I turn 40 in a couple of months and, yes, I wrote one of those “40 in 40” lists. At the top is something superficial and silly – and deeply significant to me.
I’m letting my hair grow out natural gray.
Now, in case it needs to be said: I’m not saying a woman shouldn’t color her hair. If you enjoy it, then rock on with your colorful self.
But if you don’t, then rock on with your gray self, too.
Here’s the thing: I almost didn’t turn 27. By the time the doctors figured out what was wrong and how to fix it, by the time I’d fought my way back on my feet, I was already finding the first random gray hair here and there.
By the time I turned 30, I was also turning noticeably gray. (Though I realize there’s a genetic component to the process of graying, in my case it was also a side-effect of the stress my body had been under for so long.) I started coloring my hair two years later.
At first, it was kind of fun. A way to pretend the past had never happened so I could move forward. But within months, I started having trouble. I’ve always been sensitive to a cocktail of different chemicals, and it quickly became apparent that do-it-yourself box dyes wouldn’t work for me. I started going to a local salon, but the coloring chemicals used there caused worse reactions. At the suggestion of a friend, I found an Aveda salon using plant-based dyes that were supposed to be better for my body and the environment, and that was important to me.
I went to that salon every six weeks for *years.* But I was never the sort of woman to sit back and enjoy it – for me, going to the salon was never relaxing. When I want to relax, I walk in the woods, ride my horses, read a book, sip a cup of tea, listen to music. I do not go somewhere to get my hair done. (shrug) Not only that, but this place was 40 minutes away, so every appointment took at least two hours (if not three – I have long hair) out of my day. Yes, I could read a book while waiting for my hair to do whatever it is that hair does when it’s being colored, but this place was one of those chatty ones where the entire room engages in casual conversation, so sticking my nose in a book felt sort of rude.
Still, it seemed the sort of thing I was supposed to do, right? A woman my age doesn’t walk around with gray hair. That’s like leaving the house without shoes, or pants, or something.
But then the “gentle, plant-based dyes” started causing irritation to my skin, too. Oh, nothing at all like the boxes! And, honestly, if I wanted to keep coloring my hair we could leave the goop on for less time, rinse it sooner and I’d probably be fine.
It’s just… I’m almost 40. I am tired of pretending my hair isn’t gray. I’m tired of being fake. We live in a culture that idolizes superficiality, shallow egotism, fake illusion. I crave authenticity, respect, substance and meaning. Why is it that so many so-called “celebrities” haven’t actually produced or accomplished anything beyond marketing their bad behavior, poor choices, and personality flaws as some kind of glittering package? Why don’t we celebrate our poets, writers, artists, scientists, innovators, teachers, leaders, and peacemakers the way we do people with painted faces and fake smiles?
Why do we idolize the young and pretend we’ll live forever? Why do we ignore the privilege of wisdom, of life experience?
And the thing I keep circling back to is the fact that I almost didn’t make it this far. Every gray hair I have is a silver banner reminding me of a memory, experience, adventure, challenge, or accomplishment I almost didn’t get to have. I know too many people who have died too young – in car crashes, from cancer. They never even got the opportunity to go gray.
Anyone who knows me also knows I’m passionate about history… which means I know the general average life expectancy in a number of places during a number of periods, and I know that growing old is never guaranteed.
So, I have to say, I’m rather pleased with my gray hair. It’s real, and I’ve earned it.