I‘m not sure I remember the last time my hair was completely and totally lacking in artificial color. Bless my parents’ hearts, their general attitude was that I could do whatever I wanted with my appearance as long as it wasn’t permanently physically altering (crazy “permanent” hair color that would eventually grow out = fine, stupid fingernail polish = fine, glitter-ringed eyes = fine, facial piercings or tattoos = not okay). In junior high, I started adding chunky blonde streaks into my brunette hair, which I sometimes colored with food coloring for a temporary change-up. At my high-school graduation, I began my love affair with bright colors, showing up for commencement with fire-engine-red streaks instead of my typical ’do. Then I went purple. Then I went black with thin blue streaks, which I called “Superman Hair.” There was an enormously ill-fated attempt to go calico and also try a pixie cut—I wound up looking like a Presidential wife. I had jet-black hair for a while, and I’ve had some pink more often than anything else. My attitude has always been that hair is an accessory and it grows back, so I should have fun and not be scared to try new things. In the time that Mike and I have been together, I’ve worn at least eight different cuts/styles, and a few different colors.
Despite all this experimentation, there’s always been a fly in the ointment. I absolutely love playing around with my hair color, but I never, ever want to look like a person who is intentionally covering up her grey hair. My stylists roll their eyes when I say it, but if there were a way to color just my brown hairs but leave the grey ones alone, I’d do it in a heartbeat, damn the cost. I love my grey hair. I always have. And when I say “always,” I mean that I began going grey at age 16. Yes, you read that right: sixteen. I distinctly remember my old pal Nico standing above me at our lunch table, gleefully counting out the grey hairs he saw along my part. I always thought they made me look distinguished, and I wore my sporadic grey hairs as badges of an old soul.
When Mike and I met, my last round of color mostly lingered on my tips and there was a distinct but not excessive salt-and-pepper thing going on. At the time, he thought it was cool. “She’s secure in herself,” he thought, “and doesn’t need to change her appearance to fall in line with some sort of societal construct of age and beauty.” This filled me with pride. As we got closer to our wedding, though, he began hinting that I might consider dying my hair solid brown, as looking older than one’s age isn’t that big of a deal on a normal day, but on one’s wedding day, it’s another issue entirely. I, too, fell for the notion of the pretty, shiny-haired bride, so I eventually got a light-brown semipermanent color done at the salon—semi, so it’d fade gradually and my greys would reappear with relative ease. After the wedding, I got an extreme haircut (a severe asymmetrical number, boy-short on one side, shoulder-length on the other), which soon led to a huge pink streak among my burgeoning salt-and-pepper hair. About a year after the wedding, the greys were nearly grown out and I was so excited!
But then I got a job interview. At a huge, classy company. And while many corporate environments are hospitable to wacky hair colors once you’re employed (even this one), gaining employment with a wacky hair color is another thing entirely. The day after I booked that interview, I hightailed it out to Brooklyn and got an all-over dark brown color. It was beautiful and glossy and made me feel grown-up, but I mourned the loss of both my pink and my grey. My roots appeared almost immediately, but it seemed silly to color it again for the second interview. By the time I was supposed to begin the job, two months later, I had a solid inch of silvery growth. And friends, this wasn’t just a couple of grey hairs. Against the rich, dark dyed hair, my natural hair looked even more extreme, and somehow I had a lot more of it than I did when Mike and I met: I had a big ol’ grey swath cutting right along my part, no mistake. It was not cute. It was really not cute. I couldn’t afford another trip to the salon, so I panicked and did a bunch of google searching—first for ways to match the salon color at home, then for ways to temporarily tint the grey, then for ways to cover it up for just a day or two…and then I stumbled on a sort of love-your-grey-hair message board. After clicking around a bit, I decided it was time to just play a waiting game.
I’ll be honest: I was embarrassed. Here I was, in a fancy office, and I was walking around looking either too poor or too oblivious to get my hair done. My only hope was that it wasn’t obvious under the fluorescent lighting. On my second day at the office, it came up that I’d dyed my hair from pink to brown to get this job. My editor-in-chief, a no-nonsense lady to be certain, said, “Wait, so what color is your real hair? I mean, besides grey?” Clearly I wasn’t fooling anyone; my grey racing stripe was exceedingly evident, and I was mildly mortified. But I’d already made my decision, so I stuck to my guns. I’d done a bunch of reading about how women tend to embrace their grey (for the record, usually when they’re much older than I am). Typically there’s the decision and then the first month or two of steadfastness (I’m doing this! I’m so proud!). Then they see the horrible roots and they are overcome with angst (Oh my god, I am a hideous crone), so they may get highlights to help the new grey blend in, or they may indulge in temporary dyes or embrace headbands and scarves. If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I like to be T-U-F-F. I like to do it the hard way. I would not hide my striped locks, nor would I seek comfort in “the chop.” While getting a supershort haircut abbreviates the transition time, it’d mean I’d have to sport a pixie cut, and we all know how well that has worked in the past (see above, re: Presidential wife).
So instead, I resolved to be totally brazen about it. Yeah, suckas, I’ve got a heap of grey hair. I’m growing it in. It looks mildly ridiculous right now (though it feels like the worst is over), and it might make me look older, but at least I’m honest about the way I really look. I’m having a sort of ballsy renaissance. And the fun part is, once I got over the three-month hump—at which point it became more obvious that this is not just a lapse in salon visits but is instead an intentional choice—more and more young(ish) people approach me and tell me they think it looks really cool. And I think so too! But internet, you’re failing me. It makes me nuts that there are so many resources for older women who are learning to embrace their “old-lady” hair, but no one seems to talk about it as a thirtysomething. Surely I’m not alone.
So here it is, y’all: I’m Heather, I’m 32 years old, and according to my stylist, my hair is more than 40 percent grey. I’m growing it out. Sometimes it sucks, sometimes it’s embarrassing, sometimes I don’t even think about it because it’s just hair, and sometimes I really like it. But in less than a year’s time, my hair will be completely natural, and I absolutely can’t wait.