What To Do

I Always Thought I’d Proudly Rock Gray Hair — Boy Was I Wrong

As much as I want to like my gray, the truth is I despise it.

woman worried about gray hair as she ages
Emma Chao/Scary Mommy; Getty Images

I'm in my thirties. Well, my late thirties. Okay, fine — I’m two months and 16 days away from 40 (sheesh!), and I’ve started to go gray. Not completely gray. It’s just framing my face now, almost like a headband of gray hair, where it’s the most noticeable.

I always thought I’d proudly rock the gray when the time came. I’d wear that hair like a badge of honor, sending a message to the world that I have no f*cks to give about aging and silently eschewing the stigma surrounding gray hair. I believed that my silver hair would be a giant middle finger to the patriarchy, a visible refusal to conform to societal standards and expectations of youth and beauty.

Of course, this was brown-haired-me making plans for a future-gray-haired-me without consulting her first. Rude! And while I still love this idea in theory, the reality is quite different now that the time has actually come — much earlier than I originally planned — and I have visible gray. I’m sorry to report that I am collapsing quicker than a cardboard box in the rain.

As much as I want to like the gray, the truth is that I despise it, no matter how much I wish it were otherwise. It sticks out like a sore thumb against my dark brown curly hair. And it’s a weird texture that doesn’t match the rest of my head. “It’s wiry and sticks straight up, almost like it’s mocking me by trying to call attention to itself,” I recently bemoaned to a friend. Plus, it makes me feel, well, old. Every time I look in the mirror, I’m caught off guard because this just isn’t me. Unfortunately, I can’t force myself to love this new hair. As hard as I’ve tried to embrace it, I just… can’t.

So, now I am at a crossroads, and I’m grappling with some tough questions.

If I cover the gray, will it mean I am anti-feminist by caving to the social pressure to look “young”? Is this just me desperately (and futilely) trying to cling to my youth? Will I regret jumping on the hair dye bandwagon?

But if trying to embrace my gray is taking a superhuman amount of willpower that I am rapidly running out of, isn’t that a sign that this might not be for me? As much as I wish this hair made me feel free, beautiful, and natural, it doesn’t. So why am I forcing myself into this box of what I think I should be doing and feeling? It feels like I’m placing an unnecessary constraint on myself, which actually feels like the opposite of liberation to me.

As folks from my generation are aging, gray hair is imminent and inevitable. It’s a theme I see more and more (thankfully!) on TV and with my friends. And even if I don’t love my grays, I do love that we’re having open, honest, and nuanced conversations about how gray hair relates to our thoughts about aging.

I recently met up with my college buddies, and I noticed that all of us have some noticeable silver starting to creep in. When I inquired about it, everyone had different opinions about what it symbolized for them and what they planned to do about it. And I realized there isn’t a wrong or right decision in this scenario; it’s not as simple as one option being feminist and one being anti-feminist. They are all just doing whatever makes them look and, most importantly, feel like their best self. If hair dye is it, go for it! If au naturel is it, then I applaud you equally.

There is a scene in And Just Like That... where the ladies are discussing their gray hair. Carrie and Charlotte both dye theirs, and Miranda goes from vibrant red to silver fox and then back again. It was refreshing to not only see these hair transformations but to hear them discussed. “What happened to all the gray pride?” Miranda’s son, Brady, asks her pointedly after she’s dyed her back red. “It’s still there,” Miranda says, smiling. “I just felt like changing it up again.” Miranda’s poignant comment summed it up for me, It’s not necessarily that serious and deep; it’s just hair. Women should feel empowered to choose to dye their hair or don their natural gray hue (and even back and forth like Miranda) and not feel guilt or the need to justify their choice.

While I deeply admire those who are proudly embracing their gray, I know in my bones that I am not ready to join them. Yet. I don’t know if it will be next year or in thirty years, but I still firmly hold onto the belief that someday I will have a chic silver bob and that I will feel beautiful and liberated by it. And that I will look in the mirror and love what I see, and it won’t feel like a sacrifice.

Or, maybe I won’t. Perhaps I’ll have dark hair until I’m 100. I have learned not to make plans for my future self without consulting her first. But I know that today is not the day I rock the gray. Today, I’m booking an appointment to get my hair dyed. I’m officially permitting myself to do whatever feels right. And that, more than anything, makes me feel liberated and beautiful.

Christina Crawford is a Dallas-based writer, guacamole enthusiast, and mom to three feral little boys. She spends her days putting out fires (actual and metaphorical) and trying to keep goldfish alive. Her words have appeared in Newsweek, HuffPost, Health Magazine, Parents, Scary Mommy, Today Show Parents, and more. You can follow along on Twitter where she writes (questionably) funny anecdotes about her life at @Xtina_Crawford