it's important to have the right haircut "so you don't look old" and to wear colors that reflect the change in her hair. She prefers lighter colors now, such as periwinkle, lavenders, silver and gray. Not so great are yellows and reds.
"I do feel at times my hair makes me look older, though other people might not agree with that. I'm still self-conscious about it, I have to say. If I could have dark hair again I would do it in a second, but I would never dye it again."
As president and CEO of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, Karen Wolk Feinstein travels a great deal and makes many public appearances. Invariably, she gets comments on her beautiful mane of white hair. But getting there for the former brunette wasn't easy.
"Somewhere in my 30s, I started to color my hair and I kept coloring it," she says. "At one point, I decided to put in gold highlights so I could ease toward natural, but my mother couldn't stand it. She kept missing her black-haired daughter and thought I would look older. She was very attractive with white hair, and I was happy to go there, but I didn't do anything dramatic until my mother died."
What she didn't expect was the ordeal and expense she encountered in making the transition to gray.
"They stripped out as much color as they could and put in lowlights and highlights and then I became blond. That was horrible. I never looked worse in my life. But once you're blond you can let it grow out and you just get lighter and lighter. There are so many chemicals involved and something that makes your nose run and your eyes sting can't be good for you.
"People say you're so brave, and that's so hysterical. All I do is not color my hair! I don't think any of us would tell you it makes you look young so you say to yourself, 'Do I want to look young or as good as I can?' It is a leap!"
First Published May 1, 2012 12:34 pm