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
Anime & Manga
- 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.
- Mis Mishtal from the anime El Hazard went into hysterics after finding a single gray hair.
- 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...
- 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.
- 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.
Truth in Television
- 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.
- If you have found any grays in your hair, chances are you've had this reaction.
If launched, should be indexed in Hair Tropes