Aging & Society

Five Women Weigh in on Going Gray with Grace

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I remember my first gray hair.

As someone who’s always taken a natural approach to beauty, I like to think they’re taking shape as the highlights I would never pay for.  

In my family, going gray is a given, not something to be covered up or denied. When my grandmother went gray, she looked like a movie star. For years, she’d worn a puffy brown perm that she’d dye regularly. After getting sick, she lost her hair and it grew back smooth and silver. She wore it in a short, blunt pixie cut, and looked more glamorous than ever.

I reached out to a handful of other women who are opting to go gray, and asked them about that decision and what it means to them. Here’s what they said:

Keep it real

“I had so much fun changing my hair color for decades, starting when I was a teen, moving on to an eggplant rinse in college, and then playing around with various patterns of highlights during my 30s and 40s. I covered the gray for several years, but it became a hassle and a big expense to keep it up. Plus, some roots always show somewhere. Ultimately, I didn’t like the time, the cost, or the denial of aging. 

Now my hair has become my signature. I usually wear it in a roundish knot at the top of my head. When I need to meet strangers in public, they can always spot the knot. As I approach 60, my temples are nearly white and my hair has become a rather festive blend of shades from light to dark. 

Some women have praised me for ‘keeping it real,’ and others say they like the color. I enjoy those compliments, but of course what really matters is how I feel about it. The truth is, I know that sporting gray hair invites assumptions based on age, just as I make assumptions about other people based on their looks. It’s part of being human. I wish we all, men and women, felt more encouraged to appreciate our natural states of aging. 

I suppose my top knot is my little way of spreading that message.”

—Diane Daniel, global adventurer and freelance journalist

No fuss

“Gray’s the best. I come from a long line of pragmatic, no-nonsense New Englanders and nobody in my family dyed their hair. Not only is it too much work and too much money, but, honestly, who are we trying to kid? Is anybody fooled? Anybody? 

I thought not. It helps that on my mom’s side, our hair gets better and better as we age. We have naturally thick, wavy hair and it goes silver and then white and we become the very poster girls for going gray. I get compliments on it all the time and people ask if I brighten it or get texture treatments. I don’t. I just wash it, comb it, and let it air-dry. I have better things to do than fuss over my hair, that’s for sure. 

I started going gray when I was 18, and was salt and pepper by the time I was 30 and having my third and final child. First I was prematurely gray; now I’m maturely gray. 

—Joanne Cleaver, a cookie-baking, quilt-making Midwestern grandma

A new chapter

“I absolutely understand why some people want to hide their gray, and I don't think we have any business judging someone for doing so. But for me, gray hair is something I've been looking forward to. In fact, when I found my first gray hair I actually got really excited about what would come next.  Perhaps I'm being naive, but I like to imagine that gray hair will be like a ticket into a new stage of life, one in which I will no longer feel bound by the mainstream beauty standards that link women’s worth so inextricably to our ability to appear young. I aspire to own my gray hair with pride when it arrives. I hope it comes in spiky and wild. Or in a punk rock stripe on one side of my head. I hope it reminds me that wisdom and experience leave marks on us, and that there’s no shame in letting people see those marks.”

—Renee Engeln, body image researcher and author of Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession with Appearance Hurts Girls and Women

Natural woman

“I’ve had a pretty nice relationship with my wavy hair through the years. I love the way it looks when ‘done’, but for the most part I just wash it and pull it back. I’ve been pretty gentle with my hair, so it’s pretty soft. This was never a declaration of intent, but when hair stylists started to comment that my hair felt like mink, I think I just liked the idea of keeping its integrity intact.  

When I was about 12, I remember seeing a local mom with beautiful, wavy, black hair. Massive streaks of gray hugged her waves and framed her face. She was the first lady I knew who embraced her gray, and I absolutely loved her aura. As my whites continue to come in stronger, I still hope for the formation of a huge front streak of gray. My hair stylist teases me that if I don't get ‘the streak’ the whites just look old. I guess I’m waiting to see what happens.

I think I’ve struck a decent balance of dealing with life’s craziness and whimsy. I feel more youthful now than I have in years, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Also, my skin is now radiant and looks smoother than it has in a long time, which offsets the hair on both a superficial and more profound level. I guess if coloring my hair would maintain or even improve the texture, I would consider doing so, but for now, it’s here to stay.”  

— Lori Goldblatt, stay-at-home mom, portrait artist, executive consultant and brand ambassador

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