A wish fulfilled: the Year of Letting Our Hair Go Gray

Six years ago, on an escalator coming out of a weekday movie matinee, I had a wild idea. Despite the fact that the entire audience was older, I spotted only one gray-haired woman. Covering the gray, I realized, is a way we women collude, en masse, in making ourselves invisible as older women—and when a group is invisible, so are the issues that affect it.

This behavior is understandable, to say the least. Powerful forces are at play: capitalism, sexism, ageism, misogyny, and a multi-billion-dollar anti-aging industry, to name just a few. Economists have a name—the “attractiveness penalty”—for the fact that women are judged far more harshly than men for “looking old,” and the costs of not conforming. So millions of women spend millions of dollars and millions of hours in hair salons or over the sink, coloring their roots. For some it’s fun, for others a burden, for many a costly tyranny. Those forces are extraordinarily hard to buck.  But what if—what if—we acted together? What if all the women who disliked covering the gray acted together, creating the Year of Letting Our Hair Go Gray. The world would see how many we are, and how lovely, and how powerful! It would be transformative!

I posted the idea on my This Chair Rocks Facebook page . . . and I got a ton of blowback. Which I deserved. Who was I to tell women how they should or shouldn’t do? Why didn’t I go first? Which I did that spring (“So I Dyed My Hair White”), continuing to bleach batches of it in the years that followed.

Then along came COVID19. During lockdown, as my bleach job grew out, your gray grew in. Millions of you—you know who you are—turned 2020 into the Year of Letting Our Hair Go Gray that I dreamed of on that escalator in 2015. I’m sorry it took a pandemic. I know many of you couldn’t wait to get back to the salon. No judgement, I swear. But I’m thrilled to see so many women outing themselves as older in this way, making peace or more with what they see, and claiming their full identities as older women. We are a force. The Year of Letting Our Hair Go Gray is just one way of making it gloriously visible.

8 thoughts on “A wish fulfilled: the Year of Letting Our Hair Go Gray

  1. I have never, ever put any hair coloring or dye on my head. I have allergies — and a history of allergic reactions on my skin — that have kept me from doing so. I have no plans to put any chemicals that close to my brain. I’m now 65 and can clearly see my grey coming on. I have no intentions of risking a reaction now just to fit someone else’s perceptions of “youth.” I went to high school with a gal who had a long streak of bright grey on her head and we were 16 at the time. It looked like Lily Munster and it was very cool. And it was natural. I’m also going to wing it. Whatever color happens in the future … that will be the color that happens. I worry about losing my hair, not about what color it will become.

    1. I have dyed my hair for years. I, too, have joined the ranks of those who have stopped using dye due to covid. I have decided no longer to dye it primarily because I feel like, “Who am I trying to fool? I am the age that I am.”

      (That being said, if it ever gets to be safe to go back to a hairdresser, I am desperate to get it cut. I have not had long hair since I was a teenager and it is a real pain to have to pin it up all the time so that it does not fly everywhere.)

  2. I love playing with hair color. Like many I have been pretty low-maint recently because I mostly wear a ponytail out and to both my jobs so my hair won’t get tangled up in a mask. Closing in on 70 and not much grey, just faded dishwater blonde. My mom never went grey, she had faded auburn hair up until she died at 93. I have outed my age at every gym where I teach or work out so if anyone wants to fire me the number is out there whatever color I dump on my head.

  3. I am 62 and stopped dying my hair at age 60. It was a painful process but I was determined not to be a slave to grey roots. I like to say that going grey is the senior equivalent of burning my bra.
    (Which I am considering doing)

  4. Prior to the pandemic, I had been wanting to stop coloring my hair and my hairdresser started lightening it so the transition would not be too blunt. My friends and co-workers told me NO!!! YOU’RE GOING TO LOOK OLD!! Well–I’m 55 now and I’m so happy that I am now silver/white. The pandemic did help in that I didn’t have to SEE my co-workers and friends who didn’t want me to do it. My family, however, were completely supportive and I am so happy that I did it! Thanks for you blog. Hopefully others will catch up!

  5. 65 and learning to love the white streaks appearing at my forehead. BUT I don’t really love the dusty, drab tones of the rest of my hair and am using a fun, temp purple to just streak a few slashes at my crown to tell the world I am more than my gray and dusty strands. I am vivid purple when I feel like it and it washes out a few days later. Still rocking my chair.

  6. I colored the gray in my shoulder-length brunette for years. At 65, when I announced my planned retirement from a faculty position I stopped coloring my hair and my students and I had lots of laughs about the journey and their own mothers and grandmothers. Though my hairdresser encouraged me to cut shorter to limit the gray / dark brown contrast, I declined. It took a full two years to grow out and the joy of positive comments from strangers in Costco kept me encouraged. This was mostly pre-pandemic. Now fully gray at 68 and mostly retired I feel free, though will never impose my preference on anyone else.

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