Just One Shade of Grey

The Silver(ish) Fox

Grey Hair Grow-Out: 6.5 months after last dye job

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.

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14 comments

  1. Cheryl – July 1, 2012 at 20:42

    I love that you are embracing your grey. It’s been four-ish years since I’ve dyed my hair, and whenever I get my hair cut (which is admittedly not often these days), the stylist always says, “Do you know you’re getting grey?” (Duh!) “You otherwise look so young.” (Thanks?) “I can do a great dye job for you.” Then I shake my head and proceed to tell them how the grey reminds me of one of my favorite students who pointed out my first strand (to my knowledge), how the grey reminds me that my husband loves me without all the glitz and glam we’ve been socialized to mask our true selves with, how the grey reminds me that – despite the amount of YA I read – I’ve earned my “adult” badge. Personally, I think grey is beautiful.

  2. Sarah – May 23, 2012 at 23:09

    love it. love your ladyballs.

    my hair is lighter than yours, so my grey hair (singular, for now) is only really noticeable when i straighten, like you mentioned above. i never want to dye my hair to cover it up, either.

    my husband has lots of greys, though, and wears them proudly. one of his high school students asked why he didn’t use ‘just for men,’ especially on his beard, where he’s got lots, and was flabbergasted when dennis insisted he likes them.

    • Heather – May 24, 2012 at 15:26

      I hear ya, Sarah. Dudes with grey hair get an A+ in my book. Young Clooney? Fine. Older Clooney? YES PLEASE THANKS I WILL HAVE TWO.

  3. Brandy Agerbeck – May 23, 2012 at 15:25

    I love your hair color saga, Heather. About a year ago I lapsed in dying my hair and saw my first gray hairs. I had paper white hair once and loved it, though it was really hard on my hair. I would love to be silver gray someday but if my parents were an indication, that’ll be a looong ways off.

    My sis hates my hair dyed black. I’ve got sort of a dark blonde color naturally, though no one has seen it in forever. I adore having super short hair. I feel like if it’s my natural hair color, it looks really bland and mousy at that length. I look like someone post-chemo. It doesn’t make enough of a hair statement. I love the contrast of the black hair and my pale skin.

    I appreciate what you’re saying about how altering of hair color alters what we are saying about ourselves and how we navigate aging.

    • Heather – May 23, 2012 at 15:44

      It’s funny to call it a saga, though I admit that I’ve got a gmail draft saved with links to photos of each of my cuts/colors/styles throughout the years. You know, for posterity. :)

      Isn’t it curious to be surprised by your own hair when you stop dying it? I’ve also definitely had loved ones who’ve hated the way I wore my hair. You gotta do what feels best to you! It is fun to change it up, though. I dyed my hair black for a long time and when I started going lighter brown I realized that it worked better for my coloring, even though I’d loved black at the time. (I’m SO WITH YOU re: high-contrast hair when you’re pale.)

      Aging is a toughie. It’s not that I’m unsympathetic to the notion of not wanting to be perceived as old—in fact, that’s a big concern of my own as I let my hair go grey—it’s more that I hate that this is the way our society functions and I don’t want to play into it. See also: wrinkles. I’ve already got laugh lines developing and I hope I can continue to embrace them as I get older instead of fighting what nature’s giving me. I think a vibrancy of personality and style can do a lot to compensate for the “prematurely aged” aspect that grey hair and/or wrinkles can give us. And honestly, the thing that helps me is hearing women who are 15 years my senior say they could never ever let their hair go grey. It sort of makes it feel like a dare. Do I have the ladyballs to do what they can’t let themselves do?

  4. Mike – May 23, 2012 at 15:24

    I miss the pink streak. That pink streak was bitchin’.

    • Heather – May 23, 2012 at 15:34

      Once I get the grey all grown out, I think the pink streak will return.

  5. Netta – May 23, 2012 at 14:30

    So glad you posted this Heather! I’ve been seriously going back and forth on whether or not to dye my hair anymore. I’ve got grays…not nearly as many as you, but there they are. My mom got a pixie cut and I think her gray looks fabulous on her….after all those years of not quite right colors I think she should have let it go gray a long time ago. So maybe I will too! Thank you for being a strong and confident woman…..we just need a couple billion more of you to correct the flawed ideal of women that society carries around in their hip pockets.

    • Heather – May 23, 2012 at 15:08

      Thank you, Netta! I totally recognize that it can be a hard decision, and I’m still not sure if I’ll like how I look when my hair is entirely grown out, but I’m definitely ready to see it. Part of the push over the ledge, for me, was when I realized how obvious my roots were once I started letting them grow out. When I had much less grey, the demarcation wasn’t nearly as drastic. Also, for a long time, I was coloring my own hair. When I started getting it professionally colored I realized just how flippin’ expensive it is! What am I, made of money?

      • Netta – May 24, 2012 at 16:11

        LOL! I think with your coloring and eyes you will look HAWT! Crazy thing is that my mom always was just a smidge off on the right shade and sometimes it made her look sallow…..her new solid do of salt and pepper is not only perfection, but makes her eyes look totally dramatic without the need of makeup! The only thing that would keep me from doing it right now is that I DON’T have enough gray to make much of an impact and my natural color is a really drab mousy brown…you remember, right? There are some all natural hair rinses on Etsy that will deepen or intensify certain natural colors, but not cover up the grey. So I am considering (only considering) that as an interim option until I get enough grey not to care about the color lol! Add to that the fact that I am too lazy to dye my hair regularly anyway and usually wait 6-9 months (gasp!) between dye jobs rofl…..I usually have a wide road of roots paved on my head anyway.

  6. Kelly Marie Hurd – May 23, 2012 at 13:59

    Hell yeah to the grey! I’m 31 and working on a set of wings. I love my grey hair and I’ve never dyed it. I even have some really cool grey eyebrow hairs.

    My only problem is that when I occasionally straighten my hair to look sleek, the white hair sticks out and I look a little mad scientist-ish. Maybe I should incorporate more lab coats into my formal wardrobe.

    • Heather – May 23, 2012 at 15:18

      Oooh, Kelly, you talkin about temple-greys like some kind of sexy female Reed Richards? If so, AWESOME. I totally wish I’d gotten the grey streak, to be honest, but that’s just not the way this ball bounced. I also get grey eyebrow hairs! They really stand out in my brows, which are darker than my normal hair, but I kind of dig them.

      I know what you mean, re: straightening (I straighten my inconsistently curly hair every other day). One of the paramount concerns of grey-haired ladies everywhere is that it’s so coarse and wiry! I’ve been having good luck using some shampoos and conditioners labeled “sleek” and the like (latest favorite: Aveda Smooth Infusion, but I also really like a weather-protection one from John Frieda) and I also use a dab of Moroccan Oil before I blow dry (which I only do every other day, after shampooing/conditioning). Still haven’t got it totally sorted, but it’s helped a bit. (Though, obviously, lab coats are always a good sartorial choice.)

      • Kelly Marie Hurd – May 25, 2012 at 15:10

        Sleek conditioner. Smart! I’m going to pick some of that up.

        Reed Richards is a much nicer comparison to what I had been thinking, which was Paulie Walnuts. I’m going to start going with that.

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