I recently stopped coloring my hair, not long after my 41st birthday. By age 18, I was daily picking gray hairs out of my head, and I remember grumbling that I shouldn’t have to do that as a freshman in college. Then I married young, had babies immediately, and decided that I wasn’t going to walk around with my babies and toddlers while sporting a head full of gray hair, so at age 24, I started coloring it every few weeks.
During busy spells when I’d go a bit too long between coloring, I’d cringe to see my roots contrasted against my very dark brown hair. Nursing babies, changing diapers, and potty training did not pair well with gray hair, at least according to my 20-something wisdom, and so I continued covering up that dreaded gray for many years.
Turning 40 wasn’t nearly as hard emotionally as turning 30 had been, and I was mulling letting go of coloring my hair. I received plenty of “embrace the gray!” encouragement, along with some friends who said I should keep up the coloring. I was nervous because after more than 16 years of coloring it, I had no idea exactly how much gray I had. After about a year of vacillating on the topic, I finally realized it wasn’t that I thought I’d look terrible with gray hair. I’ve never been into hair (I have a short pixie cut), never been one to worry about looking pretty or stylish.
It hit me that I just couldn’t accept signs of aging. Why is that?
Women are bombarded with messages about “age-reversing” products, coached on how to turn back the clock and make others guess we’re years younger than our birth certificates claim. The sheer number of products hawked solely on the promise that you’ll look younger is incredible.
And can we talk about the difference between the messages we receive and those directed at men as they gray and age? Gray-haired men are seen as sexy, and their laugh lines are dignified — but gray-haired women have crow’s feet, and have clearly let themselves go. That’s a real problem, and I finally decided I was opting out of that mindset.
Because I’m definitely not letting myself go. Working out, making mostly-healthy food choices, wearing clothes that I feel good about, or putting on makeup to go on a date or girls’ night are all part of my life. I want my body to keep working well, and I also want to be in decent shape. Caring about your health and appearance are normal parts of being human, so please don’t think I’m advocating for apathy.
Don’t we all want to be comfortable in our own skin? But doesn’t it feel like such a struggle? I can’t imagine many of us will reach a point where we’re never uncomfortable with some detail about our bodies, but I think we can get closer. As a great start, let’s stop disparaging physical signs of aging that we see around us. Have you considered the only alternative to aging? Yeah, exactly. I’ll take some gray hair and crow’s feet.
But y’all, all the hair dye and age-reversing serums that I won’t be using aren’t the enemy. Use them if that’s what you need and want. But don’t let yourself believe that you are only beautiful or valuable if you are younger, or that obvious signs of your body aging are to be concealed.
It turns out my hair grayed really silver. When I walk past a mirror, I sometimes do a double-take, surprised to see that the silver-haired woman is me. Maybe secretly I’m hoping I’ll look as good in a silver pixie as Jamie Lee Curtis. Getting used to it is a process, but there are now times when I’m reminded about my hair because someone points it out, so it’s feeling more normal. I guess my gray hair is growing on me.