My hair first started turning gray when I was around thirty-two years old. I was in grad school, and I chalked it up to being stressed. As soon as I saw the strand, front and center on the edge of my hairline, I made an appointment with my hairstylist. She gave me a reddish-brown tint, and I was pleased.
Two weeks later, more gray strands appeared.
“You have what’s called hairline gray,” my stylist explained. “Whenever your hair grows, the gray is going to show.”
“Like an old man?” I asked.
She laughed and said, “Yes…like an old man.”
That’s when I learned to use boxes of store-bought brands to dye my own hair. But that didn’t alleviate the problem. I found myself dyeing my hair weekly, sometimes.
Sixteen years later, I’ve given up. I’ve decided to just let my hair go gray and here’s why:
#1: A friend inspired me. My friend had been professionally dyeing her hair for decades because her stylist convinced her she was too young for gray hair. Recently, she decided she didn’t care, and she now has a full head of beautiful gray. It shouldn’t be, but it seemed like such a brave move, especially in our forties.
“I would do it,” I told her. “But my gray is just at the front.”
“That’s what I thought, too,” she said.
Her comment made me think. If my hair is growing in gray, then yeah…if I let it go, it’ll probably just be gray. Got it.
#2: I don’t want to be a hypocrite. I’ve spent the last seven years or so digging deep, developing a sense of identity, learning to be myself, and convincing others to also be their authentic selves. If I’m covering up the way my hair is naturally growing out of my head, because I’m afraid of looking “old,” am I really being myself? I’ve decided the answer is no. For me, part of being myself means not fearing society’s judgment about how forty-eight-year-old women look.
#3: That brings me to number three. Going gray is natural, but there’s not a lot of evidence of it.
I was raised in an older family with great aunts, three great-grandparents, and three grandparents. My great-grandparents, who were nearing one hundred, had gray hair. My paternal grandmother wore a wig in public and sported a short gray afro only when it was bedtime. My maternal grandmother, to this day, leaves the section right around her temples gray and dyes the rest of it jet black. It never dawned on me that, my grandmother, who is ninety-five, didn’t have gray hair, but should. She dyes it because she doesn’t like how it looks. When I found this out, the proverbial lightbulb went on. How are we ever supposed to feel comfortable aging if we never see how others age? Getting older means our bodies change, and I’m starting to think embracing it is the only way through. Well, for me, anyway.
#4: Comparison pushed me into a firm decision. I’d started looking at people who have gray hair. Omisade of Black Girls Guide to Menopause has a big-ass silver afro. It’s very distinct. If my hair looked like that, I’d be fine, I thought. I saw a guy on TV with a gray patch. If I had a gray patch, right here in the front, that’d be cute, I thought. I saw another person with sprinkles of salt-and-pepper throughout her hair. If it grew like that, I’d be cool, I thought. I almost convinced my hairstylist to dye my hair half white, like Cruella De Vil. No, for real. I thought it was a great idea. Once I stopped myself from comparing my unknown-gray-haired self to others, I realized (again) that acceptance was in order. When I went natural, I had no idea what my hair would look like. This process feels similar. However these gray hairs look is whatever I’m going to accept.
I’m not writing this to inspire anyone else to let their gray strands fly. Whatever you decide for you is between you and you. But for me, two things are becoming increasingly important as I age: being authentic and being an example of some of the things I wish I had. Going gray is part of that.