Going Grey Caused Me a Problem: Did I Do the Right Thing?

Seated in the bright meadow of the former Silver Summit Farm,

I like to think that I’m not vain about my looks. My make-up case is a sandwich bag, and I use its contents rarely. For my lips my favorite brand is Chapstick.

But fifteen years ago, I did dye my hair and kept on doing it. Over time, I began to be curious about what my real hair color was.

As I wrote a book proposal this summer, I was also preparing to create a website to gather this blog and the memoir-in-progress book community as it forms, which meant doing a photoshoot and hiring a media company.

Luckily, I didn’t have to go far to find either one. My niece Joy Derner takes wonderful photos at Portrait of Hope Photography, and my daughter Kate and her husband Nik Stoltzfus are a great team to call on at Plumb Media in Pittsburgh. Let’s hear it for small businesses and nepotism, er, networking.

The first photoshoot took place in May 2011 near Lititz, PA, at the farmhouse I called “Grandpa’s house” in childhood and “home” when I was a teenager. Since my name “Shirley” means literally “of the bright meadow,” I wanted some pictures taken in that meadow, which is now a public park. The jogging path in the park follows the route I took as a barefoot teenager to call the cows home to be milked in the evening. Joy asked me to sit on a rock in the creek for this photo. The delight you see on my face may be that the shoot is almost over and I can get out of the cold creek.

At Forgotten Seasons Bed and Breakfast, formerly Silver Summit Farm, May, 2011

Then, at the old farmhouse now Forgotten Seasons Bed & Breakfast, she brought out a basket of kitties and an old hymnal and asked me to sing to the kitties. A great idea. We had much fun in the process.

There was only one problem. I had decided, after moving to Brooklyn, NY, to take care of grandson Owen, that I would see what color was under that auburn I had been getting updated at the hairdresser’s every five weeks.

Turns out the colors are quite different.

I’m fine with being called “Grandma” and with my silver hair. Really, I am. I’m even more fine with my job as “granny nanny,” which I’ve been documenting weekly here.

However, as the time approached to select the website photos, it was clear we had a problem. If there was going to be truth in advertising, I couldn’t use those old photos. Or could I?

Joy Derner to the rescue! I hired her a second time on Nov. 3, 2011. Again we enjoyed being together and she had creative ideas for locations in downtown Lancaster, the place where my mother and Hess grandparents sold their farm products twice a week for decades. Here’s a slide show of the seven photos I like best from the second shoot. And below are two of the seven just to give you a preview.

Which ones do you like best? Do you think I could find a way to use both sets of photos (use the older ones in sepiatone, date the photos)?

Also, many writers look pensive in their photos. Do you like a serious pose or a smiling pose on a book cover and/or author website? Which of the photos seems to tell, or suggest, the best story?

Taken close to the Lancaster Central Market, Nov. 3, 2011

In front of Central Market, Nov. 3, 2011, Lancaster, PA


About Shirley Hershey Showalter

Author of memoir Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World. Blogging about Magical Memoir Moments and Jubilación -- vocation in the second half of life.
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45 Responses to Going Grey Caused Me a Problem: Did I Do the Right Thing?

  1. Linda says:

    Love your new look, Shirley. Very sophisticated, professional, engaging. (You picked my two favorite photos.)

  2. What a coincidence! I just wrote a post on this very subject over the weekend. I recently went from blonde to brown (after 15 years) and had my headshots taken again.

    I really like the final photo w/ the red shirt. Very cool look.

    Kudos to you for being a “granny nanny.” That is what I call my mom and mother-in-law, who care for my kids while I work. 🙂

    • shirleyhs says:

      Hi Emma, I just went to your website and loved the post. Hope others who are interested in the semiotics of hair color check you out by clicking on your name. And here’s a salute to the granny nannies in your life. They might enjoy seeing the granny nanny diaries blog inside the post. Let’s stay in touch.

  3. I like the impish grin with the colored lights in the background. It says to me, “You’re going to love this memoir.” Also, I tend to prefer the natural look. But my wife colors her hair, and my mom did too. Do what makes you feel best about yourself. I’m letting my beard grow for that very reason.

    • shirleyhs says:

      Oh good, you took me up on the story idea. My daughter likes that picture also, so I’ll pay more attention to it.

      And let me know when you write about your beard. There’s this thing called residual self image I learned about on Emma’s blog above. We’ll have to see what happens next.

  4. neufeldt says:

    I love it. It is actually more dramatic and stylish than the auburn. I am a fan of not dying but I am a bigger fan of doing what feels best to you.

    • shirleyhs says:

      Hey Susan, thanks for the comment. I would expect you to always think about what the choices we make say to others. You are by nature and training someone who always includes. I love that about you.

  5. Shirley, this is a great dilemma to have! Author photographs are personal and professional, and it’s a little confronting to have to choose. From my own experience you must be comfortable with the idea of that photograph being reproduced in many places and in many unexpected places too (Google Images, for example). From a publishing point of view, consistency is best, so I think you’ve reproduced the best shots from the most recent batch above. Also important for publicity purposes is that you have selected one vertical and one horizontal photograph – it makes it easier for publications if you give them a choice of orientation.

    • shirleyhs says:

      This is a very helpful comment, Virginia. I had not thought of the vertical/horizantal issue. Thanks for that one. You sound like you know a lot about photography/PR. I’m going to check your blog!

  6. I’ve had “honest hair” for nearly ten years now and wouldn’t think of going back. Your new look is chic, sophisticated and gorgeous. You look confident and powerful. A granny nanny with a difference. My favorites are the third in the series (bottom here) and the pensive one. The straight-on one against the wall is also good. The off-kilter one bothers me though. I’m a compulsive picture straightener. I’d feel better about it if it can be rotated and cropped. Then it’s my total fav.

  7. shirleyhs says:

    Hi Sharon, so good to have your vote. And thanks for your kind words.

    Joy’s trademark is the off-kilter perspective, which I appreciate, but I agree with the idea of trying to straighten, at least a bit, for general usage.

  8. diane says:

    I like 3, 5 and 7. The ones in which you look right at us. They all look terrific.

  9. shirleyhs says:

    Thanks, Diane. It’s good to have your thoughts. I appreciate your sharing them.

  10. Loretta Willems says:

    Hi Shirley, I seem to be in the minority, but my favorite is the profile shot where you are looking up, a scarf around your neck. My second favorite is the off-kilter one. And I like your hair in its new natural color. It’s very attractive..

    • shirleyhs says:

      Thanks, Loretta. I like that looking up one also, but as you said, most other people like the direct smiles. There will probably be a place for both over the course of time, but I will have to settle on one for the majority of my social media places. I appreciate your comment. It really does help me to hear other people’s ideas.

  11. Karin Larson Krisetya says:

    Shirley, you look absolutely fabulous with silver hair. It really makes your face and eyes pop. Your eyes, they speak wonders about who you are, Shirley, and that’s why I love photo #3. It’s the face that those of us who sat in your classes saw each day, the face that inspires wonder and the knowledge that something truly amazing waits in store for us! It is a classic photo that one wouldn’t be surprised to see on a jacket cover.
    The pensive shot might be fine for some, but you have so much joy showing in your face most of the time, that it doesn’t make sense to me.
    Now, I think that #5 is a very cool and fashion forward photo. I believe that it would catch the eye of someone passing by who glanced at your book. If I saw this photo I would think ‘Here is someone who is trying to break out of the mold’ if I saw it. Partly it’s the leather jacket, partly it’s the angle, and partly where we seem to be meeting you (at what seems to be a neighborhood café.) It’s a very personal and informal picture. Mat just walked in and I asked him his opinion—he loves photography– and he chose this one. Said that it had movement, and was personal, that it said “I’m a lady from across the street, but I’m also kind of hip.”
    Photo #1 has that scarf –the item of clothing that I have come to associate so strongly with you, and the lighting is beautiful. You’ve got the joy in your face, but you’re not sharing it with me by looking at me. So the photo seems less personal, less engaging.
    One last note, my son just looked over my shoulder and saw your picture #3. The first thing he said was “Oh, she dyed her hair!” And then “ewwww, turtlenecks are horrible!” I guess you won’t be appealing to the tween population with that photo! Svea walked in and liked #5, Elia agreed. [Yeah, when you need your next poll, just let me know!]
    So, my vote goes with #3—so classic. But the rest of my family goes with #5.

    • shirleyhs says:

      What fun to know that a whole family in Manlla, the Philippines, has weighed in on the slideshow. Please thank everyone for me. I especially loved Elia’s reaction to turtlenecks. Tell him to check back in when he is has jowls and neck waddles. 🙂 Oh yes, and has shivered in cold climates for 60 years. He’ll probably be smart enough not to do that.

      I think #5 is going to end up on the front of the web page, but I’ll be able to use #3 in other places.

      Something truly amazing does wait in store for you, Karin. So glad we can travel life’s journey together.

  12. 1211 says:

    I think you look nice with and without gray hair! =)

  13. jzrart says:

    Shirley, you are beautiful either way!! And I LOVE your smile!

  14. Jennifer Jo says:

    I like the grey. It’s classy.

  15. Grace Biskie says:

    the pictures are beautiful! I think your grey is gorgeous on you!

    • shirleyhs says:

      Thanks, Grace. I appreciate your comment and will pass along your praise for the pictures to Joy.

      • shirleyhs says:

        BTW, I visited your blog, which I really like. You and I are both on a writer’s path and are asking for spiritual guidance as we do so. I couldn’t figure out how to leave a comment on your blog (disabled?), but I leave one here to encourage others to visit you. Love your comments about hair also. Blessings galore!

  16. Enjoy the process of deciding all the additional things that go along with writing. You look great in both sets of photographs … I think I would go with the recent set for your author photo because that is who you are today.

    And now for a hair question, I had highlights for the past few years, which covered or blended in the gray hair, but recently I had to start coloring it all because the gray is taking over. I tend to do life as natural as I can, so sometimes I wonder if I’m really going to keep dyeing my hair for the next few decades or if I should just go natural now.

    Now that you’ve done this … are you glad you dyed it for fifteen years or do you wish you had gone natural earlier?

  17. Jennifer says:

    You absolutely glow with the gray. I have sprouts of gray coming in and have been contemplating dying my hair. You make me want to let the gray play itself out. Also, kudos to Jo for great lighting.

    I enjoy your writing and look forward to your memoir.

  18. shirleyhs says:

    I probably would make the same decisions again, Janet. The brown hair served me well when I was going to an office every day and doing executive work. But I didn’t like the time, expense and the chemical treatments. One of the things I love about life now is the freedom to be natural, set my own schedule, and wear what I chose.There is no magic number of years. One thing I like is that by covering the grey when it began, I got to bypass the salt-and-pepper stage. But that can be nice too. There’s no magic formula, but I’m happy to share my experience.

  19. shirleyhs says:

    Thank you, sweet Jennifer. Your hair is beautiful and so are you. I’m so glad we met this year and look forward to staying in touch with Food on Our Table, your beautiful mission in life.

  20. Have had snow white hair for so long (began in my early 30s), so I applaud your choice, Shirley! It looks “true” and for a memoir … that’s a good way to go re author promotion. It also looks very becoming on you! As for author photos in general … I would pick something you’re entirely comfortable with … a photo that you are happy to share with the world. It’s all good! Take care. And enjoy the new look! –Daisy

    • shirleyhs says:

      I have admired your lovely white on all your pictures, Daisy. Have you ever written about what it was like to go white so young? Obviously, hair is a topic people care about!

      I associate snowy white hair with wisdom as well as beauty. You have both! Thanks for being a kindred spirit and helping me find others.

  21. Kate Allen says:

    Hi Shirley, I really like the 2nd on with the pier like image in the background and the two you highlighted in your post. Beautiful. And your writing is so lyrical. Thanks for sharing it!

    • shirleyhs says:

      Kate, you’re so sweet to come find this post and leave a comment. Your vote helps #2 stay in contention for secondary shots. And the ones in the post will get top billing.

      Thanks for commenting on the writing, too. Some writers seem immune to praise. I’m not there yet and appreciate your kind words. 🙂

  22. My vote is: “Taken close to the Lancaster Central Market, Nov. 3, 2011.” Very literary but warm.

  23. Terry Helwig says:

    I am late in responding, but I like the one of you in the red shirt. Warm and inviting.

  24. I love this post. And I’m always musing on how TV people rarely let their natural gray show. (‘Tis why I love Helen Mirren particularly). My BF and I were just talking about that the other day–how you rarely see female newscasters with gray hair yet you see many aging male anchors with gray hair.
    Me? I’m still at the grab the tweezers quick stage complete with frowns and “what’s THIS?” looks. I could be in denial.

  25. shirleyhs says:

    LOL, cubiclerebel. I remember the tweezer stage. Yes, women feel much more pressure, especially in highly visible professional careers, to look as young as possible as long as possible. I’ve read that men are beginning to dye their hair more now also. Especially if they are trying to find a job after the age of 50.

  26. Thank you for your tweet message and your link to this blog
    I think you should pick the pics that you feel best represent who you are and how you feel today
    since I don’t know you my preference is purely my visual reactio
    That said, I like the first photos and you know it is not a silver hair prejudice from me…
    I think the first pics have more life, more vibrance and they tell bigger stories.
    My two cents, great to virtually meet you,

    • shirleyhs says:

      Jaki, thanks so much for offering these interesting ideas and for commenting even though we have not met. I love your idea of Fifty and Fabulous. And thanks for pointing out the liveliness of the first two photos. You remind me to find ways to use these even though I plan to go with the two at the bottom for website and book jacket.

  27. Gutsy Living says:

    Shirley, I’m a little late here. Isn’t it gray in American and grey in English? Just curious. I like #2, #4 and #7 the best. I color my hair and will continue to do so for a while. Yes, I’m still vain about my hair. I do love your smile and confidence. Beautiful Shirley.

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