To Be? Or To Dye?
Genetics are a funny thing. My grandmother had beautiful skin well into her late 60s (when she died). My mother, also now in her 60s (but happily, still alive), the same. We have great skin in our family, but we go grey very early.
When I first shared my intent to move to Denver with a few of my friends, they took bets on how long until I stopped shaving. Of course that would never happen. I may have an inner hippie, but I took care of extraneous hair ages ago, permanently.
However, pretty much right after I moved here, I decided to see what would happen if I stopped covering my grey. I started a Pinterest board, and was immediately called out by those same friends I just mentioned.
I took a very unscientific poll. I’m brave (from the women); it’ll be hot (from the men, but not my husband). A few asked, Why would you want to do that.
My sister never once covered her grey despite comments from family and friends that ranged from vaguely teasing to outright sarcastic. People eschew grey hair on women.
A bit of a grassroots crusader against unfair social and societal norms, my sister has tried for years to get me to join her in letting my hair do its thing. She makes a good argument. When men go grey, we think they look dignified; they look their age. But when women go grey, we think they look old, and much older than they are. It’s unfair, and that needs to change. Embracing her grey is one of the many ways my sister is being the change she wants to see.
For the longest time, I wouldn’t even entertain the notion. I was in NYC. It just wasn’t done unless you’re in your 60s or 70s and rockin’ a certain style, and certainly not if you worked at an Ad Agency because grey = old, and old is irrelevant. (Having said that, I’ve recently been told it’s now becoming a thing.)
In Denver, there are plenty of women displaying their grey. Young women, in their 30s! I thought if they could do it, maybe so can I.
I’m afraid to go grey. Not just because I’ll look older, and that is definitely a concern, but also because my identity is very much attached to my hair. I was always the girl with the long dark hair.
Five months in to my greying-out process, roots long and white and streaked with dark, more salt than pepper, I realized that to let my hair be means I will be the woman with the (mostly) grey hair. In covering my greys for as long as I did, I gave up the chance for a gradual transformation, like the one my sister’s had, is having, by embracing her grey from the start.
Of all the changes I’ve endured in the last two years: having a baby, leaving big agency life, moving to Denver, it’s this hair situation that has me gutted. The pictures of me with long dark hair scattered around the house are a regular reminder of what I once had, and can still have, but only with great effort.
I try not to look in the mirror. I’ve never been one to preen; a quick look was all I ever needed. But I don’t even like quick looks these days. I see a woman who looks the age I feel—neither old nor young—but who doesn’t quite look like me.
My grandmother’s hair was a color from a box until the day she died. I remember my aunt fixing her roots in the hospital while my grandmother pumped morphine into her veins. She wanted to keep her dignity, and to look good is to feel good. I definitely do not begrudge my grandmother her beauty routine at a point when she so desperately needed normalcy. But who decided black shoe polish hair looks better than natural grey?
My hair was not a store-bought color. And my skin still looks very young. If I chose to keep covering my grey, it would be quite a while before it looked incongruous with my face.
And yet, I’m tired of seeing the hint of grey at my hairline a week after covering it. I’m tired of being a slave to the process. I’m tired of the stark contrast between what was and what will be, exposed for all to see. And I don’t like it.
As I write this, I’m conscious of my language choices. Language is important. Covering grey is hiding it, while dyeing or coloring hair is an exploration of self-expression. My business partner, a natural brunette, wants to be blonde. My sister-in-law, a natural blonde, likes her hair to be rainbow streaked. If they end up covering grey in the process, it’s a value add.
Maybe that’s the answer. I started down the road as an exploration to see how grey would feel. Maybe I’ve put too much pressure on myself. Maybe I need to explore what to project right now, when I don’t feel ready to be grey, but it’s time to give up the dark.
Yes, it’s unfair that with this grey I look older than I am, that strangers think I’m Isa’s grandma, that society wants women to hide their grey. Hide their age. I don’t feel ready to take on this fight, even as I’m aware that the color of my grey is empirically beautiful, a gift in itself. I do like the way it looks. I just am not ready for what it makes me look like. Yet.
Going grey now, for me, is too much of a shock. I can’t ease into it like my sister can. Ease into it, another interesting turn of phrase, because even if her transition is a slower, more gradual one, it hasn’t been easy.
I salute all the women who face this with more equanimity than I.
I think a purple, a light lavender, a color close to grey, is perhaps a less shocking way for me to welcome in this next phase of change.
So what about you? Are you letting your hair be? Or are you working it with some dye?