Is it Possible to Go Gray Gracefully?

Written by Andrea Burke

I started dying my hair in ninth grade. It was a beautiful, coppery red and everyone said I looked like Molly Ringwald.

In 11th grade, when I dyed it back to my natural brown, people were shocked that red wasn't my real color. My friends hated the brown. I even got comments from kids I didn't know. Dye it back, they said.

Two years later, I was off to art school and formed a tight-knit friendship with some girls. We called ourselves the Bird and Bug Club. While other students were drinking, smoking pot and dropping copious amounts of acid, we simply cut and dyed our hair.

When someone's hair was too short to cut because we'd gotten carried away the week before, we experimented with colors across the spectrum. Aah, the miracle of Manic Panic dyes. Although my hair has never been green or purple, it has been every other color, by far the most hideous of which was blond. There were even years of having a tiny fuchsia strand, which I adored.

Those days are long gone and now I am of A Certain Age, wondering if it's possible go gray gracefully. I have faithfully dyed my hair since the tender age of 16 and I believe it is time to take on the gray.

On one hand, this is a very easy "I'm An Empowered-Natural-Woman-Hear-Me-Roar" decision.

On the other hand, I feel societal pressure to keep dying it. I mean, it is the norm, right? I could be labeled a freak of nature or worse…appear old. 

While I don't own high heels or have a corporate job, I still feel the pressure.

Recently, when my best friend visited me in Montana from Portland I decided to ask her what she thought about going gray. I value her opinion above all, due to years of great advice. Also, I knew she'd be on my side, as she owns not one speck of makeup and, as a natural blond, can even get away with not shaving.

"What is going on with your hair?" she asked before I could mention my experiment of letting myself grow gray. "There are parents at my daughter's school who are letting themselves go and they just look haggard. Wait until you are at least 50 before you go gray. Just dye it."

This was not what I'd been hoping to hear.

She’s always right, I heard myself saying silently.

A few weeks later, at a party, I met a woman with a bit of gray, and I said, "I see you're going gray, how is that for you? I'm thinking of going gray myself."

She explained that didn't have any money at the moment to have it dyed, but the minute she did she was going to do something about it.

In frustration, I later confided in a friend, an older woman, who has long flowing curly hair (mostly gray) and asked her about her journey.

Turns out, she dyed her hair until she got divorced. After that, she said, she just didn't care anymore. It sounded more like depression than liberation.

I live in a college town that is pretty granola by Montana standards, and there are plenty of women who are natural and beautiful, but even on this journey I look at them with different eyes.

These aren't the eyes of Right on, Sista! Instead, I find myself wondering, would she look younger if she dyed her hair? 

Ugh, even I have taken the blue pill.

What is going on in our society that men can age and women cannot? 

Why isn't being natural a symbol of beauty? Not to mention the fact that we are unnecessarily exposing ourselves to toxic chemicals that can affect our longevity.

Let’s put it this way: if an average woman dyes her hair every two month, that's six times a year she's exposing her skin and her lungs to toxins. These toxins go directly into the skin, our largest organ. It just seems counterintuitive. (Not to mention the health of the poor hairdresser!)

Compound that year after year and it's frightening.

Yes, there are healthy all-natural hair dyes out there and since this is merely a diatribe, I may be buying some natural brown in my near future.

But part of me embraces my gray: it looks cool. If this look were trendy, it would cost a pretty penny for a hairdresser to painstakingly dye each little strand a different shade of gray. And, I keep reminding myself that as others are figuratively and literally dying to cover up their gray, nobody on earth has the same over all hair color as me.

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