Transparent Beauty: A Gray Hair Manifesto
I was 28, and my gray hair had been sprouting for 6 or so years. I was sitting in my stylist’s chair weeks after having my first baby and 2 days before heading to my ten-year class reunion. I felt frumpy and tired. Needless to say, I wasn’t at my most confident. Surrounded by gorgeous, spunky, well-rested women, my silver strands glowing for all the world to see, I hear my stylist say, “Let’s just add a little color … you’ll love it!” As any woman in my situation would, I conceded. And so began monthly trips to the salon (or box), and my long relationship with every shade of brunette Loreal could conceive. I had jumped on the beauty bandwagon unwittingly, betraying my long-standing ideal that natural beauty reigns supreme.
For 9 years, I did my best to keep my roots covered. But try as I may, I could see more and more silver peeking through, and my curiosity about how much was really there grew as did the amount of chemicals it took to cover them.
And then it happened. One day I sat there with my roots covered in dye, looking in the mirror and feeling the uncomfortable tingle of the solution on my scalp, and I almost laughed. Why the heck am I doing this?! Why am I spending good time and money to cover my gray?!
I knew it was the last time. I was ready to jump off and not look back.
What I didn’t know was how emotional and vulnerable I would feel during the journey. It’s just hair, I told myself, which ultimately is the truth. Just hair. But the stigma of gray hair, the most obvious sign of aging along with laugh lines, made me feel almost naked at times. The stares and comments started to come. And the opinions. Thankfully, most folks were outwardly supportive at least, although my own father claimed I was “much too young to go gray.” Even my daughter, who was six at the time, shared a fear of me looking “like a grandma.” Good grief.
But secretly, I was afraid of that too. My eye had been trained to see dark hair as a sign of youth and even good health. I knew it would take time to adjust and embrace this new look, and I didn’t have any silver friends. Yet I knew I wasn’t the only one out there. I couldn’t be. So I went on a search for those who had gone before me and with a little help from Google, I found them.
Models who carved out a niche with their white strands, a 30-something blogger with a full head of silver, two entire Facebook groups devoted to celebrating natural beauty. I’ll never judge a woman who dyes her hair, but I do feel a certain fondness for my silver sisters, I’ll admit. We get each other. And we need each other because being brave is easier together. The other day I showed up for an appointment and my dentist, who six months ago had black hair, had transformed into a silver fox. With a chic new cut, she radiated beauty and confidence as she confessed it was me that inspired her to just let it go.
I didn’t set out to prove a point, but rather set the record straight. Gray hair is normal, no matter what age it arrives. It’s neither a shameful secret nor a sign of letting one’s self go. For me, not covering up my gray was freeing, but also forced me to admit to an internal struggle. I loved my brunette, and the youthfulness it represented, more than I knew. My gray felt uncomfortable at first, and it took me awhile to get used to my reflection.
But I was also getting to know the woman that was brave enough to let her youthful head go. And I liked her. And as she gained confidence, I think she also gained beauty. As I neared forty, fully transitioned with lots of silver around my face, I felt a comfort in my skin I hadn’t known. My daughters saw it too, one of them telling people her mama has “sparkle-colored hair,” and the other saying she likes how I stand out. I like that too, and I have to believe the world needs more sparkle.