I was talking to another woman the other day and the subject of hair came up. When I told her I’m not planning to dye my graying hair, she looked stunned and said, “What?? Of course you will, Amy.”
I was surprised and, frankly, annoyed by her certainty that I was deluding myself. I was also irritated by the assumption that women must dye their hair when it turns gray.
I know that most women cover their grays, and I’m not sure where my resistance to this particular beauty norm originated. In fact, all of the older women in my life dye their hair, so it’s not like I grew up hearing that I should say screw it to the anti-aging industry. And I definitely haven’t ignored other social signals related to my appearance. For example, I wear makeup every day to cover up sun spots, acne scars, actual breakouts (yep, I still get those on the regular) and some mysterious freckle-looking things that appeared when I was pregnant. I’d prefer not to wear makeup at all, but I feel too embarrassed or self-conscious not to.
But for some reason, dyeing my hair is where I’ve decided to draw the line, and I took my friend’s response as a personal challenge to stick to my plan of keepin’ it natural.
The first time I started thinking about aging and hair was in my late 20s, when I noticed some of my closest friends starting to go gray. They didn’t seem to give a shit, and I thought their hair was absolutely gorgeous. I loved the contrast between the silvery gray hairs and their natural brown or black hair.
I also admired them for letting their hair do its thing, especially given how young they were. They didn’t care that their hair color was changing, so they didn’t spend any money, time or stress addressing it. This is when I realized I wanted to age as unapologetically and confidently as I could by owning instead of disguising the natural changes that come with aging.
That transition started to happen about two years ago. I started seeing a few rogue gray hairs, and they’ve been multiplying slowly since my daughter was born last February. You probably wouldn’t notice them unless you were standing next to me, but they definitely greet me in the mirror every morning and evening. And now that they feel more real and noticeable to me, I’m revisiting the revelation I had a few years ago and realizing I have several reasons to embrace the gray.
- It’s my small way of saying “no” to the anti-aging and women’s beauty industries. I reject the idea that women have to make themselves more attractive and youthful to be considered valuable. Though I cave to that pressure daily by wearing makeup that I’d rather not wear, I want to do something for once that feels like personal resistance to the man.
- I want to set an example for my daughter. I also thought that this would be a good example to set for my own children — especially if I had girls who, like me, would be in for a lifetime of messages about what their bodies lacked and how they should address those deficits. What I hope to model is this: do things because YOU want to do them, not because they’re expected of you. And beyond that, be curious about how much your desire to appear a certain way comes from social standards of beauty as opposed your actual sense of “me” and who you want to be in the world. If after all that they want to wear makeup and dye their hair, that’s fine.
- Hair isn’t that important to me. I regularly walk out of the house with wet hair, much to my mother’s dismay. (Wink — love you, Mom.) I tell myself this is a good thing because I’m saving electricity and heat is bad for your hair, but really it’s because I don’t care enough to spend time styling it. If that’s unprofessional, oh well. (Important note: I am incredibly privileged in this regard. I don’t have to worry about the hairstyle discrimination women of color face, for example, and I’m a salaried employee who works in a casual, flexible environment.)
- Dyeing your hair is expensive and time-consuming. At my salon, it would cost anywhere from $650 to $1,600 annually for me to highlight my hair, depending on the stylist’s experience, type of highlights and appointment frequency, and appointments can take HOURS. And that price range doesn’t include tip or the cost of getting an actual haircut. The pressure to dye your hair to stay “attractive” and delay age discrimination is one of many reasons it’s more expensive to be a woman than it is to be a man. I’m not interested in spending money on upkeep for the next few decades.
I realize this is a complicated issue, and my privilege plays a definite role. Age discrimination is real, but I benefit from all sorts of privilege (for example, I’m cisgender, white, thin and able-bodied) and suspect that any discrimination I’d face for appearing older would be less than what more marginalized groups face. I recognize that if I wasn’t so privileged, I might fear age discrimination in the workplace more. In other words, this isn’t as risky for me as it is for other women and gender-nonconforming folks.
Also, if you’re reading this and dyeing your hair for any reason is something you enjoy, that’s awesome and I’m not here to convince you otherwise. And if you don’t dye your hair, I’m not assuming it’s for the same reasons as mine. But if you’re thinking about going gray and feeling unsure, know that you’re not alone! When I started writing this I did a little online research, and apparently there’s a small but growing gray-hair “movement.” There’s even a Instagram account called grombre that’s dedicated to celebrating “the natural phenomenon of gray hair.” Celebrating the physical signs of aging isn’t something that comes easy to many of us, and I’m inspired by women who are proudly rocking the gray.
No matter what you decide to do with your hair and body as you get older, I wish you the confidence and courage to choose what makes you feel most at home in your own skin.
Thoughts? I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.