Juliana Formicola, 38, an art lecturer and teacher from London, started going grey at 17. She tells Fabulous why instead of having her hairdresser on speed-dial, she’s letting nature take its course
‘Taking a seat at the back of the bus, I was surprised when a boy in front turned around to talk to me. ‘Hey, you’ve got grey in your hair!’ he grinned, pointing at my head.
He didn’t mean to be nasty, and it was only a passing comment. He even looked impressed. But I was 17 years old. I was still doing my A levels – I should have had decades before I found my first white hairs.
I’d first noticed the rogue strands a couple of weeks earlier in the bathroom mirror. There were only a few, but they were easy to spot in my dark auburn hair – and now other people were pointing them out, too.
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Prematurely grey hair runs in my family, and my father and grandmother turned white by the time they were 40. I’m originally from Bute, a small Scottish island, and it’s common for Celts to go grey early.
For a long time, those strands didn’t change, and after the initial shock I didn’t pay them much attention. My friends quite liked them and men didn’t seem put off. In fact, when I met my husband Carlo, now 46, on a plane when I was 20 he didn’t notice for months.
At 24, I moved to London to train as a teacher and began a year of intensive work. I was tired, stressed, and almost overnight the few strands of grey grew to an inch-wide strip at the front.
It was impossible to hide it when it was so close to my face, but London was full of people who stood out from the crowd. I liked that it made me unique.
It did make things interesting when I started working as a supply teacher in a primary school, though. The kids couldn’t understand why my hair was the same colour as their grandparents’. I got called ‘Cruella De Vil’ a lot and one pupil asked me: ‘Miss, are you 100 years old?’ But kids always see things very matter-of-factly, so I didn’t take offence.
Through my 20s the grey gradually spread, and by my early 30s my hair was salt and pepper with thick white streaks.
Glad to be grey
Aside from the odd winter day when my skin looked as grey as my hair, it didn’t bother me. Maybe because Carlo still thought I looked great.
In fact, I’ve never had any negative comments from men about my hair. If anything, it’s women who seem intrigued as to why I don’t try to cover it up – perhaps because that’s seen as the done thing for women.
But I knew dying it would only leave me with white roots when it grew out – which I thought would look even worse. More than anything I was lazy and couldn’t bear getting it redone every six weeks!
Hairdressers struggled to understand my decision. They’d lift up my hair to show me how grey it was getting underneath, and could never hide their shock. Once, when I tried a new salon, the stylist clapped her hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eye in the mirror and said loudly: ‘So! What are we going to do about the colour?’ I faltered and said: ‘Er… nothing?’
‘You know that white hair makes you look older,’ she continued, and the person in the next chair turned to look, while I tried to hide my irritation. So I just asked for two inches off the bottom and never went back.
On the train home I heard a handsome man say to his friend: ‘Now that’s how to age gracefully.’ I could have been offended, but I smiled to myself and took it as a compliment.
I now have a hairdresser called Tracey who comes to my house twice a year when I need a trim. She’s never once suggested I dye it – which is why I’ve stuck with her!
People sometimes ask if my hair is coarse, but it’s always been very soft and manageable. I don’t do much to it, just wash and condition it and let it dry naturally.
Earlier this year, Carlo saw a grey-haired fashion model in one of the weekend newspaper supplements and suggested I tried modelling. In June, I went to a casting for an agency and they signed me, and last month I was modelling high-street fashion on This Morning as my first ever assignment. Abbey Clancy told me she loved my hair, which made me feel great! I’ve also done a video shoot dressed as a ’60s zombie nurse for Alton Towers, which was good fun, so my hair is opening doors for me to try new experiences and make money.
There’s a certain ‘wise and serious’ stereotype to grey hair, but I don’t conform to it. I look quiet, apparently, but once you get to know me, I’m actually quite an extrovert. Although I do like knitting!
People very rarely assume I’m older than I am because of the colour of my hair. In fact, I’m often described as ‘ageless’ and I’ve had people guess I’m anywhere from 20 to 40 years old.
Recently BBC newsreader Fiona Bruce, 48, said that she couldn’t allow herself to be seen on TV with grey hair, so she dyes it regularly. It’s a shame that she feels like that. People shouldn’t be scared of going grey.
There are so many inspirational grey-haired women. It’s even become trendy. Kelly Osbourne and singers Ellie Goulding and Marina Diamandis have experimented with it. A few of my friends have even tried grey streaks themselves.
I’m looking forward to going completely white. Although I’ve got used to looking different, so when everyone else starts turning grey maybe that’s when I’ll start dying it!”
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