I am not aging well. By that I don’t mean that my appearance is showing my age (not too much anyway). But rather, I am struggling to accept some of the changes that naturally come with getting older. My eyesight is getting worse (I just increased the font for this article on my computer so I could STOP SQUINTING) and I seem to find a new wrinkle every day. But one of the most challenging aspects relates to my hair. Over a year ago, I decided to stop dyeing my naturally-blonde hair. Rather than try to pretend I was still a towhead, I put down the bleach and have embraced my dark blonde locks. I actually like the way it looks. The problem with that is people keep telling me “OH I JUST LOVE YOUR GRAY HAIR. YOU’RE SO BRAVE!!!” Well, I’m here to tell you, very politely, to STOP talking about my gray hair!
Why Do We Get Gray Hair Anyway?
If you know me, you’ll know I love to research, so I decided to find out why our hair actually turns gray. Interestingly, our hair doesn’t “turn” gray. It grows in that way. As we age, our hair follicles produce less of the colored pigment that makes our hair the color it is. So, as new hair grows in, it is more likely to be gray as you get older. Contrary to popular belief, stress doesn’t directly cause our hair to turn gray, either. It seems that way because stress can make your hair fall out more quickly. When it grows back, if you’re older, that hair might be gray. This explains why most Presidents of the United States seem to enter office looking fairly young and leave the job appearing much older.
The 1st Rule of Gray Hair Club is Don’t Talk about Gray Hair Club
When I decided to stop coloring my hair, I thought I’d accepted the fact that I might find strands of silver in my hairbrush. Apparently, I have not. It started several years ago, when I was still a faithful salon customer. A well-meaning stylist casually mentioned that the color treatment he was going to use on me would help cover my gray hairs. Outwardly, I brushed off the comment, but inside I freaked out a bit. “I don’t have gray hair! Do I?” Then, just last year, I went for my annual endocrinologist’s appointment where a nurse I’d seen before gushed about how she liked what I was doing with my hair. I was quite proud of the new style I’d mastered, so I graciously accepted the praise…until she then said “And your gray hair! I love it!” Ugh. Since then, there have been other comments that people assume are harmless. And, honestly, they should be. I should be okay with it.
Can You Not?
While I believe all of us could get more comfortable with the idea of aging and the things that come with it, I have trouble applying that idea to myself. Getting older is perfectly fine and normal for everyone around me. It’s just not supposed to happen to me. I don’t mind that I’m turning 40 next year. The fact that I’ll soon need reading glasses is fine. But my hair isn’t supposed to betray me. Maybe I’m sensitive because it is relatively easy to cover my gray hair if I want to, but I have been so determined to rock my natural color. If I start dyeing it again, it’ll feel defeating. Like I gave up and let the Beauty Industrial Complex win. I mean, forget the fact that I wear makeup, shave my legs/underarms/bikini line, and get pedicures. I can’t let “The Man” tell me what to do with my hair!
Perhaps I have such difficulty accepting my gray hair because it will be the most obvious indicator of my age. I have a few wrinkles, but not too many yet, but if my hair completely goes gray, there will be no hiding how old I am. Right now, I still pass for late twenties/early thirties to many people. A silver mane (even as cool as that phrase sounds) will automatically give away my true age. Even if it does, though, I know I should accept it. My Dad used to say “You’ll get older…if you’re lucky.” How right he was. So many of us have to leave this life long before our first gray hair ever pops up. Maybe mine is an indirect indication that I am still blessed to be here. If people can’t stop talking about my gray hair, I’ll focus on what it means. A long life, well-lived. But maybe I’ll still dye my hair so you won’t know just how long.