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Anderson Cooper

Going gray

By Anderson Cooper

Editor's note: Anderson Cooper anchors CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," which airs weeknights at 10 p.m. ET. He also is a regular contributor for Details Magazine. This article was published in the August 2003 issue.

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Anderson Cooper

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Anderson Cooper

Some call it salt-and-pepper; others call it newfound gravitas. But face it -- your hair is going prematurely gray.

The good news: Losing color doesn't make you an old man. Just don't wear it like Phil Donahue.

Going gray is like ejaculation. You know it can happen prematurely, but when it actually does, it's a total shock.

I had brown hair until I was 20. Then the gray began to sprout.

Today, 15 years later, it's spread like some mutant melanin virus and now completely envelops my head.

I still refuse to admit I'm gray. Salt-and-pepper is about all I'll cop to.

Of course, I'm just about out of pepper. We all cling to delusions. This is mine. Leave it alone.

Did you know that according to legend, the guy who became Buddha decided to seek enlightenment the day he got a touch of gray? "Gray hairs," the would-be Buddha said, "are like angels sent by the god of death."

Translation: Gray is nature's way of whispering "You're dying."

I may not like the way my gra... I mean, salt-and-pepper hair looks, but I can't honestly say it's done me any harm.

In the TV news business, gray equals gravitas. In fact, in just about any line of work being prematurely gray is an advantage.

On a guy, gray hair says, "I'm mature, stable. I can be relied on." Think George W. Bush.

Even the Bible promotes the myth. "Gray hair is a crown of glory," one proverb states. "It is gained in a righteous life."

Premature gray means you reap the benefits of living the righteous life without having to actually live the righteous life. You get to cut in line. So consider yourself lucky.

On the other hand, women don't get a free pass.

When was the last time you saw a sexy gray-haired woman in a movie? Rogue and Storm don't count; they're cartoon characters.

"It's not fair," says Diane Harris, a media image consultant, "but men see gray on a woman and they think she's old."

My friend Cathy went gray in her early thirties. She was attractive and successful, but guys backed away.

"Men instantly assumed Birkenstock-wearing, protest-rally-organizing cat lover," Cathy says. "You could see it in their eyes."

Needless to say, Cathy's no longer gray.

For men, of course, it's a different story. I don't get it, but gray on guys drives a lot of folks wild.

Think Bill Clinton. Huge head of gray, not to mention a monster-truck tire around his waist, and he had an intern pizza-delivery service.

There are millions of follicle fetishists out there, and at the first hint of tint they find you and ogle your albino tresses like a hot pair of buns.

The other thing that happens when you start getting gray: You begin checking out every other gray-haired guy.

It's a Darwinian survival response -- the need to check out the competition.

This can deteriorate into something of an obsession. For a while, every time I saw Phil Donahue, I had to reassure myself: It's okay. I'm not as gray as he is.

Note to Phil: Big white hair was fine for the Snow Miser, but again, cartoons don't count.

The most important thing about going gray: Keep it short. Grow it long and all of a sudden you look like a roadie for Peter, Paul & Mary. Not the image you want to go for.

You can, of course, dye. Plenty of guys do, but if you ask me, you might as well advertise your desperation.

Why not just wear a button that says "I sit in a salon once a month with silver foil in my hair"?

You can also try dying your hair at home, but isn't there something sad about habitually locking yourself in the bathroom and doling out dye into your trembling hands like some aging junkie?

My advice? Give in to gray. Make the most of it while you're still young.

Remember, there will come a time in the not too distant future when you're no longer prematurely gray. People will stop using the word distinguished.

By then, you'll have a wattle, baggy eyes and sagging skin, and pretty young things won't even notice your hair. Only other guys will.

Bald guys.

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