Going Grey the Easy Way
This piece originally appeared on Medium in 2019.
Like many women, I have a complicated relationship with my hair. It’s naturally brown and curly but I have worn it blonde and straight, red and wavy, and for most of my 50 years, I have dyed it or straightened it or highlighted it or used chemicals to create a whole new texture. It’s typically been shorter than shoulder length, because my mother once told me I looked “witchy” when it got longer than that(thanks, mom). No matter what the style or look, how much I paid or how much time I spent, I thought a lot about my hair.
Phi Sigma Sigma until the day I die.
Blonde until I could no longer afford it. Probably 1990.I thought about my hair, the color of it, the style of it, the texture of it, the condition of it every. single. day. I did this for, to the best of my memory, 31 years. I colored my hair for the first time when I was in college. I went platinum (as seen above) and had to get it touched up every 2 weeks. Because I was in college, this got tricky in terms of cost and timing, so I started using box color. That damaged my hair so badly, I could literally crack it in half. Lesson learned, I cut it as short as I dared and laid off the color for a while. Photographic evidence seems to reveal that it was a painful process. I did gain the nickname “Skunkette”, so there’s that.
Look at that harsh color line.
Growing out that bleached blonde was not easy. 1991?A few years later, I appear to have cleaned up my act a bit. I know that I didn’t get my hair done professionally for this day, so I must have gotten highlights somewhere along the way and tightened up my blow dry skills. Confession: it’s more likely I was using Sun-In than it is that I was getting my hair professionally colored.
Once a bridesmaid…probably 1992 or 93. Photographic evidence of me mostly disappears for most of my 30’s, and I am pretty sure I know why. My 30’s were a more solitary time in my life and I don’t like my face. My insecurities were at an all time high and I only had my picture taken when absolutely necessary. The photos included above were shared by friends years later and if not for the nostalgia value, I’d have been perfectly happy to not have to see them. That said, I am glad they exist.
Fast forward to roughly 5 years ago. I mentioned to my hair stylist that I had been thinking about going grey. He gave me a hard no, told me I would probably feel/look older than I was and I trusted him, so I continued to color. Switched hair stylists a few years later and kept coloring. But it was always in the back of my mind. I grew it out to just past my shoulders, it was a gorgeous red and I straightened it every other day. And it’s this every other day part that’s important. Because if I wasn’t doing my hair, I was thinking about it. Could I get another day out of this wash? Maybe I can put it up in a pony tail? Let me try 12 different types of dry shampoo, 2 different types of root coverage….and so on. All of this obsessing was the direct result of coloring. If I washed it too often, the color would wash right out around my face….and then I would obsess about the greys that were no longer sprouting up in my hairline, they now were my hairline. And then I ended up in the hospital. In November 2018, I was hospitalized for 4 days due to diverticulitis. I went in at just about 2 weeks post-color. I had recently started going every 2–3 weeks to get my hairline touched up in addition to the regular touch ups I got. This was expensive and time-consuming. As I laid in my hospital bed on days 1 and 2, I felt self-conscious every time someone came into my room, because in addition to just looking like crap, I knew my hairline greys were on full display. I was mortified. Until day 3, when I said screw it, this is crazy and I’m done. So I spent the last 2 days in the hospital coming up with a plan. My plan was pretty straightforward: I would get it cut in increments to test my comfort level. I would make style decisions based on the texture (which has improved dramatically). I would not use the root touch-up kits I had, because if I felt the need, that might mean I needed to re-examine this whole thing. And I was okay with that, this was an important decision, but certainly not life and death. I would check in with myself every week or so to make sure my motivation was right. It was and is. I’ll lay out the process below.
Step One of Going Grey. I may not like my face, but I sure do like filters.
Got a hair cut. I went from shoulder length to chin length in one fell swoop. I stopped using the root coverage products, sucked up some discomfort when in public and plowed ahead. (November)
Check re-growth every single day. (November- March) How fun! A new thing to obsess over! 😂
Go to some important events 2 months later with hair in a radical state of in-between. (January and February) Sucked this up as well, because I was in 100% at this point.
Cut even more off. (March) The idea of having a harsh line à la college was way less bearable than a few weeks/months of ugly hair. Turns out, it wasn’t ugly!
Me and my friend Vicki at my 50th birthday party, just a couple of weeks after I cut it (almost) all off. April 2019.
5. I am now committed to getting my hair trimmed every 2–3 weeks for a while to get rid of the red tips and to avoid weird things happening at the back/bottom. I’m okay with this, I know it’s temporary. At this point, I walked into the hair salon and my stylist said “I’ve been thinking about you. Let’s just chop it all off.” But I wasn’t ready, so we compromised and got what you see above. (April) 6. Started to really have fun with it. Marvel over the curls and the lack of frizz! Note how many people compliment me. Note how I actually believe them unlike in the past. (March, April, May) 7. 7 months and I was there. Amazing. I am now in the process of letting it grow again and am excited to see what happens along the way! Only the teeny, tiniest bits of red left in the front. (May, June) 8. Done. It’s all gone. (June)Reveling in my accomplishment. And it really does feel like one. I did a lot of mental work to get here. I’m proud.
Me and my husband Paul. I like grey hair and I cannot lie. March 2019.
I’m sharing this because it has been an interesting psychological and emotional process for me. It’s something that had been on my mind for quite a long time before I got up the courage to actually do. I feel more authentic and incredibly liberated. Those are things I have wanted for myself my whole life and it feels really good. In case you are thinking of going grey, I got a TON of inspiration from Grombre on Instagram. I had been following that account for about 6 months before I took the plunge and those beautiful ladies and their stories really helped. My friend Lisa also recommended a book called Going Gray that really spoke to me and I’m so grateful she recommended it. I am also happy to talk about the process, because I have loved it. People have lots of opinions on other people’s hair. I’ve always gotten good feedback on my hair and never quite believed it. Now when I get compliments, I do believe them, which is fascinating to me. But I made an internal decision to do this regardless of external pressure and maybe that’s why. My hair is now just about me. Not about society, what other people say I should do, what’s expected of me or what’s deemed attractive by most standards. When people questioned me about my hair or would say “Aren’t you afraid you’ll look so much older”, I simply said “It’s not like I was fooling anyone, anyway.” and wonder what their question really means, because I don’t think it’s actually about me. It’s about their experience of me and of what women should do or should look like (young).
I’m a woman of 50 who has embraced this small part of who I am. I have grey hair. And I like it. And I still wear Converse because I refuse to be old. 😉