Gray hair is the new black, brunette, blonde and red for women of all ages. But while young starlets may be forced to get their silvery locks from pricey salons, many of us over age 55 have been gifted with them by nature. Score one for growing older!
Personally, after two decades of covering up gray roots, I’m in the process of reverting to my natural color: mostly salt with a dash of pepper. For me, truth be told, it’s partly about saying goodbye to the cost and hassle of coloring of my hair. But it’s also partly about trying to make a statement that I’m comfortable with my age.
A glance around any office building, health club or shopping mall reveals that I’m not the only one going back to my roots. “Instead of seeing gray hair as something to hide, women are beginning to display it with a sense of pride,” says New York psychologist Vivian Diller, Ph.D., author of Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change (find it here).
Showing My True Colors
The fact that gray hair is trendy right now made the decision to go natural a little easier for me. There’s no denying, however, that gray hair says something quite different on a woman with wrinkles than on a millennial with a sense of irony. Personally, I’m hoping that my gray hair color will speak of authenticity and self-confidence.
Does that mean I’m “letting myself go”? I don’t think so. Hair doesn’t take care of itself just because it’s gray. A great cut can do wonders. And looking my best means I’m also constantly striving to exercise more, sleep enough, eat right and cook healthy, homemade meals. The older I get, the more important it seems to work on my appearance from the inside out.
Reclaiming Time (and Money)
Now that I’ve stopped coloring my hair, it’s a relief to no longer be in a running battle with my roots. Anne Marie Barros, master hair colorist at Rubann Hair Color Specialists in New York, says that she hears that a lot from women who want to make a graceful transition to gray: “They’re done. They started out coloring their hair every six weeks, then every four weeks. Now it has come down to having one great week after coloring their hair before the grays in front start to show. They want to get off the merry-go-round.”
Barros says that many women are pleasantly surprised when they see their natural color, often for the first time in years or decades. “They discover that their own hair color is actually far more interesting than the color of hair dye they’ve been using to cover it up.”
One temporary downside to going natural is the awkward phase while waiting for gray hair to grow out. The half-gray, half-dyed look isn’t flattering for anyone. Solutions include wearing your hair up, chopping your hair off or getting a color correction — a salon service which was originally meant to fix a bad dye job, but which can also be done to replicate your natural color pattern for a seamless transition to gray. “I’ve been color correcting for almost 40 years, and transitioning to gray is what everybody wants these days,” says Barros.
Facing Down Stereotypes
As empowering as it feels to be myself, gray hair and all, it also feels a bit scary. A nationwide survey commissioned by Allure magazine asked people which words they associated with gray hair. On men, gray hair was seen as “distinguished,” but on women it was seen was “old.” No surprise there. (However, the second- and third-most common responses to gray hair on women were “wise” and “confident,” so the news wasn’t entirely bad.)
Among women in the workplace, ageism is a legitimate concern, and many working women feel pressure to look younger. “In the public eye, as much as women may want to be proud of their gray hair, it’s not easy to carry off,” says Diller. “They’ve still got to fight that battle of being perceived differently than [coworkers] who have color in their hair.”
But it’s not only how others perceive us that matters; it’s also how we view ourselves. Going gray can set off deep-seated fears about waning attractiveness and changing roles. Justified or not, such fears can be powerfully unsettling.
I should know. It took me a few years of thinking and talking to summon the nerve to let my hair be gray. I still think coloring gray hair is a perfectly valid choice for anyone who wants to do it, and I reserve the right to revisit my decision later. At this point, however, embracing my gray hair rather than fighting it feels really right — and rightly real — for me.