Gray Hair Liberation—A Journey of Letting My True Self Be
It was a warm summer afternoon in 2009 and we were gathered in my sister's back yard after having said our final goodbyes to my brother. Standing next to me was my cousin, who immediately noticed the few strands of gray hair that had started to appear at my temples over the last year. "How old are you?”, he said with a discerning gesture, “You've got gray hair already?!" That was the beginning of my gray hair journey and the $3 bottle of dye I would invite into my life for the next 10 years.
Growing up surrounded by women in a large Mexican family, physical appearance and making sure no hair was ever out of place (hello Aquanet) was of prime importance. In my own home, it was my mom, sister, and I, and while I don’t remember being ‘taught’ by my mother to always have a full face of make-up on or the perfect hair-do before stepping out the door, it is something I saw with my sister and cousins.
My aunts were on a totally different level. It was they who taught my cousins the importance of looking impeccable for their husbands, after all—or was it for the other women who had the potential of surrounding their husbands?!
I don’t remember a time when I was directly told I had to color my hair. I did it for the first time in college because I wanted black hair and a pixie cut just like everyone else in my circle of pseudo-goth mates, but gray hair coverage never crossed my mind.
Until that July day a decade ago.
Having lived through body dysmorphia in my younger years, I never imagined how gray hair would affect my life even more. But the day after my brother’s service was the day I stared at my temples every time I passed a mirror or any reflective surface, for that matter.
“Could everyone see them?”, I thought. “What will they say?” “Do I have to cover them?!” I’d never seen my mom worry about covering her gray hair, having had a full head of salt-n-pepper strands since I could remember. But there was always everyone else in my family, so they all out-weighed one. To Target I went to introduce myself to the hair color aisle. The one I’d visit every three weeks for the next ten years.
Life passed, gray hairs started coming out in swarms, a quarter-inch every. Three. Weeks. There was a time when I’d get so frustrated with not being able to do the best job of covering it myself, that I began to pay more than I possibly could afford to have it dyed at the most popular salon in my neighborhood. Yeah, that got old … and expensive. I returned to the bottle once more.
I lived through many moments of frustration—and depression—every time I noticed the gray crown starting to appear all around the edge of my forehead. Any way I did my hair I felt people stare at me and point. “Oh look, sheeee’s got gray hair!!” I never felt pretty enough. I once considered shaving it all off to ‘start fresh,’ but I didn’t have the courage to be bald and gray.
The gray-hair dilemma continued through many summers. My cousins always commenting on “how dark my hair was getting.” Yeah, it was the layer upon layer upon layer of coloring I was adding to it every three weeks. To imagine what that was doing to my scalp makes me shiver in disgust.
I’d had enough! In the summer of 2018, after having just returned from a trip to Oaxaca with my husband, having been inspired by the beautiful women and their long, silver, braided hair, I decided to stop reaching for the hair dye. It was a bold move, I felt, and one I knew I had to live through if I wanted to feel free.
But the anxiety of seeing my friends and family after having almost not left my house for weeks as the gray grew out was constantly present. Every time I had a family event and knew I’d see my aunts or cousins, my stomach turned, but I knew I had to face them sooner or later.
It was a birthday celebration for one of my cousins so many of my aunts, uncles, and other cousins would be there—this was the day, I said.
My gray hair growth was over and inch long and I could fix it a certain way that it was only noticeable on my temples again. Imagine a ‘comb-over’ through the forehead—we’ll call it side-swept-bangs!
My first aunt saw and gasped. “YOU’RE LETTING YOUR GRAY GROW OUT!! NO, NO, NO … WHY?!” She turned to my other aunt and said, “LOOK, she’s growing her gray out!” “I know,” she said, “I’d already seen it.” So, for months everyone had noticed the creeping out of silver strands and never mentioned anything. I realize now it was when I made it a big thing in my life that some of them made it a big thing as well.
Next up was my cousin, yeah, the one who started it all. I was sitting at the dining table and I noticed him walk in through the door. My stomach turned. As he was nearing me to say hello, I turned towards him in my chair, confidently raised my chin, like saying “look, gray hair.” He reached in for the kiss, stopped mid-way, noticed my hair, and made the same exact face he had ten years prior. He shrugged his shoulders in indifference and didn’t say a word. We kissed hello.
I’d done it! I lived through the anxiety of ‘coming-out’ with my gray hair. It felt like a large weight was taken off my shoulders.
Over the months, gray hair getting longer and more naturally stylized, many people commented on how great it looked. From younger men and women, older women who walk around with hats and who have actually come-up to me praising my grays, to my cousins and friends saying how much they love it and how proud they are of me for letting it grow. The fact that this a trend people are paying large amounts of money and bleach for may have to do something with it, but from then on, I stepped outside my door with my chin up, head high, and feeling liberated from the gray hair stigma.
I feel a confidence in my looks I’ve never felt before. I’m living into my adult-hood with grace and courage, not just to be who I truly am on the outside, but to Be who I truly am on the inside.
What have you liberated yourself from? Please, share with me in the comments below.
With much love and gratitude,