I am less than a year away from turning 40. Many women fear this age, this number of years that somehow marks the turning of a page. The period at which all other pieces of youth we cling to fall like wilted petals from a dry stem—the clock’s momentum like a gust of wind blowing away relevance and replacing it with oldness. As women, we are taught to fear old because “old” in western culture means out of date, retired, unnecessary, and unworthy. Youth is coveted, believed to hold all of our surface ideas of beauty. Beauty is what women are groomed to see as our greatest asset from the time we are babes, the words pretty and young interchangeable. Ugly and old become intertwined likes vines of a tree.
Along with makeup companies and marketers who sell us beauty in bottles and needles, we believe we are better if we can erase the wrinkles, cover the spots, color the gray hair, to literally freeze ourselves in time—no more growing, changing, or deepening—just staying pretty.
As I sit here and write this, I have been “going gray” for a year and a half. I have a thick crown on the top of my head that rivals the streak of a skunk. Where it ends, my brown highlighted hair has grown long past my shoulders. I think I started noticing gray hairs soon after my first son was born ten years ago. Then, six years and two more children later, I began seeing significantly more grays. Mere days after a visit to the salon to cover the truth of my aging with carefully cultivated shades of blonde, a silver straggler would poke it’s way out and dance.
When I joked about it with my hairstylist, she told me my actual hair color was 80% gray. I laughed and choked. I was only 35! But sure enough, the silver line grew thicker and thicker. It grew back faster and faster. I started buying spray dyes to color my determined smokey streak in-between salon dye jobs. Still, it didn’t cover the spots above my temples or the sprouts above my ears. I figured I would go to the salon more often, do touch-ups every two weeks to ensure the gray never caught up with me, the ashy patches chasing me like a ghost. I knew I had to chase them right back.
I tried, friends. I really tried. But I couldn’t do it. I pictured my life laid out before me, and I didn’t like what I saw. Not because it was gray and old and somewhat scraggly, but because I was wasting it. I was chasing this rebellious stripe on my head that I thought made me old, ugly, irrelevant. But then, for a split second, I remembered I love rebels. I am a rebel. And just maybe this bold symbol of the incredible, painful, joyful, challenging, rebellious, golden life I have lived might not need to be chased down and killed off. I mean, what if my pearly strands could be something better than just another part of myself to cover and hide? Why do women think we continually need to tweak and change and paint ourselves to be pretty? To be worthy? Maybe it’s our obsession with fake beauty that holds us back, not the real beauty that we refuse to see in ourselves and each other.
The other women I see boldly living authentic lives, grays out, wrinkles and all, are beautiful, strong, and self-assured. I admire them more than ever. Chasing gray is like trying to jump on a bus that never slows downs. But if we stop chasing what isn’t real, we can start to appreciate what is. If you see me around and wonder what is going on with my hair, know that I am in process. It won’t always be pretty, but pretty isn’t my goal anymore. There are better things than being pretty in life. I know my destination. The long hard work of getting there only makes the result all the more worthwhile.