In a 2022 poll of 2,000 women aged 42-57, half said that for the previous two to six years they dyed their hair a different color than what they were born with. And one in three said they weren’t even sure what their natural color was anymore.
There is something melancholy about that second statistic, something sadly whimsical about not knowing something so personal about oneself.
It’s strange, too. I colored my hair for three decades so I could look more like myself. The grey hair that started to show before I was 30 did not seem like “me” even though it was, in fact, me. I just wasn’t ready for it yet. I am now.
For some of us the natural color we’ve hidden, or hide, is grey, silver or white, or a combination of those plus blond, brunette, or red. Research tells us that hair color changes result from alterations of melanin production and transformation of the hair structure itself. These changes alter how the hair looks, including greys.
This is a perfect metaphor for the changes that take place psychologically, too, as grey hair grows and is allowed to show. This is an act of self-acceptance, and of acceptance of that which we cannot control. Allowed to be seen, not so much by society but by the individual who is finally seeing herself. Something—rather, someone—is being transformed. It’s the step toward making the greys visible that is significant. It reflects an internal change as well as a changed external experience.
I’m not devaluing coloring one’s hair. I colored mine and I loved it. Lots of women younger than me are letting their grey show much earlier than I could have fathomed doing. It reminds me of the day I stopped trying to straighten my naturally curly hair with a blow dryer when I was 17 There was—and still is—a freedom to letting my natural hair just be. I feel fortunate that I learned this for myself at a younger age as I imagine many younger adults feel letting their grey hair grow in uncolored.
Letting my grey hair grow out has made me look at myself differently, and not just in the mirror at my reflection. It’s led me down a path of seeing myself from the inside, all the parts I’ve unwittingly covered up to try to belong. At some point, after having colored my hair for three decades, I reached a point where I was ready to look forward instead of back. We each have an inherent I-ness that includes how our hair grows and evolves and changes over time, but ultimately becomes what it was meant to, an iteration of “the Oaktree is in the acorn.” It’s a path to wholeness.
I was so used to seeing my hair as brunette, that it was hard to not want to go back to that. But at some point, going backwards felt harder than moving ahead.
There is more of an acceptance, not only of grey hair but of the process of going grey itself, and that the journey is as valuable as the destination. Journeys are messy and they are unique and, therefore, also beautiful. On Instagram, grombre is dedicated to “a radical celebration of the natural phenomenon of grey hair” and features women in varying stages of growing out their grey.
It’s been just about one year since I’ve stopped covering my roots with color. Many people cite the money saved from going grey, or the time freed up from sitting in the stylist’s chair. Those are good reasons and might be your reason. But I’ve come to learn that my roots show the future; the remnants of color show the past. This is juxtaposed to how we as a culture view youth and aging. We only see the young as the future and the elders as only the “wise” (and perhaps outdated) past. Don’t buy into it. The truth is this: We are all the future. We are all relevant.