My Great Fear of Going Gray
Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life. ~ Proverbs 16:31 (NIV)
Going gray is something I have been thinking about for quite a while now. Several times in the past several years I have actually made a feeble attempt at it. But when the salt and pepper roots became about an inch long, I would look at myself in the mirror and think, "This looks terrible." I would color my hair immediately. I had no desire to know how to age gracefully.
Turning gray is troublesome for me because I have always had warm tones to my skin, and have added warm tones to my hair. The gray hair, without pigment as it grew in, looked terrible against my brown, warm-toned color.
In my article on spiritual fasting,
I discuss how we can learn about ourselves when we give up something
that we desire to cling to. This spiritual fasting can be an amazing
exercise in self-awareness. Going gray is similar, but the ‘giving up’
is permanent. Not as easy. What exactly is being given up when you
chose to go gray?
If we get down to the root of it all, the obvious answer is that hiding gray hair is all about clinging to some smidgen of youth, some ego-based desire to be eternally young. The brainwash by the media, our peers and family doesn’t help. I was always told, ‘you are too young to be gray!’ The shame of growing old seemed too big a burden to bear. Especially when I started to have gray hair in my 30’s.
About ten years ago I remember discussing going gray with a friend much older than I. Her response was, ‘But you have such a nice husband!’ What? I didn’t get it and asked her to explain further. She stated that she didn’t want to see me lose my husband! Her belief was that if I let my hair go gray that my husband would no longer see me as attractive and would leave me! Talk about being trapped in sexist thinking!
The desire for eternal youth is ubiquitous in clothing styles, diets, skin products, hair products and just about everything we long to buy. Advertising is all about making us long for something we don’t have, instead of loving what we have and who we are despite our gray hair, wrinkled skin and cellulite! We must be nipped, tucked, and injected to perfection. (Don’t get me started on this one!)
But fortunately, the winds of change are in the air. More and more women are breaking the 'rules' of beauty. More and more women are defining beauty instead of being defined by it. Going gray is now the 'new black' I read in an article. Wow! This means that gray hair may even become fashionable!
Even Hollywood is changing. There are many celebrity women who sport gray hair, Jamie Lee Curtis, Meryl Streep, Joan Baez and Emmy Lou Harris to name a few. All you need to do is Google their names to see their impressive and extremely attractive styles. Just look at the photo on the right that I found of Emmylou Harris (taken from http://www.hitfix.com/articles/emmylou-harris-announces-new-album-hard-bargain). She is absolutely gorgeous with gray hair. Ten years ago celebrity women would not have been caught dead with gray hair. What does this all mean?
Since my original writing of this article, I have been told by one of my readers that this photo (above) of Emmylou was taken for her album in 2003, "Stumble Into Grace." So she is a much younger, 56 year old and definitely Photoshopped.
Here is another photo of her in 2011, live, in concert at the Newport Folk Festival. Doesn't look like the same person, does it? Is she still beautiful?
As my reader pointed out to me, "She is a very beautiful 64-year-old woman who seems to be comfortable with being her age, and I think there is a lesson there that would be worth sharing with your readers." I whole-heatedly agree! (Incidentally, my informative reader is a 62 y.o. male!)
Going gray means aging gracefully by aging naturally, especially when it comes to hair color. Besides, all those chemicals going into your body every 6-8 weeks just can’t be good for you!
So why did I in particular have such a hard time arriving at this decision for going gray? Was it because I always took such pride in my youthful and petite appearance? Was it a fear of aging? Was it because I needed to cling to my own image of myself? Was it because I needed to feel attractive, and growing old brings about feelings of not being attractive? Why was I unable to take this step in my journey? I never had fear about being different, throughout my whole life. In fact, I sort of liked being a rebel. Why was going gray so difficult for me?
What is 'aging gracefully' all about? I always hated that expression. What does it mean anyway? Is it about quiet submission to accept our fate? That certainly didn’t fit me. I had no idea how to age gracefully, and I don’t think I know now.
I think going gray represents a lot more that just aging gracefully. When I really ‘get down to the root of it all,’ going gray represents self-confidence of the highest degree. It shows to the world that being beautiful is and MUST be defined by me and only me.
So I really have not been honest with myself. I really have been clinging to the old, sexist, youth-worship, I-will-lose-my-husband-and-my-attractiveness model that society has brainwashed me to believe!
I have been reading how going gray can be traumatic. There is no way to do it except by letting the gray hair grow out. Some ladies blend in highlights or die their hair gray to ease the transition to go gray. I have decided to go cold turkey, and let the ugly warm brown tones grow out without tampering with the color. We’ll see how that works out for me. Most likely, I will get a pixie hairstyle to rid myself of the gray after it is about 2 inches long.
As I write this, it is 5 months post-last-coloring. My gray roots are close to being two inches in length. The ‘salt’ is mostly on the sides of my head, but scattered throughout the ‘pepper.’ Since I am sporty, I wear my hair in a ponytail a lot. That is when you can really see the gray. If I had any nerve, I would post a picture, but I prefer to remain without self-indulgence! Ha!
But for now, I will wear my warm brown tones mixed with the gray hairs as a badge of courage, that I dare defy the norm. I dare say that I can be who I am and I am proud of my transformation. If life is a journey, than this is one I dare to take, even if it takes 2 or more years. My hair is long, and so it will be a long journey!
I will embrace the freedom of not having to go through the time and effort of coloring my hair. I embrace that fact that I will now be able to wear cooler colors. I have always loved the greens and blues in my wardrobe. Now I will look even more stunning in them. I may even wear gray, pink and maroon – colors I never dared wear before!
But there is more…
Mount Wilson and El Diente Peaks from the summit of Gladstone Peak, Colorado
The real root of why I decided that it was time for me to go gray was when my Dad died in the fall of 2010. I colored my hair for the last time, just before flying home to be with him in his final days. I didn’t want to face all the friends and family with ugly hair.
After the funeral, and in the mourning days and months that followed, I came to a quiet decision that I was going to honor my life and honor my aging process. I think, in a weird sort of way, for me, going gray was also a symbol to honor my Father. I really don’t know why that is exactly. It was born out of my depression and mourning, and yet the desire to stay gray has continued.
Maybe going gray has something to do with honoring myself as an adult, a girl grown up, who now respects herself, and the wisdom the years have added to her life. It was a way of saying, “I am now free to be me.” Life is too short to cling to these values that no longer serve me.
Maybe it also had to do with the fact that I no longer care to be identified with people outside my age group. I like mature people and the honest conversations about life’s experiences and even about the experience of death. I prefer being with mature people who are not bogged down with issues and ideals that they need to desperately cling to.
I prefer people who are embracing life, and by doing so they also embrace death, an inevitable part of life, part of this journey we were meant to take.
I prefer mature people of any age who keep me young at heart. I still embrace new experiences, yet I long to retire and see the world. Going gray may just represent my ability to do that! If that is true, and I will make it so, then bring it on!
May we all who are in the graying years, no matter how old or how young, stand together and be proud of who we are. Going gray is beautiful, if we make it so. And as the wise sage, Popeye, once said, “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am!”
Let us not cling to the past, the ideals and the values that no longer serve us. Let us have gray hair, be proud and heal our entire body-mind-soul. Let us allow our true selves to shine through our Body Window to declare that we are the ultimate in self-confidence. Let us be healed of clinging to youth no matter what the cost. May we be healed, through and through, body, mind and soul!