50 Shades of Going Gray – August 17, 2016

I dyed my hair. I promised myself I’d never do it. I was 24 when I made the promise, and just two silver strands reminded me I’d someday grow old.

Through my thirties, my hair stayed mostly brown. I cut silver hairs with small scissors as they appeared, sweeping the evidence into the trash. But in front, dead center, it was undeniable. A white streak was blooming, and my hairstylist told me if I kept cutting hairs there, I’d get a bald spot. I had to let it grow in.

I stopped snipping as much as possible, except when I had a special event, meeting or date. I tried to snip only the white strands and none of the surrounding brown ones, but I never succeeded.

Snip. Snip. Snip. More hairs turned white each week. A clear streak ran from the top of my forehead to the cowlick I inherited from my dad.

It’s amazing how a few veins of white hair can erase a woman from the world. I struggled with the idea of looking 10 years older because of 100 strands of hair. I also struggled with the knowledge that I could erase those strands, like a sketch with a few wrong lines. I cared, and I was beating myself up for caring.

I visited my haircutter. I told him the white streak was bothering me more than I’d expected. He suggested I was too low-maintenance to start a cycle of appointments to cover roots. I agreed; I get my hair cut two or three times a year and go natural the rest of the time.

But I wanted to dye the streak. I asked if a conditioner could apply gold color subtly to the white strands. Then I could do it over time in the shower, mimicking my summer highlights.

That product exists. But it only exists in crazy colors like blue, purple and red.

We joked about dyeing my entire mane lilac, fulfilling my fantasy of a crazy, spiky ‘do. But I’m afraid if I cover up my natural hair I’ll never see its real color again. I still envision allowing my hair to go silver-white someday.

So he suggested dyeing my hair a light gold with semipermanent gel. The gel would turn white hairs gold wherever they grew, but would not cover my normal brown shade. My hair would look shinier, and the dye would fade over two months, blending into any roots.

It was a way to try new things without getting locked in forever. I let him mix the gel and tried not to panic when I saw its carrot-orange color. With it applied to my scalp and a plastic bag over my head, I looked like a bright freak. I wondered what it would look like if it dried that way.

It worked better than I’d hoped. The end result was not carrot orange. It looked subtle, a gold that covered only white hairs, just as promised. Walking down the street afterward, I felt five times as visible and immeasurably more confident.

I’ll probably dye my hair again. I can’t give up such a simple solution to my aging insecurities. I feel like a traitor to my younger self, and to the older woman I’ll be someday, but I feel more like myself than ever.

This essay was originally published in Medium’s The Coffeelicious publication.

2 thoughts on “50 Shades of Going Gray – August 17, 2016”

  1. Stephanie, this is a thoughtful piece that speaks to me and my three daughters. Even at sixty-eight, I can recall that moment at thirty-one, when I started to dye my hair. And now my youngest girl has started dying her hair….because her sisters hounded (embarrassed) her into starting.

    I recall those pesky, coarse strands waving at me each morning!

    1. So glad this resonated — I felt self-conscious when I first posted this story, but the response on Medium, Facebook and here has been reassuring. Made me feel not alone 🙂

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