Why I'm Letting My Hair Go Gray

by Talia Billig
Originally Published: 
The interior of a hair salon with two hairdressers and one customer in black and white
Ronn aka "Blue" Aldaman/flickr

Even at the ripe, wise old age of 26, there are a couple of things I know for sure:

1. There may not be a god, but there is a person who invented Netflix. And that person is almighty (praised be he/she).

2. Despite the orange dying of your fingers and the judgment sustained against the eater, Cheetos are DELICIOUS and well worth it.

3. If you go to bed angry, you’ll wake up angrier.

4. When I get older, I’m going to let my hair go gray.

Rewind. The phrase “when I get older” is a bit of a stretch. My hair has already begun its stubborn march into silverhood (these days I rock a distinguished streak). My glorious tryst in the land of dark-haired ladies is waning, though. Soon my silver will no longer be Bonnie Raitt-esque, but a full-on salt and pepper situation.

I look forward to it without fear. Long ago a man named Carlos—who I’m still convinced was not a real person but rather a hair-guardian-angel—prepared me for my early-onset silverdom.

I met Carlos when I was 14 and had a desperate desire to vanquish my ethnic hair. There were two choices for curly girls in the early 2000s: Chemically destroy your hair or succumb to how curls looked back then—a wet-looking, highly-gelled nightmare famously worn by Felicity circa Season 2 and Justin Timberlake.

© Getty Images; Jason Kirk/Newsmakers; Cafe

Personally, I took an iron to my locks. My hair, much like the Jews it came from, did not go down easy. It would fight against me at the earliest possible chance. Most days my hair looked like I had stuck a finger in an electrical socket. My mother, in a desperate attempt to stop me from putting a burning object inches from my face, booked me an appointment at a chi-chi curly hair only salon.

Enter Carlos.

Carlos’ salon was the fanciest place I had ever set foot in in my greasy little tween life. I was handed a mocktail and silk robe and invited to lie on my back for my hair wash and head massage. A head massage, guys. Seriously.

All things considered, this was a good day. Nay, a great day. I was busy enjoying my brief foray into what a Spice Girl must live like when the woman washing my hair recoiled in horror. She yanked out a strand, stared at it like it was a burning cockroach wrapped in manure, and then promptly gathered the entire salon to gawk at my first gray hair. The salon began to collectively muse about potential solutions, provided it wasn’t just an anomaly.

Carlos, thankfully, was not having this noise. Returning from his cigarette break he shooed away the hawing women and issued a decree:

“Girl, promise me you won’t ever dye that shit. You’ve earned it.”

We haven’t really discussed Carlos yet. He was the business. Bald, extremely flamboyant, and leather-jacket-clad, Carlos was easily the coolest guy I’d met in my fourteen years. To me, he was the gay, Latino James Dean of the 2000s. I promised him, because what else are you going to say to gay-latino-James Dean, though I was nearly positive that I would never allow my hair to go gray.

In the year since that fateful meeting with Carlos, I’ve learned and subsequently changed a few things (except my undying love of Destiny’s Child…that’s not going anywhere). But perhaps the most exciting thing I’ve learned is that being myself is a fabulous thing to be.

Most days this mantra proves an uphill battle. When I detoxed from drugs and filled each craving with sugar, I gained a small cat’s worth of weight. My hair’s frizz often still appears to be demonstrating Nicola Tesla’s rules of electricity. But with each passing year I realize Carlos had a pretty serious point: I’ve earned the right to live with these flaws.

I haven’t had it easy, and I’ve earned my early silver. These days I’m able to look up at my hair growing old with me and smile. And I’m going to keep my promise to Carlos. I’m fairly certain that if I approach my pending silverhood with ferocity, the world will salute me. If not, the world can fuck off.

Not everyone wants to or can do this. I respect a woman’s right to do anything to her body. And as a Third Wave feminist, I retain an à la carte menu of what I choose to do with my own: I attend to my legs and armpits, wear eye makeup whenever I feel like it, and by and large forego thongs. By the same logic, I salute women who choose plastic surgery, or decide to color their hair for any reason.

But just as I’d love to hear their pitch for coloring, here’s my pitch for not doing so: celebrating ourselves naturally is a challenge that only gets harder the more we don’t do it. At this moment in time, I’m solemnly swearing to let my hair go gray. I may hate it sometimes. I may color steaks every so often, just to see what pink or green looks like. But I’m going, ladies, and I invite you to go with me, if you feel like it.

Bring it, melanin deficiency. I’ve got this.

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