Corona Turned Me Into Cruella De Vil

Struggling with premature hair whitening.

Photo by Mariana Vusiatytska on Unsplash

I spent most of my life being told that I don’t look my age. I entered my 30s with a theme party where I pretended to be a spoiled adolescent in an episode of MTV’s My Sweet Sixteen. I bought a princess dress, a tiara and a 2x5 meters reproduction of the Disney Castle. I indulged in my Peter Pan’s syndrome, a lot.

A couple of months ago the cleaning lady stopped me by the stairs. She said “Giulia, how old are you? You look too young to have all those white hair!”.

Needless to say, I got a horrible day.

“Qu’ils mangent de la brioche”

The sudden and premature hair whitening goes beyond the name of Marie Antoinette syndrome. Marie Antoniette is best-known for the phrase “Let Them Eat Cake”. This inaccurate translation from the French language — which referred to butter croissants — was the solution the regent proposed to her people lacking the bread to eat. Apart from her dearth in common sense - or humanity, one could say — the Queen of France is believed to have turned full white-haired three times in her life, including when she was incarcerated during the French Revolution and sentenced to decapitation. Historically speaking, the first reported episode of this phenomenon even dates back to the Talmud, a Jewish historical record of the First Century.

The sudden hair whitening has long been addressed as historical fiction in medical literature. It is now clinically defined as canities and has been explained as selective alopecia, a disease that causes hair to fall. In this peculiar case, alopecia affects only the pigmented hair, leaving the white one on.

While going total white is uncommon, premature greying is not. But it’s not till recently — and with recently I mean this year — that it got scientifically linked to stress. The correlation between stress and premature ageing has long been controversial. The new theories believe that greying is caused by the sympathetic nervous system, which has nerves in any hair follicle. Stress activates the sympathetic nervous system to cause damages to the melanocyte cells, which are responsible for colouring hair. The reversibility of this process has been also affirmed in science — as a result of the decrease in stress - but it remains uncertain.

“Gonna catch’em all”

When the Italian government enacted the first lockdown in March, I had just started a new job after a year of unemployment. I was abruptly sent back to spending my days at home, a place that already looked like a golden cage to me. I found it really difficult to maintain a healthy balance. I swung from being blocked by the anxiety I felt at the pandemics to non-stop-working. There were days when I woke up at 6 a.m. and I got back to bed at 2 a.m., after a full day spent working and drinking coffee. I just didn’t care about the way I looked, till I left home again.

It was an incredibly stressful situation. My hair greyed in a sudden and strange way, mostly on the right side. Yes, you got it right, I went all-in for a Cruella De Vil look.

Adapting to any change that you don’t get to choose isn’t easy. I’d say that looking like a dalmatian gets to the top 10 of most females’ UNWANTED lists. I searched for pics of young feminists displaying their grey hair as an empowering tool and I read a lot of articles on how grey hair made them feel confident, as a showcase of their maturity. I envied them, but I couldn’t stop thinking I wanted to look 25 again. It didn’t help me, because I kept feeling ashamed of the way I looked.

So, I tried to find a positive outcome. I looked for a way to get back in control of my image. And by that, I mean entering into a mindset where anything I do is not because I am ashamed of how I look.

I reflected on the fact that I could now change my look more easily than ever before. I have really dark hair and that has always prevented me from oxidizing them to try lighter shades. So, I decided I was going bold. Go big or go home, baby.

I got my hair shortened and bright red. I then turned to a deep magenta. I even got a bang. This is what my boyfriend defined as playing Pokémon Go.

“That’s all”

In the early 2000s, this common sentence became a statement if pronounced by Miranda Priestley. The first time I watched The Devil Wears Prada I screamed: “I totally want to look like that when I’m older!”. Of course, I was dreaming of going to work dressed in Hermès, but I also believed that in time I would have definitely let my hair grow totally white. The result looked awesome: classy, confident, powerful.

However, I’m not there yet. This is a hard time for anybody. If you see any change in your body, do not be blind like I was and try to reduce your stress levels before your body erupts all your stress.

“Mind it”.

I blamed myself for not cutting off at least some of my workloads, but I also realized that we do not really know how much our bodies and brains will suffer from the Corona outbreak. Somatizing is a pretty common effect of psychological trauma. With premature hair greying, we really do not know if it’s a reversible condition. So, if your genetics do not address that you might turn grey pretty soon — mine doesn’t — beware of what your body is saying to you. Love it. More. It is the only one you’ll get and you’ll need to respect it enough to either correct your attitudes and habits or accept your changing shapes.

And please keep in mind that you’re the worst judge of your flaws. I realized that anytime I was meeting a friend, I put the issue I had with my look on the table, in order to avoid comments. I was always saying: “I need to dye my hair, I see the whites”. And you know what? Nobody hadn’t actually noticed it or did mind it.

In the end, I can assure you that the road to “the Miranda Priestley” is pretty impervious — and it’s not just about the prices of a Birkin. Till then, everything that prevents you from losing your sanity or acquiring the wisdom of Marie Antoinette seems like a really good solution.

A being. Trying to get somewhere. Probably, Mars.

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