Mind & Body

Author Goes Gray Gracefully

When I stopped coloring my gray hair, I discovered a whole new me.

Author Goes Gray Gracefully
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A few years ago, when I was 48, I received a photograph in the mail—me sandwiched between a gray-haired friend and my blonde daughter. In contrast to their natural colors, my deeply dyed brown hair looked harsh and fake, not chic and young, as I had always imagined. In the sudden, absolute clarity of that moment, I decided to stop coloring my hair after 25 years of trying every hue from “roan” to “ebony.” Cold turkey. The choice was easy. The process—not so much.

Transition. From start to finish it took me 18 months to become gray. As I found out, it’s impossible to strip out all the dye and become gray-haired overnight. In my case, I enlisted my hairdresser in a kind of long farewell: Every month she softened the sharp transition line of new growth with highlights and toner, so I wouldn’t look skunk-like.

Acceptance. For me, embracing my natural hair color was a powerful, sometimes disconcerting tool for self-discovery—and, in the end, one of the most liberating actions of my life. Letting go of this deep-seated, socially reinforced, longtime ritual helped me develop the courage not only to admit that I was turning 50 but also to feel comfortable showing the plain truth of it. I flexed new emotional and intellectual muscles and today feel more resilient and grounded.

Transformation. In the course of my transition, I began to realize that I had used my “younger-looking” hair to camouflage less healthy aspects of myself. Fifteen extra pounds? No problem—my roots aren’t showing. But that was magical thinking. “About six weeks after my roots started to show, I started seriously working out again and now, with my gray hair, I even feel physically stronger. But perhaps the most gratifying unanticipated consequence has been how good my hair looks. It’s shiny and healthy, and strangers now often stop me to tell me how much they like it. Trust me—that never once happened during the 25 years I dyed it. Talk about a silver lining.