Portsmouth Photographer Shows Women Embracing Their Grey Roots in New Exhibit
It happens to many of us. One morning we look in the mirror and there it is: a grey hair. For some it’s an accepted rite of passage while others might want to get rid of it immediately. In a new exhibit, photographer Nancy Grace Horton zooms in on women’s relationship to their greying hair.
NHPR Morning Edition host Rick Ganley spoke with Horton about how grey hair can carry a stigma for women as they grow older.
Rick Ganley: First off, you conducted interviews and photographed women with grey hair in the Portsmouth area. What made you interested in this phase of people's, and specifically women's, lives?
Nancy Grace Horton: It all started when my hair started going grey about 10 years ago, when I noticed it coming in. And I made a picture of myself, and I thought this could be a project. So I've been working on projects that address women, gender and identity over several years, and so this just fit into all that. And I'd been out in Oregon as a visiting artist, and I met a professor there who invited me and she had just rocking grey hair. And I made a picture of her then, and that really solidified the approach that I wanted to take in this project. I posted something on Facebook. I had made that picture that I made out in Oregon, and I posted that on Facebook and said, "Hey, is anyone interested in this topic?" You know, I had hoped for a small response, and I had hundreds of people responding. So I knew that people would participate.
Rick Ganley: Nancy, after you conducted your interviews did any themes or phrases emerge that really stand out to you?
Nancy Grace Horton: Yes, it was things like, "I feel so free." You know, "It's been a burden." You know, "I wish I had done this a long time ago." It's just a lot of different things. It just ran the gamut.
Rick Ganley: That's interesting. My wife let her hair go grey a few years ago, and she said much the same thing.
Nancy Grace Horton: Oh, see, it's just this freeing thing that happens for people. I found that many people were surprised how comfortable they were once they went through it. The process itself, if you've been dyeing your hair, is really the struggle more for people. I think that sometimes people might want to let their hair be natural, but it's so hard to go through having it half one color and half another. It can be a turn-off. And then others are just like, "I don't care if it's half and half, I'm just going for it. I like my long hair. It'll be what it is."
Rick Ganley: Yeah, exactly. That's what she did. One of the women that you interviewed said that she got lots of criticism from other women when she decided to grow her hair out during the pandemic. I want to see if we can listen to a clip from that interview.
“I can remember being 19 and finding this man incredibly handsome, and he had beautiful white hair and gorgeous olive skin. And I remember thinking, he's striking, he's handsome. But it's OK for men to look white and handsome. But women, it's a different story. And even among other women, which was the saddest part of it.”
Rick Ganley: Nancy, what do you think contributes to that belief that men can age well with grey or white hair, but women can't?
Nancy Grace Horton: Well, gosh, you know, I think it's advertising. I think it's just our culture and the culture of women staying young, being girls. We're even still called girls. It's in everything we do. You know, women are really pushed to stay looking young. And then grey has this stigma of being old. Yet people start becoming grey in their thirties. Many women talked about feeling invisible in this process. So I'm hoping that all of us coming together and becoming grey and being confident about it can change that stigma.
Rick Ganley: The exhibit is called Becoming Grey, Not Growing Grey or Letting It Go Grey. Is there a significance to the word "becoming" to you?
Nancy Grace Horton: Oh, absolutely. And I think it has been significant to other people as well, because we all are becoming. And this isn't letting it go. It's letting it be. We're being ourselves and not hiding ourselves.
Rick Ganley: So what are you hoping that people take away from the exhibit?
Nancy Grace Horton: Well, I hope that everyone will just let their hair be the way it is. I know everyone has talked about different situations where they've seen other women with grey hair and how exciting it is and empowering. And I hope that that will be the spirit of it all.