Commentary: Gray

A couple months after I turned 28, I quit my job and headed to a hair salon.


I’ve always thought of my hair as a kind of personal billboard, and on that day I wanted it to say, “hey, world, the lady with this hair is scared of nothing.” I’d decided to start a new career, as a journalist, but I didn’t really have a plan.


I asked the hairdresser to give me one of those dye jobs where it looks like the bottom half of your hair got dunked in peroxide. A couple hours later, I looked like a Dallas housewife. I hated it. I swore I’d never dye my dark brown hair again.


That didn’t last long. I color my hair almost every month now.


That’s because, as the blond hair grew out, it was replaced by a mix of brown and… gray. A lot of gray. It seemed like it was everywhere.


You know what gray hair means. It means, old. And old was not what I wanted be at that moment. I was about to be an intern, at a radio station. Now I’m a student. Sometimes it feels like I pressed “rewind” on my twenties.


So now, every month, I get a box of dye in the mail. There’s a little tube of cream that I squeeze into a bottle with another cream. Then I shake it up, and comb it into my roots with a fork. I sit there for half an hour, and I rinse it in the shower.


I never expected I would do this. My mom has always dyed her hair, and I remember watching as a kid while she sat in our hairdresser’s kitchen with strips of foil on her head. I thought, what a hassle.


I wanted to be one of those women who’s proud to be older and wiser. Like my friend Moravia. We both turned 30 a couple weeks ago, and she loves her gray hair.


Moravia: I guess I was thinking about becoming older, and particularly the benchmark of turning 30 as, like, “finally I’ll get some legitimacy,” that I’ve really fought for… So I think gray hair for me has been a marker of that in a positive way.


Last time I saw my mom, she told me she was thinking about going gray. Recently she let her roots grow out more than usual.


Mom: So I had a whole inch of gray, and I thought, “actually it looks pretty nice. It’s like a silvery, shiny silvery.” But then I decided, ah, I’m just going to still be brown.


Alissa: Why did you decide that?


Mom: Why? I wanted to stay young. I wanted to be young. I wasn’t ready. Because people don’t think that I’m my age.


She says people think she’s 50 or so. She’s actually 64.


Alissa: Do you think at this point that you’ll keep coloring it forever?


Mom: Mmm. At least for the next 10 years. Maybe longer.


Maybe it isn’t starting a new career that makes me want to hide my gray hair. I probably also just want to stay young. But, since my birthday, I’ve been thinking about letting my gray grow out.


I stopped ordering the hair dye, though I have a few boxes piled up. So I guess I’ll use those up, and decide after that.

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