A friend recently told me, “I am starting to go gray, and I have no intention of coloring my hair.” I wasn’t sure if she was making a proud declaration or if she had already become defensive about this very sensitive topic.
My mom insists she began to see gray hair in her teens. I watched her color her hair every six weeks throughout my childhood. She mixed the chemicals like a mad scientist, and the house filled with fumes. Later she emerged from the bathroom, a stained towel across her shoulders, a clear plastic bag covering her hair, and darkening streaks like ink around her ears.
“What are you doing, Mommy?” I asked.
“I’m putting a rinse on my hair.”
That was her euphemism for dying, coloring, covering the gray hair. The inside of our bathroom door, painted robin’s egg blue, had splatters of brown from hasty dye jobs gone wrong. The wood soaked up the chemicals, and by the time my mother noticed, the stain had already set. There were splotches on the floor, too, and just above the mirror. It was like an abstract painting by Pollack on a lazy day.
As she got older, Mom bought lighter and lighter shades of hair color, admitting that to maintain brunette hair would look unnatural. I guess it is more believable that her hair turned auburn, then blond instead of gray.
Then there is my oldest aunt who, even in her nineties, has jet black hair. She insists it is totally natural and that she has never treated it chemically. Somehow no one else on that side of the family inherited her endless supply of melanin.
What am I really covering?
Mom would complain that coloring her hair smelled bad, was such a mess, and didn’t always turn out the way she wanted it to. And there was the permanent damage the chemicals did to her hair, her scalp and the interior of our bathroom.
Why did she do it month after month?
“Because I feel old when I go gray.”
For years, this is what kept me going back to the drug store for a monthly rinse. When I looked in the mirror, I heard my mother’s words, and I felt old. The gray in my hair did seem to make my face look tired.
“You have such a young face,” Mom said to me. “But all people will see is your gray hair.”
Is that really all people will see in me? Do I have nothing more to offer than the color of my hair? Is gray hair really what causes others to judge me harshly?
There is no box of chemicals I can use to cover my quick criticism of others, my chronic habit of complaining or my feelings of superiority when someone uses bad grammar. So covering my gray is not going to make me a better person. And I even disagree that coloring my hair makes me look younger. It just makes my hair look darker.
Let it go
The truth is that the time I would spend changing or worrying about my hair color is time I can spend working on the things that matter. Like trying to be kinder and more patient with others. Learning what God wants me to do with my life. Serving my family. And trying to get the stains off the bathroom door.
When I searched the internet for inspiration from other women who are no longer coloring their hair, the first advice some of them give is, “Go to your stylist and get your hair lightened for a smooth transition into gray.” In my opinion, this is not necessary. Remember that Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory.” Let it go and watch the change, like trees changing color in the fall. Try new hairstyles. Let your natural beauty shine through. And never underestimate what a smile can do for a tired-looking face.