More Than ok with the Gray

WHEN I WAS IN FOURTH GRADE, MY MOTHER DYED MY BROWN HAIR BLACK. She, a redhead, wanted my hair to match my father’s dark hair. The dye turned my hair so black it was purple. My head shimmered like grackle feathers. Though it sounds pretty and daresay trendy now, I was mortified as a 10-year-old.

That was the last time I dyed my hair. In middle school, I experienced a brief affinity for neon punk fashion and temporarily colored swaths of my hair in pink and green. Flash forward a decade later, and I recall sitting in my car on East Beach after a jog. Many gray hairs were popping up all over the crown of my head. Diligently, I hand-plucked them, tied them in a big bow, and presented them to my younger sister who was not amused and even tortured by my antagonism.

During this phase of my life, I willingly paid for spiral perms, a chemical procedure whereby curls are set into the hair. Spiral perms are a special kind of nightmare for people who have sensitive heads and lots of hair, like me. Tolerance-wise, I should maintain a very short haircut due to my tender scalp. But no, I’ve always had long hair, except that one time in fourth grade, right before my mom dyed it purple. My hair held the perms for extended periods of time, and even nowadays in certain G-town humidity, I can almost see the remnants of my last spiral perm from the 1990’s, form ringlets.

After another decade, I started to hear comments from friends and family about my graying hair. These came on especially after having children in my late 30’s. Phrases lobbied hard:


Don’t you want to look like your child’s mother, and not grandmother?


You are making us look old, Leslie. Dye your hair.


If you look younger, you’ll feel younger.


Society isn’t ready for your gray hair. Would you want your own mother to be completely silver?


That last phrase hit me hard, mostly because it was my mother asking it of me. As a result, there was a year or so where I relented, at a friend’s persistence, and used a gloss that temporarily added color to my hair. Even the ease of this product, applied in the shower after washing my hair, was too much maintenance for me and I quit.

I don’t dye my hair because of childhood angst, though it’s a good story we continue to tell in our family. I don’t dye my hair because it’s too much maintenance for the lifestyle I want to keep. Frugally, I also appreciate having the extra funds of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of dollars not spent on coloring a piece of keratin that grows neverendingly out of my scalp. Environmentally, I recognize the benefit of not applying chemicals to both my head and to the sink drain (all drains lead to the ocean).

My hair is healthy, so says all the stylists I have ever had. Time consciously, I benefit from the additional 60-90 minutes I have not spent every ~6 weeks on hair dying. Lastly, I don’t mind showing society what it looks like to age without hair dye. I feel younger because of the lifestyle I lead, not the number of gray hairs on my head.

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