Letting My Hair Go Gray Gave Me the Confidence to Try New Things
I was never going to be anything other than a brunette. Brunette was how I saw myself. Brunette was how I wanted others to see me. Brunette was who I was.
Or was it?
I had been coloring my hair for more than 25 years when I made the decision, at the age of 44, to let my natural hair color grow in.
That’s a surprise ending. It was my husband's suggestion that I stop coloring my hair. He said this after listening to my frequent complaints over the time and money I spent coloring my locks. But still.
My response: “No way.” Did he even know who I was?
In the weeks and months that followed, I started to question my initial response. Why was I so invested in being a brunette? Did my identity hinge on my hair color? Has it all come to that? If so, should it?
You see, my mom was a brunette, as was her mother. Both had to start coloring their hair early in life, like me. Or, more accurately, I was like them. Like me, their status as brunettes was chemically maintained after a certain point, too.
The only time I ever saw my carefully coiffed grandmother with white hair was when I visited her in the nursing home in her 95th, and final, year of life. How could I deny those roots?
Next, the focus of my inquiry turned toward society at large. I began to look more closely at rooms full of strangers—restaurants, malls, concerts—noting how many people were gray-haired, and how most of them were men. I knew the pressure to appear youthful affected women more than men. Still, the numbers provided a stark illustration of that gender imbalance.
Then, I thought about my own coloring history. It had been fun in the beginning, experimenting with variations: being a beachy brunette with blonde highlights in my teens (achieved with over-the-counter hair lightener and lemon juice!), embodying an artistic and interesting red-tinted brunette in my20s, becoming a sophisticated brunette with professional caramel streaks in my 30s.
I warmly recalled the solemn pact my best friend and I had made in our mid-30s: If either of us were ever in a coma or otherwise incapacitated, we would sneak into the other’s hospital room, undetected, and color her roots.
A lot has changed since that promise. I moved to a new city, changed careers, and even shifted the way I dated. After years of a goal-focused approach, I decided to date with no goal in mind, other than having positive experiences.
And, wouldn’t you know it, that’s when I met him. A year and a half later, my now husband and I were saying our “I do’s.” A year after that, we welcomed our twins into the world.
Once I became a mother, the very labor-intensive endeavor of maintaining my hair color―which meant salon visits every four weeks, as well as at-home root-dying in between and frequent liquid root touch-up applications―was no longer serving me. Maintaining a relationship with the brunette idea of myself, which I had always considered a fixed part of my identity, had become more work than it was worth.
Once I became fully silver-haired―making it through the awkward growing-out stage―I was surprised to find how liberating it was. Not only did I have more time and money, I also gained back the part of my consciousness that was previously concerned with whether my roots were showing.
When I loosened up my sense of what my hair color could be, my sense of self expanded in other ways, too. For example, I stopped plucking my eyebrows into thin versions of themselves, embracing the gift of my full brows (more time saved!).
Other aspects of my self-definition shifted, as well. I began to bring more of my true self to the office and received a promotion to run the department. I started to seek publication for my writing, something I had always wanted to do but assumed was no longer achievable.
Getting older, and the increased self-acceptance that comes with it, was certainly behind some of these changes. Still, I have no doubt that my decision to celebrate my hair as is accelerated my ability to embrace more parts of myself.
I’ve been gray for six years now. Women stop me all the time―in the street, at the grocery store―to compliment my hair. Some confess that they, too, would grow out their gray hair if it looked like mine. I often offer a gentle reminder that they may not know exactly what shade of gray or white their hair is; I didn’t know mine until I stopped coloring it.
None of this is to say that coloring your hair is the wrong decision. In fact, I absolutely reserve the right to color my hair again in the future if that’s what I decide to do. For me, embracing my silver crown was a lesson in letting go of who I thought I was. The unexpected result was that it created room for me to become more of what I am.
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