Reader Lina emailed me this question:
I’ve been noticing single, strong, thick gray hairs on my head and would be curious to hear your thoughts on what to do. I am 29, and almost all of my female relatives are firmly entrenched in the “dye every gray hair you can find” way of life. Even my younger sister dyes her hair, to the point where I’m not sure anymore what her real color is. While I don’t see anything wrong with dying your hair, I’ve so far been too lazy to do it.
I don’t have too many gray hairs yet, but I guess I’m wondering when I will cross that “one too many gray hairs” line and what I should do about it. This might sound silly, but I’m worried I’ll wake up one day and realize I have a whole head of gray hair and I’ll not like it.
I remember one day when an older (male) professor of mine in grad school all of the sudden showed up with a dark brown head of hair when he had been sporting a gray look for the preceding three years that I’d known him. It turned into a much-talked about situation amongst staff and students 😉
Should I proudly go gray? Will I look lazy for going gray (even though technically that’s what mother nature intended for hair to do…) Or is there low maintenance color stuff I can do now or in the near future that will ease the transition?
This is a great question, and very personal so although I’m happy to offer my two cents, the choice is ultimately yours. Obvious, I know, but merits emphasis!
Over the past few years, young women have started dying their hair silver and gray. In fact, if you search Pinterest for “gray hair,” the first dozen or more images that come up will be of women in their 20s with various versions of dyed-gray hair. And although I doubt most of them are doing this in solidarity with older women who have gone gray naturally, it’s certainly an interesting trend. Women are generally expected to do whatever it takes to look as young as possible for as long as possible, so voluntarily adopting a physical trait that’s associated with aging is unexpected. Perhaps over time, the bias against going gray will ease up a bit.
The anecdote about Lina’s professor is a telling one: We don’t mind people going gray OR coloring their hair to mask grays so long as it’s done gradually. Making an overnight change is somehow scandalous, although we cut and color our hair in ways unrelated to grays all the time and no one gets as worked up about those changes. It’s natural for people to talk when someone has been gray and suddenly turns up as a brunet because we’re fascinated by the changes people around us make to their appearances. But what difference does it really make? How long will people talk? Is it the fact that someone who seemed not to “care” before, now “cares” about hair as an indicator of age? If it is, why does this matter to us?
So my opinion is this: If you wake up one morning, realize you’re grayer than you’d like, and take action, anyone who has a problem with that should get a hobby. People change themselves constantly. It’s what we do, it’s how we grow and learn. Let them talk, and then let them get over it. As soon as something else of interest happens, the gossip train will pull out of the station. If you’re looking for some inspiration, the Style Crone grew hers out gradually at age 72 and talked about her journey.
If you’d like to go gray as gradually as possible, take a peek at Imogen’s series on Not Going Grey Gracefully – parts one and two. She opted to lighten her hair gradually from black to auburn until she was a blonde, which is a color that blends better with grays and means you can (in theory) go longer between dyes. Won’t work for everyone, but an alternative to just letting it happen over time.
I don’t think it’s bad or wrong to color your gray hair, and I don’t think it’s bad or wrong to grow out your grays in any way you see fit. Aging is personal, emotional, and highly individual, and gray hair is one of the most obvious markers of the aging process. If, how, and when you decide to share that transformation with the observing world is entirely up to you.
Image courtesy ForestFrolic