Returning to My (Gray) Roots

Much like my father, my hair began graying when I was young. There is a video of me, shot just days after my second son was born, where I happily pronounced that my gray hair had magically disappeared with childbirth. With that single visit to my hairdresser, I had pushed myself into the world of permanent hair color. I was only 29.

At first it wasn’t a big deal. I didn’t have that much gray yet and my hairstyle allowed me to get my hair colored only every few months. But that all changed when I was 50. Looking for something new after sporting the same hair style for too many years, I boldly asked my hairdresser to cut my hair into a short, layered, pixie sort of style.

I set off for Ireland just days later with my parents and was thrilled with my new haircut. No matter how much the wind and rain pelted me, I could just run my fingers through my hair to quickly style it. I didn’t even need a comb or brush—and still haven’t used one in over a decade. I’ve stuck to that short style, only making it slightly more asymmetrical over time. But while the cut hasn’t changed radically in the past decade, my level of gray hair has.

Those first few whisps of gray in my twenties have pushed out all the remaining dark hair and at 62 I am now completely gray. Short hair is challenging to color, as the gray shows up very quickly in the short hair on the back of my head, along my roots, and on my crown. Being only five feet tall means that everyone looks down on my crown, making me very self-conscious.

I’ve used a spray in root color for years but hate how it makes the texture of my hair feel and hate that it rubs off on my pillowcase. For a decade at least, I’ve been coloring my hair every two weeks so that it never gets that bad, but I hate the time and money that requires. Mostly, I’m just sick of coloring my hair.

Over the past two years of the pandemic, I’ve watched several women slowly turn from whatever color they had been to gray. It was a perfect time to go gray, and had I been ready, I would have started it during those five months in early 2020 when I was isolating at home and babysitting a two-year-old.

I just wasn’t ready then, but I am now.

The thing about coloring your gray hair is that you should be doing it for yourself—not for your spouse, your family, your friends, your job, or anything else for that matter. And the decision to stop coloring your hair should also be your own.

That’s not exactly how it’s played out for me. When I mentioned my plan to go gray to friends, I was surprised at how many people tried to talk me out of it. Some have said they aren’t ready for me to be gray. But I’m ready, and shouldn’t that be what counts? Some—including men who have been gray for many years—have told me I’m too young to be gray. How can that be when I’ve been graying since my twenties? And if 62 is too young, what is the right age? 65? 70? 90? 100?

Some people have cautioned me that I’ll look older, but studies show this not to be the case. When presented blindly with the same picture of someone with their colored and gray hair, most guessed almost the same age for both colors. It seems it’s more about how you dress, your hair style, your make up, your skin condition, and more—in other words, if you look young with colored hair, you’re likely to still look young with gray hair. If you have a dated hair style, you’re in poor physical shape, and you dress in a dowdy fashion, you’re likely going to look older whether you color your hair or you don’t.

More importantly, why as a culture are we so obsessed with hanging on to our youth? Why not celebrate all that comes along with aging, like the wisdom that comes from a lifetime of experiences? I’m proud of my age, proud of my life, and happy for every single birthday I celebrate. Having lost a husband at a young age, I embrace aging proudly, knowing it beats the alternative by a long shot.

Gray is just another color, like blonde, red, brown, black, orange, green, or any other hair color you’ve seen lately. Everyone is entitled to choose whatever hair color they want—and if you still want to color your gray, please know I support you. But I’m choosing my natural gray. It will simplify my life and give me back hours each month, and I’ll happily spend that reclaimed time doing something more important—to me—than coloring my hair.

I’ll write more. I’ll invest more time learning Italian. I’ll spend more time with my grandkids. I’ll cook, and play the piano, and garden more. I’ll entertain more and travel more. I’ll cuddle up with my partner (who fully supports my decision to go gray) to watch more movies. I’ll go on more walks and take longer bike rides. Because all these things are far more important to me than the color of my hair.

NOTE: For some perspective on the societal pressure for women to color their hair, listen to this podcast with Anne Kreamer, the author of Going Gray: going-gray-is-a-power-move

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