grey hair don't care

November 21, 2016

So this is going to be a funny (and LONG) post, because as you can see from the title, I'm talking about grey hair. But the pictures I'm showing do not display my grey hair - I'm showing pix from our family photo session that we did early this past summer with the magical Catherine Abegg, a film photographer in the Pacific Northwest area - she's amaaaaaazing and I'm thrilled beyond belief that she did our family session for us.

I include these photos though, because I'm so happy that we had our very first proper set of photos done - there had been basically no pictures of me and my husband since we got married, and there were hardly any pictures of Julia and I together. (mamas, I KNOW it's hard, but get.in.the.frame.) And I also include them because they might be the last photos taken of me with my dark hair. Not long after we had these photos taken, I decided that I was Done. No more coloring my hair.


So, the country is pretty much going crazy and the polar ice cap is 36 degrees warmer than it usually is or something like that, but hey let's talk about grey hair!! Fun yes? A little hair history from me - I found my first grey hair when I was 19. By the time I was 26, I began greying in earnest and I started coloring. Because.....I thought - that's what women did, right? You go grey and you color! That's just What People Do. Correction - that's particularly what women do. I don't think it ever even occurred to me not to color. And let me tell you, grey hair really stands out when your hair is super dark. I was also very wedded to my own personal narrative about myself - Melissa with the Almost-Black Hair. It was a huge part of my identity. I can't really point to a lot of things on the surface of myself that I'm super keen on (self criticism much?), but I was always proud of my hair.

So I began with semi-permanent color and then a few years in, I made the move to permanent color. I never, from Day 1, enjoyed the process like some folks do. I hated the time it took. I hated the chemicals. I hated the expense. And I hated that over time, my poor scalp (which has always been sensitive skinned like the rest of me) was just unhappy most of the time. But by gum, I kept coloring.

Over the years, I felt like the natural texture of my hair, (the pix up above? Blown out. My hair doesn't usually look calm that way.) which is kind of 'fluffy' and naturally wavy, was getting lost most of the time - coloring made my hair kind of coarse and bushy feeling/looking and when I was overdue to color, the frizz really kicked in. Then I'd color and coat my hair, and the frizz would be better. I could see a bit of a vicious cycle kicking in....

I also began seeing some noticeable thinning along my part line and at my right temple - I started calling it 'my fragile area' and I would tell my color/haircut person to try and avoid coating that area with too much color. I was so worried I was literally killing off my hair follicles, because those areas around my face were the most grey and the part line was always where we really concentrated on applying the most color.

Flash forward to this summer. By now, I had been coloring FOR TWENTY YEARS. Let's look at that number again. 20! Years! My beloved stepfather had recently died. I felt like it was very much a time of taking stock and cutting out things that just did not belong in my life anymore. And pretty much at the top of that list was Coloring My Hair.

I had tried telling my colorist for several years that I really hated coloring, but she told me that I shouldn't stop coloring until I was a grandmother. And I had mentioned to an acquaintance that I ran into at the grocery store that I was thinking of quitting coloring and I'm here to tell you - a look of abject HORROR crossed her face and I'll never ever forget - she gasped out "Oh no. That would be so AGING." It was like I had announced that I was about commit some kind of CRIME. I tried feeling out some other people and friends, and the reception was lukewarm at best. I told another lady that I was thinking of stopping and she sort of looked me over and said..."I would keep coloring."

But despite that, after looking up a ton of grey hair blogs, especially this one, and seeing more mention of #grannyhair and grey hair as a kind of fashion statement, and reading stories about people like Sarah Harris, the fashion features editor of British Vogue, I made up my mind. Especially after my very last color appointment, wherein my color literally did not take at all on my most resistant grey spots, and SEVEN DAYS LATER - I had roots. Seven days! (My hair grows pretty quickly.) That was the kicker for me, and I decided right then and there that I was cold turkey done. I might as well have taken the money I spent on my last color appointment and lit it on fire for all the good it did!

I wrote a text to my colorist, ha ha ha, explaining my decision. I felt like I basically had to apologize for not wanting to color anymore! And I told a few other friends who WERE gloriously supportive. (Thank you Laura and Michaele!) My husband was like, whatever you want to do is great. (he just wants me to stop talking about it 24/7) and my daughter was like, oh I hope you won't look like a little old man! Wait, what?

And once I made the real deal decision in my mind.....I can't tell you....the FREEDOM. I didn't realize how much the whole hair coloring thing was weighing me down until I stopped. I felt like I had been released from hair prison! Aside from marrying my husband and having my child, I kid you not - this has been my 3rd best decision! I wish wish wish I could go back and tell my 26 year old self - just rock it at a young age! Don't do it!

 For me, even it ends up aging me 10 years, even it ends up looking like crap....for me, still so WORTH IT not to be shackled to my hair color appointments. I would schedule appointments around holidays. I once went on a trip and was between color appointments and I forgot my root touchup - and I felt so freaked out by it that I went in and bought some mascara to touch up my roots while I was on my vacation. I was a hamster on a wheel that never ever stopped spinning.

Coloring was never fun or a form of self expression for me. It was a punishment for my hair having the AUDACITY to go grey at an early age. And the more I read about going grey (I started referring to my greys as silver all the time but my hilarious husband informed me that was trying too hard), the more I realized certain things that coloring says about our roles as women and about our society and about youth vs. age.

I had never honestly given much thought to the fact that there is an entire color industry built primarily for and around women's hair color. Women apparently are 'not allowed' to age in the same way men are. Can someone explain that to me? And youth, or the illusion of it, is something to be prized and chased after - even if it no longer is reality.

I realized that no one had ever showed me another way or another choice - my mother actively encouraged me for years to color and was the first to point out when I was overdue for a color appointment. It isn't hard to figure out what psychology was at work there. And it took 20 years of me bumbling around on my own to finally figure out what I wanted to do and make the commitment to do it.

One thing I want my daughter to know is that she has choices. If she greys early, she doesn't have to color if she doesn't want to. Or she can. If she wants neon pink hair, she can have it. Or whatever she wants to do that makes her feel great about herself, she can do. And that it's not just about what makes her feel great about the way she looks, but how she feels all the way inside. I don't want her to feel like coloring her hair is something she has to do simply because she's a woman, and That's What Women Are Supposed Do.

So I'm about 12-13 weeks away from my last color appointment. Every day I'm so excited to see how much more silver (I still like saying silver better than grey) is showing! As opposed to looking and sighing, oh time to get in for another appointment. It's amazing how a shift in perspective changes things! I'm a little less excited for the 'transition' phase, which I'm doing cold turkey and I'm also not chopping off my hair to facilitate things - so when I have 7 inches of grow out on my head, things are gonna be a little wild, but I'm actually fine with that too. It's going to be reverse ombre! I've also realized that the back of my head is still pretty dark and most of my silvers are around the front of my face.  But it is what it is. I've never felt so free in my whole life, and my scalp is SO happy, and most interesting of all - there's a small forest of new sprouting hairs along my part line and 'fragile area', seriously it's craaaaaaaazy, thus confirming what I had suspected - coloring on my sensitive scalp was damaging my follicles.

My child and husband are so over hearing me process my way through this, but really, it's been one of the biggest changes in my life, the decision to stop coloring. I'm happy for people to do whatever makes them feel happy about themselves, color no color, whatever color - but for me, stopping the color wagon is the right choice and I just wish I had made the decision sooner. I told my husband that I'm hoping that I look like a little frost fairy. I figure, if I can't be my natural black anymore, I'd rather embrace a whole new deal. My colorist was making my hair lighter so the greys wouldn't show as readily. My natural color at one point was actually much darker than how it looks in these photos! And at some point, when I'm all transitioned - sounds like I'll be a new alien life form - I'm going to dip the ends lavender, or make some streaks, which I've ALWAYS wanted to do! But nothing that touches my scalp, nope nope nope. Never again.

Would love love LOVE to hear thoughts from you all on this. I think it's fascinating topic, the whole what women-do-in-the-name-of-beauty issue.....and P.S. - my kiddo came in to me before bed the other night and told me that she thought my burgeoning grey streak in the front was really pretty and that she was so glad that my greys are very silvery and don't look like "moldy mustard'. WHAT. I laughed and laughed and laughed. She's the best!!!




26 comments:

  1. As someone who is constantly changing my hair color (I'm currently fully bleached blonde) I say OMG do whatever you feel! And clearly silver is what you feel. You will rock it! I have another friend who is doing the same and she's about 5 inches in and it looks fine. I did no color for about a year or so and have lots of grey, but I'm lucky in that I'm naturally blonde (sadly of the dishwater variety) so the grey to dishwater color wasn't that striking. I liked not coloring but then got bored as I always do and ended up going red/auburn. But lately I am considering just growing out natural again. I would take the intermediate step of toning down the blonde to be closer to my natural color so that I don't look like a sad has been wanna be punk rocker. You are beautiful no matter what your hair looks like.

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    1. Thank you my friend! I actually wish I had had lighter hair so that I could have had more fun with color as a form of self expression - my dearest wish for awhile was to have pale pink or lavender hair! But to get dark hair to take on colors like that, it has to be bleached and stripped and I wasn't keen on doing all that work. It's funny - I didn't color my hair all thru my pregnancy except right at the very end - and I was a lot less grey then ha ha ha - but when I went in and got colored I was almost sobbing with relief. Clearly, I had a big case of grey hair means bad hair syndrome. I think that's why it's been such a BIG deal to me to decide to stop coloring!

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  2. PREACH IT, SISTER!! Oh, I loved this post!

    Everything you wrote totally struck home with me-going lighter so the grey wasn't as noticeable (my natural hair color before was a dark brown), the roots that showed up within days, the gnashing of teeth at the expense of the coloring. I had a total lack of support when I made my decision-my friends were appalled, my hairdresser absolutely disapproving, my husband wasn't crazy about the idea.

    One of my biggest reasons for letting my hair go natural, was I kept feeling like "why don't I get to age in a natural way?". I didn't like the color of my colored hair, because it wasn't me. Like you, I identified as a dark haired person, and I always loved the color of my hair. So I was paying all this money, spending hours every 6 weeks at appointments-for what exactly? To meet everyone else's expectations of what I should look like?

    You hit the nail on the head-it is so freeing letting all that go. The worst part was letting it grow out, but I kept it long enough to pull into a ponytail, and that helped me. I remember getting the last of the colored hair cut off-and it felt so good.

    The funny thing, I work as a substitute teacher, and I get so many comments from the students how much they love my hair. Did it make me look older? Maybe-but who cares? Especially now that I am in my mid-50's-the fact is, I am older. Why shouldn't I embrace that? Giving up the coloring in a way was my little protest against this idea that women aren't allowed to age gracefully.

    I think you are going to look so beautiful with silver hair. I happen to love the look of dark hair mixed with silver, it is so pretty.



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    1. I'm telling you - now that this is so much on my radar - I see others out there now so much more, who are just going along with their grey hair and it's BEAUTIFUL. The lady who gave my kiddo her flu shot the other day - she had gorgeous snowy silver hair and she was young - she couldn't have been much past 40, it was hard to tell her - her face was super youthful and that along with her hair made it really hard to pin down her age - she looked kind of....ageless!! And I've seen so many women who were definitely were older with silver hair and it looked so pretty - #hairgoals - they looked so much like how I want to look when I'm a lot older.

      I feel like this is my little protest too. My father actually gave me a huge thumbs up about it, which I wasn't expecting. He was like, you're basically giving the finger to what women are expected to do to their hair and that's awesome! I was very happy to have his support!

      And again......isn't it SO interesting how I felt like I needed support? Like to go along with the natural aging process is some kind of stand? How did we all get to this place? I read that the ancient Egyptians dyed their hair. Clearly this issue has been wrestled with for a LONG time.

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  3. So many feelings.

    First, YES.

    Secondly, YES.

    Thirdly, GO GET IT, GIRL.

    I cannot wait to see your dip-dye. And I feel you on the pressure around aging. It's intensified for me personally by having a younger husband and being an older mom. But we are so fortunate to be healthy and wise.

    Love this, Melissa. And you!

    Allison

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    1. aaaaaah i should have mentioned that in my post - yes yes me too with the 7 years younger husband! His biggest joke in life is how even though he's younger, his maturity level vastly outpaces mine ha ha ha (it's true).
      I think my kid actually had much stronger feelings about it all. She was like oh you won't look like Snow White anymore! Oh well. My sainted husband....all he really cares about in life is whether or not I'm going to make tacos sometime or if he can have a back rub every 20th time he asks for one lol.

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  4. I grew up around a few friends who went grey (sorry! Silver!) early, so to me, it was never a big deal. It just happened. I don't do make-up and I am the teensiest bit of a beauty rebel--Why should some coorporation tell me I have to do to my face/hands/fingernails/toes/hair? So to hear you are going grey makes me think you are single handedly bucking the entire multi billion dollar hair coloring industry. Super woman! :-)

    I just noticed my first grey hair at 33, so I haven't struggled with greyness for long or at a younger age, but at this point in my life, working a new full time job (children's librarian), going full time to grad school (for aforementioned children's librarian degree), moving houses, raising four delightful children, and living life, I feel like I have earned those grey hairs fair and square. And I refuse to be made to feel bad about them.

    It makes me happy to hear you are strongly going about doing exactly what feels right for you. THAT is power.

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  5. Oh, and lovely family pictures!!! :-)

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    1. Thank you SO much!!! You know, genetics is a funny thing. My mom didn't start greying until her early 40's. I had already been coloring for nearly 20 yrs at that point! And I have a good friend the same age as I am and she has like maybe 4 grey hairs. Her dad didn't start greying until he was nearly 70! Amazing! I really wish I had just let the whole process do its thing when it first began - I think grey hair on a younger person actually looks really cool. I do recall when I was in high school though....a mom of a good friend of mine went grey young and just left it. She was so pretty. But I recall thinking...why doesn't that lady color her hair? She's so young! And this was like at age 15 I was having these thoughts. I swear the message of grey hair = 1)Bad and 2)Old is fed to us in the womb without us even being aware of it!

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  6. I love this. My dad went grey in his 20s and watched him dye his hair for years. Luckily the chemicals didn't ruin his hair because he now has a full head of snowy white hair. Its beautiful and I wish he wouldn't have felt pressured to dye it in the first place.

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    1. thank you so much for commenting! I'm not gonna lie - if I could wave a magic wand and keep my natural hair color I would. But years and years ago, in France - I saw an elderly woman in a museum. She was and is my 'ideal' elderly person - she wasn't flashy or glamorous, but she had the sweetest look to her - she had shoulder length hair half pulled up which is how I wear mine a lot, and it was part dark part white and I don't know, she just seemed so natural in her own skin. I've never forgotten her and I always hoped that when I got older, I would look like her. So at this point in my life, I welcome putting away the chemicals and just living my life without that complication in it!

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  7. I love this post! I've been coloring my own hair since my early twenties and I always dread doing it. I've realized in the last few years that I either need to start doing fun stuff (i.e. going blond for a year or adding cool highlights) or just let it go. Because I'm sick of the hamster wheel. So for now it's highlights, but it could be grey in the future.

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    1. Oh man if I could do something fun like that (go blonde or whatever) - that would have been cool - but I'm sooooooo brunette down to every last bit of my coloring - I would have looked like I was wearing a very strange costume! I love your hair and wish with all of my heart I looked amazing in a pixie like you do!!!! But I'm glad you feel my pain ha ha! Once i made the decision in my mind, I was happier than I had ever been practically - which told me I had made the right decision!

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  8. You are going to be beautiful either way Sassa so go for it! Sounds like your maternal grandmother had pretty white hair and Auntie Mel has beautiful hair color so you will have a fun time seeing how yours will turn out. Enjoy the freedom! xo

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    1. Anna thank you so much. I haven't felt so good about my hair since I was a teen. I also like having it a bit longer and it can just do whatever and I can go longer between hair cuts. I was in there every 4 weeks and it was just all too much. If I could chop it into a very short cut and look awesome I would, but I genuinely look better with hair around my face. I'm not someone who ever liked styling or dealing with hair very much AT ALL.

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  9. I think this is amazing! I have colored my hair for 10 years now and I'm 36 years old! I have a desire to do this, but I'm weak. I have 3 boys and my youngest is 8 months old. My 5 year old son said the other day "some of those sparkly pieces are showing." I'm not ready to stop even though I'm weary of it, but you have inspired me. Let your sparkly hair shine.

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    1. you know, i wonder if someone had encouraged me to think about NOT coloring when i was younger, would I have even listened? I probably wouldn't have. maybe if I had known about Sarah Harris, the lady I mentioned in the blog post, ha ha ha! She's SO AWESOME. I thought for so long, oh I can't get rid of my dark hair, I just CAN'T! I recall a dear friend once telling me, Oh I take care of myself and eat organic food and.....I dump chemicals on my head? What? And she stopped. That always stayed with me, but I wasn't ready for so long. Now I am! We all have to process things in our own way! Still trying to figure out if I can do the lavender thing someday.....:)

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  10. I love it! I know several women in their 40s who embraced their gray and they both look fabulous!

    The older I get the more it bothers me that we've somehow convinced ourselves that women cannot age. Gray hair is strictly forbidden. And lines or wrinkles? Heaven forbid! Sadly, I think the most pressure often comes from women. I look at my mother's generation and I think they'll color their hair until they're octogenarians... or later... and it's too depressing to think about doing the same.

    I still only have a few grays at 38 (maybe it's the red hair??)... I can still pluck them. And I look at my dad who has red hair just like me and he didn't go gray for a long time. I long ago decided I'll just let mine go gray slowly. Maybe I'll change my mind when the time comes, but I hope not. You will be my inspiration!

    Oh, and I've been meaning to ask you... have you read any of the Mysterious Benedict Society books yet? We LOVE them! Be sure to start with The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict. It's the prequel to the series, but was written later.

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    1. I love those books! My oldest wants to read them now, but we have to get through Battle of the Books firsy.

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    2. Hey sweet friends!!! Yeah it's this notion that women can NOT age that really freaks me out. Why? Women have to color forever? Do men do that? It's crazy when you think about it. I wonder what the world would look like if everyone just stopped coloring their hair. It would be interesting to see all the grey walking around! I read a cool article about someone describing all the beautiful tones that can go into white and grey hair -- dove, oyster, pearl, silver - doesn't that sound nice?

      Julia and I have NOT read those books yet but I did recently give her the first one (not the prequel) - I'll have to go get that prequel thanks so much for the tip!!! xoxoxo

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  11. I think it sounds like a fine idea! Makes me think of Emmylou Harris. 😊

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    1. i just couldn't take it anymore. It got too be too much to keep on top of! My scalp is so happy, it's unbelievable.

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  12. I am so happy for you. I can't wait to see pictures. At almost 43, I am just starting to turn grey, and I've secretly decided that I will not color it once it's "needed." I say secretly, because as you experienced, I know people will tell me I'm crazy. I hope I'm brave enough to stick with my plan. Also, once I turn 50 I'm going for a pink pixie!

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    1. A PINK PIXIE!!!! That would be living the dream!!!!! Thank you so much for the encouragement. You are so lucky it's just now starting for you! I tell you, at 26 I was like really? This is really happening??

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  13. Nice article and thanks for sharing your knowledge. I really appropriate your views.

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