Letting my gray hair show is an act of protest

Doris and Col

My fabulous stylist, Doris Burgos, helped me cope with the two years it took to grow out my hair color by giving me brown lowlights a few times and by encouraging me to go shorter than usual to cut off the dyed hair.

Growing out my gray hair was more than a personal decision.

I didn’t realize that when stopped coloring my hair two years ago, after decades of being a bottle redhead. I simply felt like piling toxic-smelling chemical dye on top of my head every few weeks was inconsistent with my other lifestyle choices, including eating healthy organic food, drinking water filtered through an elaborate double osmosis set up and moving toward natural cosmetics and body care products.

Then I watched how people reacted to those silver strands appearing. I began to understand I was defying the cultural expectation that we not age, like Peter Pan, and that challenging social norms is unnerving to some.

I was taken aback when two women I’d never met approached me at a party to tell me they could see I was growing out my color and to urge me to reconsider. They said I was too young to go gray and that going natural would age me.

Then one of the women nervously told me she could never stop coloring her hair.

Ahhhh. So this scolding was about her own anxiety about aging, and seeing me look my age triggered her discomfort.

This has happened numerous times since: a woman pressing me to return to dying my hair, quickly followed by her own monologue about why she absolutely could never give up coloring.

Men, by the way, have repeatedly told me they like my gray. Some have been young men maybe half my age, some have been middle aged. Several of the older guys have asked if I could show their wives my hair because they’d been having an ongoing conversation about giving up color. Those interactions always end with the wife saying, “It looks fine on you but I could never stop coloring my hair because …”

Our society is so youth obsessed, particularly around our ideal of female beauty, that it provokes anxiety to give up this fake indicator of still being young.

What if we become invisible or devalued or marginalized because we no longer look 22?

We aren’t just making this up — have you read Christian Rudder’s analysis of the age of women men find most attractive, based on data from OKCupid? As women get older, so do the men they’re attracted to, but men’s ideal gets stuck right around the legal drinking age.

age of women men are attracted to Jezebel

As men get older, they’re still most attracted to women between 20-23, according to a depressing analysis by Christian Rudder.

I understand. I don’t like being seen as past my sell-by date.

But what if we as women reject this pressure to pretend we are frozen in time? What if we own that we are not 22 any more, but instead we’re a different kind of beautiful in our 40s or 60s?

reading glasses

I not only grew out my gray, I recently started wearing reading glasses. This, friends, is 46.

What if we protest the nonsense unattainable ideal of being young by not participating in the expensive, time consuming ritual of hiding evidence of our aging?

And – real talk here, ladies – I now notice how many women have phony looking hair color. Our skin tone changes as we age and what was your natural hair color in your 20s might look harsh and unflattering in your 50s, so the softness of some silver might actually look better on you.

Is the reaction I’ve been getting from men, enthusiastically complementing me on my gray hair, a sign that at least some men find us attractive after the ink on our college diplomas has dried? Maybe if more of us go that way, they’ll have a chance to see more examples of aging gracefully to balance out the airbrushed young skinny models and surgically enhanced porn actresses who otherwise set the standard for sexy.

I’m not giving up caring about my appearance. But just as it looks ridiculous when a middle aged woman dresses like she’s still in college, I’d rather look like the best version of 46 than like some cheap replica of 26.

Previous posts about growing in my gray:


Categories: health and well being, lifestyle

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

10 replies

  1. I don’t use chemicals, but I’ve been using henna for a while. I try to be an authentic and vulnerable woman, and it’s starting to bother me that my outward appearance doesn’t match. My hair may not be as fiesty, but perhaps that’s because I’m finally learning some tact or when a brawl isn’t mine to fight in. My identity won’t change just because I let my hair be itself. Thank you for one more “been there done that” story to show me letting my roots become my mane can be it’s own form of quiet rebellion just as my red hair always has been.

  2. You look absolutely fabulous.

  3. Your hair your business, no one has to like gray hair or approve of your decision to let the gray show. I’m fed up with people needing to believe I’m a lobotomized stepford wife because I choose to cover my gray. I won’t judge you if you don’t judge me.

    • Your hair is your choice, just as mine is. I’m not a Stepford wife because I enjoy wearing lipstick and eyeliner, either.
      What makes you like what you see in the mirror is up to you.
      I do think baked into what we like is the societal expectations we’ve absorbed, because many of us want to be perceived as pretty, and in our culture, pretty means young. How many models or actresses do we see with wrinkles or gray hair?
      It’s been shocking to me the passionate reaction my gray hair has triggered in women I don’t know. It’s touching something about our beliefs about how we should age.

  4. I stopped dying my hair at 35 years of age. I am now 38 and have more gray than dark hair, and I love it! My mother, on the other hand, still dyes her hair every other week or so. She refuses to let her gray grow in, stating that it looks good on me because I’m young, but wouldn’t look good on her. I wish she had the courage to just do it already, and live with it for a little while, then if she doesn’t like it, go back to her bi-weekly tinting. Kudos to you for making this choice, you look beautiful, as God intended. 🙂

  5. Congrats on freeing yourself from the chemicals and feeling better about yourself for your decision. As a guy, I also agree with your male friends. I like natural gray hair on a woman. As the father of a 23 year old daughter, I feel like most women 23, no matter how superficially attractive they are, really are just still kids and not real relationship material.

  6. In Hyde Park (University of Chicago campus), gray is the norm. There are more of us than students! I love that you’ve given up the chemicals.

  7. Love it! Love, love, love. You look amazing.

    I enjoy my gray hair and I hope you do, too. Luckily, living in Ann Arbor, I don’t feel that peer pressure to dye my hair. Women here tend to just let it go natural. I like that.


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