Created By: ThreeferFAQMinorityChickNovember 19, 2011 Last Edited By: ThreeferFAQMinorityChickDecember 8, 2011
Troped

First Gray Hair

A character finds a single gray hair and it suddenly hits them that they\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\'re getting old

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Trope
Willy Wonka: A few months ago, I was having my semiannual haircut and I had the strangest revelation. [cut to Willy Wonka having his hair cut by an Oompa-Loompa. He looks in a mirror, sees a strand of gray hair on his shoulder, and picks it up] In that one silver hair, I saw reflected my life's work, my factory, my beloved Oompa-Loompas. Who would watch over them when I was gone? I realized in that moment I must find a heir.

A character angsting about how they're getting old is a great source of drama. But how do we kick off this drama? What are some cultural signs of getting old? A milestone birthday? Nope. How would we iron out the birthday business to get to the development of the character's angst? Besides, we might ruin the appeal of the character's Vague Age. Bodily malfunctions like creaky joints? That might imply too old an age. Gray hair? People of all ages get those. But it's mainly associated with middle age. And it doesn't have any lasting impact, as long as they're removed or dyed over. And if it's only one strand, it's not immediately visible to the naked eye. Besides, it's just hair color and doesn't really impact anything else, other than the angst and freaking out about getting old that it is often the source of. Hence we have the First Gray Hair that automatically equals age. A character is looking in the mirror (or at their hair itself if it's long enough for that) and suddenly sees a glint of something diffent from that of their usual hair color. (S)He gives in to curiosity and inspects more closely to find that it's... GRAY HAIR! And on their own head, too! And thus the angsting about getting old begins.

Some may wonder if it is worth it to have a character making a big deal over finding that one or more strands of their hair have changed color (even if it is to gray or white). Then again, Tropes Are Tools, and the First Gray Hair is often used for An Aesop about how growing older is a natural process and not necessarily a bad thing once the character has gotten over their angst on their own or by force. Unfortunately, though, this way of dealing with having found the First Gray Hair seems to be limited to men who find them. Women who have found this tend to have more prolonged angst over this and additionally shown to be removing or dying over their grays.

Compare Ma'am Shock. May lead to Midlife Crisis Car if played for laughs.

Needs More Examples

Advertising
  • Old Clairol ad: "Does she or doesn't she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure!" The implication is that if she is (using clairol) it's to cover up the grey. And of course, that it's just the right product to start using once one has had this happen to them.
  • Grecian Formula had commercials for men's version and women's version to help them cover up that grey. Their ads usually started with a man looking in a mirror and visibly unhappy about having this, and the woman being mistaken for her husband's mother rather than his wife. They're happier once they use the product and their grays have vanished.

Anime & Manga
  • Mis Mishtal from the anime El Hazard went into hysterics after finding a single gray hair.

Comics

Literature
  • Clarissa Stump has a moment like this in Murder on the Leviathan, and it is implied to not be the first time. She rips it out but is immediately ashamed of herself being in denial about her age.
  • This is what kicks off the plot in Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson. Arriman the Awful has been waiting around for his prophesied successor to show up; now that this one gray hair has shown up, he can't wait anymore, and his manservant suggests that the prophecy means his son. Of course, he isn't married, so this requires him to find a wife...
  • Played with in The Catcher In The Rye - 16-year-old Holden acknowledges having a great deal of grey hair, but does not seem concerned by it. Nevertheless, it is listed as being one of his 'adult-qualities', which is significant considering the themes of the novel...

Film

Television
  • Jack theorizes that he's ageing in Doctor Who canon, when he finds a grey hair.
  • An episode of The Fairly Oddparents plays this for laughs. Timmy's dad finds a gray hair in his nose and starts going on about how he's getting old. It leads to him buying a car and Timmy wishing to become it.
  • Dr Cox of Scrubs goes a little nuts when he finds a gray hair in his happy trail.
  • This happens to Marge when she finds one gray hair in her blue beehive.
  • John Crichton discovers one in "A Human Reaction." Not that the rest of the episode actually grants him the time to ponder the significance.
  • In the final episode of Lost, Richard finds one. Though rather than being a source of angst, he considers this a very good thing since it means he's no longer immortal.
  • One episode of Clarissa Explains It All sees Clarissa's mother panicking about getting older after discovering that she has a gray hair. Clarissa's dad, however, is quick to point out to her that she only had a gray hair, having just plucked it out before both characters entered the scene.

Web Original
  • Mostly averted on Going Gray Looking Great, though some members on the site share stories about experiences fitting this trope.
  • Thoroughly averted on the Salt & Pepper Thread on the Long Hair Community forum in that those who regularly post in that thread don't mind and even celebrate what they feel is the beauty of their gray hair. Played straight in the accounts members share about feeling old upon finding their first gray hair(s), but subverted in that posts about finding gray in one's hair is considered a cause for celebration.

Comedy
  • Whoopi Goldberg had an entire monologue built around realizing she's getting old. Part of it mentioned grey hairs showing up in her pubic region.

Truth in Television
  • If you have found any grays in your hair, chances are you've had this reaction.

If launched, should be indexed in Hair Tropes and Elders
Community Feedback Replies: 45
  • November 19, 2011
    Loquacia
    • Jack theorizes that he's ageing in Doctor Who canon, when he finds a grey hair.
  • November 19, 2011
    NESBoy
  • November 19, 2011
    Folamh3
    • At the start of Vanilla Sky, David finds a grey hair and promptly yanks it out. It seems like an innocuous detail, but actually ties into the film's underlying theme.
  • November 19, 2011
    surgoshan
    • Dr Cox of Scrubs goes a little nuts when he finds a gray hair in his happy trail.
  • November 20, 2011
    randomsurfer
    The Simpsons This happens to Marge when she finds one gray hair in her blue beehive.
  • November 20, 2011
    fulltimeD
    • Farscape: John Crichton discovers one in "A Human Reaction." Not that the rest of the episode actually grants him the time to ponder the significance.
  • November 20, 2011
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    Theater
    • Whoopi Goldberg had an entire monologue built around realizing she's getting old. Part of it mentioned grey hairs showing up in her pubic region.

    Real Life
    • Subverted by comic Steve Martin who went prematurely grey before he even reached the age of majority.
  • November 20, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    ^ About the Whoopi Goldberg example, how does it count in theater rather than real life/truth in television? Also, with the Steve Martin example, having gone visibly gray before reaching the age of majority alone doesn't make it a subversion. I know and have known multiple teenagers who found gray hairs and then started using hair dye or plucking their silver strands because having gray hairs made them feel old. I myself found my first gray hairs when I was 13 and I was like, "Holy crap, I'm getting old? How is this happening?" and even though I never made any attempts to hide or remove them, it took me years to get used to actually having silver in my sable. In those cases, I feel it's not a subversion. However, if someone finds one or more gray hairs and shrugs it off, saying "big deal" to it, then it would be an actual subversion. I personally think that it would count as more of in inversion because rather than having a middle aged person find a single gray hair and say, "I'm old," Steve Martin was visibly gray before becoming an adult and didn't consider it a big deal.
  • November 20, 2011
    nitrokitty
    ^ I think the Whoopi example fits as Theater because it was a monologue as part of a stand-up comedy routine. The Steve Martin example doesn't really fit since he just went prematurely gray, which (as far as we know) has nothing to do with a character freaking out about suddenly finding gray hairs.
  • November 20, 2011
    FinalStarman
    Is this just for one gray hair? If so, then Marge actually subverts this trope since she soon realizes her hair was actually completely gray under her dye.
  • November 20, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    ^ I think it still counts as Marge reacts this way to finding a single visibly silver strand. By the way, anyone think we should sort out what makes a subersion, aversion, etc.? Here's my idea for a potential Playing With page. Feel free to copy it and post it with your additions

    Basic Trope: A character finds a silver strand amongst his or her otherwise colored hairs and immediately feels old
    • Straight: Alice finds a single gray hair and complains to her friends about how she is getting old
    • Exaggerated: Bob finds a single gray hair and acts as if his death is immminent.
    • Justified: Bob has a "family curse" where a man always dies a week after finding a gray hair
    • Inverted: Daniel has lived a long life and has a full head of silvers to show for it. But then he finds that he has a single strand of brown hair amongst them, making him feel younger than he has in years.
    • Subverted: Alice finds a gray hair but just shrugs and goes on with her day
      • Claire, who is known for her vanity, is combing her beautiful brown hair one day and finds some silver in there. She notes how starkly pretty it looks contrasted with her darker brown hair.
      • Bob looks in the mirror and finds a grey hair, to his surprise. But then he smiles- it turns out he's happy for being able to look more mature and experienced.
    • Double Subverted: And then Alice thinks some more about her having found gray hair and freaks out because it means she's getting old(er) and that later will come wrinkles.
    • Parodied: The entire plot revolves around multiple people finding gray hairs and all having HeroicBSODs over their revelations that they are getting old.
    • Deconstructed: Alice finds a gray hair and this makes her feel old, but she says nothing about it and starts plucking her silvers as she finds them
    • Reconstructed: And Alice complains to her friends about her feeling old because she discovered gray hairs and the change in her hair care routine besides
    • Zig Zagged: ???
    • Averted: Unexpectedly for someone of his age, Bob never finds any gray hairs at all.
      • Alternatively, Bob has found a gray hair one of many times and doesn't think much of it at all.
      • Alice is visibly acquiring more silver in her sable and she thinks it is beautiful rather than automatically synonymous with getting old
    • Enforced: ???
    • Lampshaded: ???
    • Invoked: Daniel knows how much Alice values her naturally youthful appearance, so to play a prank on her, he sneaks up on her while she sleeps and selectively dyes one or more strands of hair to make them apparently silver.
    • Defied: Bob refuses to make a big deal about the one gray hair he found that morning
    • Discussed: "Um, Sally, aren't you overreacting a bit? It's just one gray hair and it's completely normal to get those. Just 'cause you found one now doesn't necessarily mean that you're an old lady."
      • "Man, Bob's been really down since he found his first gray hair this morning."
    • Conversed: "How come whenever a character finds a gray hair, they always freak out about getting old?"
    • Played For Laughs: Carlos finds a gray hair and declares himself to be having a midlife crisis, leading him to do one or more ridiculously hilarious things to cheer himself up.
    • Played For Drama: ???
  • November 20, 2011
    Andygal
    Averted: Alice finds a gray hair but just shrugs and goes on with her day.
  • November 20, 2011
    hevendor717
    Subverted/Parodied: Bob looks in the mirror and finds a grey hair, to his surprise. But then he smiles- it turns out he's happy for being able to look more mature and experienced.
  • November 21, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    bump
  • November 22, 2011
    Koveras
    • Clarissa Stump has a moment like this in Murder on the Leviathan, and it is implied to not be the first time. She rips it out but is immediately ashamed of herself being in denial about her age.
  • November 22, 2011
    Lysythe
    This is what kicks off the plot in Which Witch? by Eva Ibbotson. Arriman the Awful has been waiting around for his prophesied successor to show up; now that this one gray hair has shown up, he can't wait anymore, and his manservant suggests that the prophecy means his son. Of course, he isn't married, so this requires him to find a wife...
  • November 23, 2011
    TheJackal
    Live Action TV
    • In the final episode of Lost, Richard finds one. Though rather than being a source of angst, he considers this a very good thing since it means he's no longer immortal.
  • November 23, 2011
    4kingimbaseal
    Played with by The Catcher in the Rye - 16-year-old Holden acknowledges having a great deal of grey hair, but does not seem concerned by it. Nevertheless, it is listed as being one of his 'adult-qualities', which is significant considering the themes of the novel...
  • November 23, 2011
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    The Whoopi example was from a theatrical stand-up comedy routine, yes.

    And I figured Steve Martin as a subversion because he went prematurely grey, and just shrugged and kept going, without dying it. He made it in Hollywood as a very young man with silver hair, rather than being forced into older guy roles. To say nothing of the double standard. If a woman had grey hair, she'd have to dye it to have any shot at roles for her proper age, or she'd get cast as the matron/grandmother type.
  • November 24, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    ^ Interesting about Steve Martin. And looking over the examples we've got so far, most of them are male, with the rare female example. It seems like Hollywood (for the most part anyway) would like to pretend that women go up to their 50s without getting any silver strands at all and then when they turn 60 or so, then they are "allowed" to be at least partially gray and then they have to be in "older woman" roles.
  • November 24, 2011
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    • Poltergeist has a female example, except it's kind of playing with the trope. The young mom is completely brunette at the beginning of the film. After the events of the film at which point they have gotten Carol Ann back and think the house safe (but it's not), she looks in the mirror and discovers she has a Skunk Stripe of white hair. She ponders dyeing it then lets it be. She doesn't freak out about it because it's not that she's getting old. It's because she survived a horrible haunting.
  • November 24, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    ^ I've never seen Film/Poltergeist, but from what you describe, that sounds more to me like Disease Bleach or Locked Into Strangeness. Do you think that the discovery aspect of it makes that fit this trope?
  • November 24, 2011
    arromdee
    Mis Mishtal from the anime El Hazard went into hysterics after finding a single gray hair. (This is a female example.)
  • November 24, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    bump
  • November 24, 2011
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    • Threefer: the Poltergeist example seems to straddle Disease Bleach and your one grey hair trope. If she left it, no one but the family would be aware the grey streak was anything other than her getting old unless she said it. How do we handle examples that seem to be accurate for more than one trope?
  • November 25, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    Paradisca Corbasi: Simply note that the character has this kind of experience in the work as a result of Disease Bleach or Locked Into Strangeness.
  • November 25, 2011
    SeanMurrayI
    • One episode of Clarissa Explains It All sees Clarissa's mother panicking about getting older after discovering that she has a gray hair. Clarissa's dad, however, is quick to point out to her that she only had a gray hair, having just plucked it out before both characters entered the scene.
  • November 25, 2011
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    • Another Locked Into Strangeness female example. Movie!Rogue from X-Men gets her Skunk Stripe not from age, but as a result of being used to power Magneto's machine. She never even considers dyeing it.
  • November 27, 2011
    FinalStarman
    In response to the bold up top, I would not say that this is gender-specific at all. Midlife crisis is unisex.
  • November 27, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    ^ I was thinking on that and I'd say you're right in that midlife crises are not gender specific in real life or in media, but that the way they're dealt with in media is certainly different. So I added a paragraph after. Do you think it's good, or does it need to be changed in any way?
  • November 27, 2011
    nitrokitty
    Replying to the bold top: I think that we have more male examples is just coincidental, and has no real hidden meaning. Let's just keep it gender neutral.
  • November 27, 2011
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    I don't think it's coincidental. Hollywood is very much focused on a woman's attractiveness being attached to her youth. Older actresses have a harder time getting roles. Older actors, no problem. Example: Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery as love interests.

    You are very unlikely to see, for example, Meryl Streep and Robert Pattenson as love interests. Or even Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher who were, until recently, a Real Life married couple.

  • November 27, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    ^ And the female examples I added are not only fewer than the male ones, but there are significantly fewer ones of those that are realistic or have the woman getting over the angst and/or take the graying in stride. Every male example has a scenario that is basically realistic while the two film female examples have the woman getting gray hair through a weird scenario and the one with Marge Simpson has her find one in her hair that she has been dying for a long time and has continued dying afterwards.
  • November 27, 2011
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    Advertising
    • Old Clairol ad: "Does she or doesn't she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure!" The implication is that if she is (using clairol) it's to cover up the grey.
    • Grecian Formula had commercials for men's version and women's version to help them cover up that grey. Their ads usually started with a man looking in a mirror, and the woman being mistaken for her husband's mother rather than his wife.

  • November 28, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    ^ Those examples seem relevant because of the "gray hair" aspect of it, but do either of them allude to someone finding one of these?
  • November 28, 2011
    nitrokitty
    I'd rename it to be just Single Gray Hair, cutting out the "Of Age" part, since that seems to be where the confusion comes from. That makes it clear that it's all about finding that single gray hair, and the description can go into the implications surrounding it.
  • November 28, 2011
    ParadiscaCorbasi
    The Grecian Formula ones definitely have a man or a woman scowling or looking mopily into a mirror before applying the product. Not so much the Clairol.

    Oh, and this would be related to that "just because there's snow on the roof doesn't mean there's no fire in the fireplace" trope.
  • December 1, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    Bumping this up. Does everyone like Found Some Gray In My Hair instead of Single Gray Hair of Age or do you think that should be out in favor of another one?
  • December 1, 2011
    Stratadrake
    Found Some Gray In My Hair may get the axe for getting named after a line of personal dialogue.

    How about First Gray Hair Of Age, or simply First Gray Hair?
  • December 1, 2011
    lamoxlamae
    First Gray Hair works, though you can use Single Gray Hair of Age and First Gray Hair Of Age as redirects.
  • December 2, 2011
    surgoshan
    • One fable had a man with two wives, one of whom preferred him to look old, the other who wanted him to look young. The first plucked out his brown hairs, the second his gray. He ended up completely bald. The moral? Probably something misogynistic.
  • December 2, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    ^ Not sure how this fits since he didn't find the hairs. He had them all along and then the wife who wanted him to look young removed them.
  • December 5, 2011
    ThreeferFAQMinorityChick
    Should we launch this?
  • December 5, 2011
    Damr1990
    compare/contrart [[ptitledu41nxkg6try Ma'am Shock]] and Midlife Crisis Car
  • December 8, 2011
    nitrokitty

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable