I started getting gray hair when I was in my mid-twenties. I was like a female Steve Martin, except I didn’t let my grays grow out naturally. I was always a fan of coloring my hair. And it wasn’t because I wanted to cover up my grays. I actually didn’t know I had any grays until I started slipping on my hair dye upkeep and noticed them peeking through. I can’t say I actually thought too much about it when I started going gray.
I wasn’t horrified or anything and I didn’t reach for the tweezers to get rid of them. I was really okay about it until people in my life started to stare at my scalp and say things like, “Wow, you have gray hair!” And it didn’t exactly feel like a complimentary comment. It felt more like they were horrified and they were assuming I was horrified also. So then I started to become a bit more self-conscious about my grays.
I went to college to study fine arts, and when it comes to art students, it’s pretty much anything goes at all times in terms of fashion and style. The idea is to express yourself and stand out, without looking like you’re trying to stand out, and at the same time, absolutely maintaining your true identity, even though at that age, you honestly have NO idea who you are. So, at art school, what you end up with is a student body made up of a mish mash of outlandish experimental looks. It was pretty awesome. So, I shopped at thrift stores and wore strange men’s clothing, and got an eyebrow piercing that lasted for about a month before I took it out. And most importantly, I colored my hair…a lot.
Me, rocking the crimped cherry red hair
After college and through my years of living in New York City (2007-2011), I kept coloring my hair. By now I was fully aware of my grays and invested in the rat race with other women who were also trying to conceal their grays. A young girl with gray hair in New York City, working at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, an elite institution founded on the concepts of beauty, aesthetics, and all things visual, was not really the norm at the time; and so, I didn’t even consider growing my gray hair out in that environment. I love New York City. I loved living there, I love visiting there now, and I will always love it. But it truly is a bubble of superficiality, and the people who live there are at least 50% more concerned with their looks than the rest of the country, because they are surrounded by everyone else concerned about the same thing. There is a pressure there that is visceral and inescapable. At least, it was for me. Superficiality kind of feeds on itself. And at that time, I was more focused on establishing my shallow confidence as a woman, focusing on my looks and desirability, rather than my concern with all of that juicy and meaningful internal stuff. That stuff mattered to me of course, but my looks mattered more at the time. I did not yet have enough confidence to step outside of the mold and go gray without any support from my environment. The atmosphere was downright hostile at times, and I am no masochist. So unfortunately, what started off as me coloring my hair in college as a way to express myself and experiment with my looks, over the years turned into me trying to disguise a piece of who I was, for people who were all doing the same thing.
As my soul started leaving New York City, my body still resided there for a time. I was growing tired of living there and really reassessing everything. I was also really, really poor. It’s very difficult to live in New York City if you don’t make a ton of money. It’s fun at first, and I’m so grateful I got to experience living there as a young woman. But I was 31 years old and my quality of life started to suffer. So, because of my financial situation, and my soul getting ready to exit the city, I started letting my hair go. From a financial standpoint, it’s so expensive to cover up your grays. If you use drug store chemicals it is much cheaper, but not as healthy for your hair. And if you go to the salon as I did, it takes up a lot of time (the process of coloring your hair in a salon takes at least two hours) and money. At the time, I would have to spend close to $150-$200 just for a touch up, and if you are going regularly to keep your grays under control, you’re visiting the salon about once a month. This was just unacceptable and close to impossible for me.
I finally moved out of New York City and relocated to Philadelphia, but I was still not ready to take the gray plunge. I would let my grays grow out for a while, and then I would cover them up again, just to kind of test the waters and to see how others would respond. And they responded. They still respond. It’s subtle, but people notice. And in general, I don’t feel their hostile judgement as much as their confusion. They don’t know what to make of it. It is just so unacceptable in our culture to be a young woman and have a full head of gray hair, although it’s getting better. It’s trendy now for young girls to actually color their hair gray. However, there is really a noticeable difference between a gray dye job for fun and a woman who is actually growing out her true-blue grays. It’s just very unconventional and difficult for people to wrap their heads around. And I was still not ready. Until I saw her.
I commute to work via train and as many train commuters know, you tend to see the same people on your morning and evening commute. You start to kind of know them without knowing them. And there was a woman that I used to see, who I always thought was so exquisite. She was a bit older than me but was still youthful looking, and she had long flowing salt and pepper hair. I thought she was a stunner and I would always stare at her, admiring her look. And honestly, it occurred to me in an instant one day, that if she can do it, I can do it. I think she looks gorgeous, and I think I’m gorgeous, so why not be a gorgeous woman with gray hair like her? She was my inspiration! I don’t see her anymore, but I would like to say, “Thank you, beautiful silver lady for motivating me to go for it.”
I knew that if I let my gray hair grow out as a young woman, that I would really be making a statement. Maybe no one notices or cares. But I feel like they do, and I was ready to put my neck out there and do this kind of strange thing, knowing I might have to explain myself, that I might confuse men and women, and that I might even be getting into the politics of beauty and being a woman. I wanted to be a woman who could pave the road for others. I know it’s not like I’m saving the world or anything. But a woman’s confidence in her looks is important and I wanted to contribute to the kind of support that I think is necessary for women today. This path felt right to me.
So, I grew them out. And there really is no easy way to grow them out. It’s an unattractive process. The best thing to do is to keep your hair short and to just keep chopping regularly until you have nothing left but your silver locks. It also helps to put it back and up. The roots are far less noticeable when your hair is tied up in some way. But really, the only thing to do is to just stop caring what everyone else thinks. Be brave. Be bold. And just let go.
I am now fully gray and will never go back. I love it and it loves me.
In order to create my own support (because I really had no other women around me doing this at the time, other than my train lady), I had to find ways to support myself. One thing I did was to create a Pinterest Board of other beautiful women with gray hair. Even though I wasn’t seeing these women in my daily life, just knowing they were out there in the world doing the same thing, really helped me. This was my support and my inspiration.
I’m not going to lie and say that everyone loves it, so this decision isn’t exactly for the faint of heart. And it’s not for the woman who strongly dislikes herself. It is absolutely a liberation of sorts, and acts of liberation among women tend to instigate a level of discomfort in the general population. But I do refuse to be pressured into spending money and putting harmful chemicals on my head, just to fit in with an overarching standard of beauty that is motivated by altering something natural about myself. I don’t care for that kind of pressure and I do react to it. This is how I’ve always been. I really don’t want (and will not) ever do something that I don’t want to do, just because everyone else wants me to, or because it is what we have been told this is what we “should” do. That is just me and not everyone has to be this way. But acting on these beliefs that I hold very strongly is what adds to my confidence, and never depletes it.
Goddesses, this may or may not resonate with you. You might be horrified at the thought of a young person with a full head of gray hair, and that is okay. We all have our own hardwired beliefs about beauty that we can’t always help. So, no worries to those of you who color your hair and don’t ever want to go gray. I get it. Go for it, if it makes you feel good! And if you are sick of denying your natural beauty, and tired (or incapable) of spending the money, and you are considering making this change (that I believe is fairly significant for a woman), then you have my full support and admiration! Either way, of course you should know you still rock. Goddesses gotta support each other’s confidence (especially when it comes to our looks) and find ways to build each other up in a genuine way. Friendship, support, love and trust cannot flourish without a competition-free zone. Will you help me cultivate that?