This article was written by Deborah Garratt a member of our content contributor program who is a life coach & spiritual healer for women over 40. She specializes in women in FULL bloom, meaning women who have experienced joy, love and pain, and disappointment.
I think I found my first gray hair at the age of nineteen.
It was quite a shock, and I persistently plucked it right out. This method worked for about a year or two, and then I was confronted with the reality that if I kept this up, I would eventually be bald. Not a great choice when you’re twenty-three years old. So like most women, I turned to the bottle…I know what you’re thinking! Don’t worry; I will turn to wine but not until much later in life. I turned to a bottle in a box with a picture of a beautiful brunette with her gorgeous hair glistening in the sun.
Coloring my hair started as a DIY project in the privacy of my own bathroom. This worked fine for a while until a harried application left permanent stains on my towels, floor, and rug. It was at that time that I started seeing a professional. It’s funny the money that one can come up with when it comes to vanity. I really didn’t want my girlfriends to know that every eight weeks, I was sitting under a hairdryer at the salon on Saturday morning along with all the other old ladies.
This was during the permanent era when having soft poodle-like curly hair was all the rage.
I do not doubt that this era was and will always be remembered as one of the worst in cosmetology history books. And for good reason: The chemicals they used smelled awful. Hair color severely damaged my hair, the harsh chemicals resulting in an unnatural curl pattern. Due to the damage, you had to get your hair trimmed every six weeks to cut off all the split ends. Hair color was beginning to really take hold in hair salons. And it didn’t take long to realize that a permanent + hair color doesn’t mix too well. That was a guaranteed disaster at the shampoo bowl. You were lucky if you had any hair left on your head after that double whammy. And this became my dilemma. There wasn’t enough deep conditioner in the state of California to make up for that combo.
After years and years of coloring my gray roots with dark hair color or feeble attempts at camouflaging them with highlights, it had finally taken its toll. My hair was declaring war and fighting back. But I continued to ignore the revolt and kept on coloring my hair. I was finally forced to wave the white flag. My feeble attempt at maintaining an illusion of youthful hair was at an end. The reality was that it’s hard to pull that off when it’s falling out all around you. I left some hair wherever I went. I’d go over to a girlfriend’s house for a glass of wine, and she’d find a nice little hostess gift, a pile of my hair on her kitchen floor. One time I loaned my vacuum cleaner to a neighbor who had to empty the vacuum bag due to a hairball about the size of a tennis ball—and I don’t have any pets. These were the subtle hints that my hair was on the verge of falling out for good. If I wanted to have any hair left on my head, not in my car, bathroom floor, or bed, then the time had come to give up the fight. Face the truth and say goodbye to long dark youthful hair…RIP.
As we age, Mother Nature has a way of softening our appearance.
The purpose of gray hair might be to be a softening halo for our faces succumbing to gravity. A darker, full mane might be too harsh of a contrast to what age does to our skin. I am sure that Mother Nature thought this out, and although my mirror says otherwise, it is for the best.
I have always had an incredible sense of fashion timing. Meaning that I am usually ahead of the curve. For example, if the new fashion craze were jeans worn with a black blazer, I would have started wearing that six months before. I have always tried to be fashionable and keep up my appearance, but letting my hair be its natural color failed in both categories. This was not going to be an easy journey for me.
When the bleaching trend then coloring your hair as a unicorn started, I was shocked when I saw young women in their 20s opting to color their hair gray, of all things. Why in the world, when you can have lavender or neon pink, would you choose gray? A color that if you are lucky enough to live another 30 years, you are apt to have anyway? This made absolutely no sense to me. I kept seeing images of youthful, wrinkle-free women wearing gray hair—and intentionally, at that. I can’t honestly say that it worked on everyone, but it certainly got me thinking. If this is the chosen color of many young women who can have any color in the unicorn rainbow, why isn’t it a good option for me?
When I decided to go gray or au natural, I was having my roots done every three weeks, and that was pushing it. I spent the last week touching up my roots before the touching up. As women, we can spend hundreds of dollars a month maintaining our hair color. I told my stylist for years that my hair was falling out. Not from the root all the time but breaking off at all different lengths. She finally had to admit the severity of the situation when she pulled a fistful of my hair out of her shampoo bowl drain on one visit. Until then, she swore that hair color was not harmful but actually good for your hair due to all the added conditioners, etc…. I bought this theory for a couple of years, but my hair was getting thinner and thinner. It was finally time.
I waited about six weeks past my normal touch-up time and finally went in for a haircut.
The stylist colored my hair dark brown, which is my natural color, and my roots were a shocking white. I knew that on my dad’s side of the family, everyone’s hair eventually turned white. It is a beautiful shade of white and not gray. I basically walked around with a white skunk stripe on the top of my head. I traveled quite a bit at this time for work. Several times men walked up to me and said, “I love your hair,” and this took me aback because they were much younger than me. Often women of all ages complimented me on it or said things like “Good for you!” But my favorite comments came from Millennials who said, “I love your hair. You look like Billie Eilish!” I had no idea who they were talking about. Eventually, I went on YouTube later that night and found her images. This beautiful young girl has dark hair, and her roots are about the same as mine, three inches down, but the only difference is hers are neon green. I cried myself to sleep. We decided to cut my hair into a bob just above the shoulders. My theory was that the shorter it is, the faster the dark brown would grow out.
During this awkward and, at times, humiliating process, I scanned the Internet to find my “Embracing My Gray Tribe.” There are many bloggers out there that have dedicated themselves to helping women embrace their age, hair color, and the painstaking process of getting there. They offer tips on different methods of going gray, including having your entire head bleached and having a second step of coloring your hair gray so the outgrowth theoretically will seamlessly blend in. In my case, that was not an option. Hair color so damaged my hair that subjecting it to bleach would have been a death sentence.
There are lots of tips and tricks out there and plenty of information on what to expect.
The truth is that this will impact your clothing, makeup, and overall self-esteem. You might find that the warm colors that make up the vast majority of your wardrobe may clash with the cool tones of your new hair color. If there was ever a good reason to update your wardrobe, this is it. Your skin tone against gray or white hair can wreak havoc with your expensive makeup collection. I always liked my pale skin against dark hair with blue eyes look. Well, that look was out the window. Now instead of white hair, my skin was suddenly tan in comparison. This caused a makeup upheaval, and I had to adjust accordingly.
At about eight months in, it was time for another haircut. In the hopefully not too far away future, my goal was to have a short white bob someday. I didn’t think this was too much to ask. I went back to my adorable stylist and said, “Okay, let’s cut my bob shorter so the white roots can catch up faster to the dark ends.” (Brilliant plan, right?) Anyway, she did that and cut the back slightly shorter than the front, and it seemed to be okay until she handed me the mirror and spun me around. I was aghast at the two-tone, pray the wind doesn’t blowback of my head. It reminded me of an older man who colors his hair black with temporary hair color. When the white hair has grown out several inches, he parts it and combs it over to an extreme to hide it. I felt like I was one of those older men. And whom I am trying to fool here? The moment of truth was it was time to cut it short and fully enter the sisterhood of the grey revolution. I was about to become a full-fledged member.
I left the salon that day with a short all-white pixie. I had worn my hair short for years and have the kind of face that can pull it off. I can be okay with white hair, or I can be okay with short hair, but having both at the same time was the epitome of being an older woman. Aging for me, like most women, has not been easy. I have a theory that women who were pretty in their youth feel the loss more than women that have never felt attractive. Even at my age, I can still occasionally turn heads, but I was certain that with this new look, that was a thing of the past. But much to my surprise, people say they like my new look, and I still get a once-over. Not that that is any measure of one’s attractiveness. For me, it made me feel that I am not suddenly invisible. So many women in their later years experience this, and I can see how devastating that is.
I am proud today of my decision to embrace both my gray and my age.
I will not say that the road has been easy, but it continues to get easier, like most things in life. I am also proud of our culture today that encourages people to be themselves truly, and that beauty comes in all different colors, shapes, and sizes. Maybe I had the courage to do it because I always try to be a strong role model for my two grown daughters. It was time for me to show them that I accept my age, and I have earned every gray hair through both heredity and the perils of life.
I don’t miss spending hundreds of dollars each month, the monthly visit to the salon, or the constant upkeep of coloring my gray. This experience has been freeing and a huge part of accepting my age and place in life. There is a huge feeling of empowerment, being who you really are, and having the courage to share it with the world. As women, we are barraged with images from TV, magazines, and the Internet about beauty and what it looks like. I can’t and frankly don’t want to look like I’m thirty years old. I would rather have my short gray hair and the laugh lines and wrinkles that I etched into my skin from years of living and laughter. Maybe it’s about time that that is considered beautiful, too.