Gretchen Rubin

Gray hair, Botox, liposuction, nose-piercing, and happiness–do appearance and attractiveness matter?

The other night, I sat down to read Anne Kreamer’s Going Gray and practically didn’t get up again until I’d finished it.

Going Gray is her account of her decision to stop dying her hair – why she decided to “go gray,” how she did it, and how she felt about it. On the one hand, she wanted to accept herself more fully, and stop spending time and money on her hair; on the other hand, she worried about “letting herself go” and whether she’d look less attractive.

I wanted to read the memoir for several reasons. First, I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between happiness and attractiveness. It’s complicated. I’m still thinking.

Second, I’m interested in how people express themselves through their appearance – hair, clothes, tattoos, jewelry, etc. At earlier times of her life, Anne Kreamer dyed her hair in a certain way to signal at work that she was a creative, non-corporate type. I want to “Be Gretchen” – how do I translate that into my appearance?

I suppose both of these issues are sub-parts to a single fascinating question: how our outer appearance affects and reflects our inner character.

Anne Kreamer struggles with the issue of authenticity. If we mess with our appearance, does that make us less authentic? Should we accept ourselves as we are? What is the relationship of inner and outer?

Which raises the question – if we do alter our appearance, where’s the line? Some people embrace Botox, face lifts, pierced lips, liposuction, and nose jobs; some people think these interventions are too extreme. If so, is it acceptable to straighten your hair, shave your beard or your legs, pierce your ears, wear make-up, use contact lenses? I can’t think of a single example of a person or group who argues against ANY alteration of a person’s natural appearance (e.g., Amish men trim their beards and if I remember correctly, don’t wear mustaches).

The book was very thought-provoking, and also made me feel lucky in two ways. First, it reminded me that I love having red hair. It’s unusual, but it’s natural. I get the benefit of looking highly individual, but without any effort (or self-questioning).

Also, I never realized quite how lucky I was not to color my hair. I’ve never even put in highlights, because in high school, a hairdresser warned me that red hair can turn brassy.

I always expected to go gray early, partly because that seems like my personality (why? I don’t know), and also because my mother told me that red-haired people tend to go gray early, but so far, I haven’t. Like so many things in life, I’ve completely taken my hair color for granted – but reading this book made me very appreciative of the time, effort, and money I’ve saved.

I’m still struggling to think through the issues related to appearance and happiness. Yes, I know that our appearance SHOULDN’T affect our happiness – but I think it does. Or does it?

Any thoughts? All comments on this subject welcome.

I'm extremely interested in the subject of organ donation, so I was very interested to read Laura Meckler's front-page story in the Wall Street Journal today: Kidney Shortage Inspires a Radical Idea: Organ Sales. I kept thinking, "Why don't they get some economists involved, to try to predict the consequences of paying for organs? This isn't something that doctors think about very much, but some folks do." And voila, I read this on the excellent Freakonomics blog.

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