Monday, February 8, 2016

Embracing the Gray

 I watch another clump of henna-red hair fall to the bottom of the shower. It hesitates momentarily, wriggling Medusa-like before it surrenders and slides down the drain.

I am almost a half-century old. When I was you and naive I always swore I would not be one of those women who dyed their hair. I would age gracefully, accepting the changes, defying society and the cult of the young and the beautiful.

Then I turned 40, and my eyesight began to weaken and streaks of gray hair appeared at my temples.

Oh no! So soon? But I am not ready to look old and gray. I don't want to look wise. I am still in college, still struggling to find meaningful work. I still want to look hot, dammit!

Maybe those streaks just look blonde. Maybe no one will notice...

And then the rogue grays began to appear, crinkled, sticking crazily out of my head at odd angles, refusing to be contained in ponytails. I plucked them angrily until they increased in number and I knew I was losing the battle.

I couldn't dye my hair with harsh chemicals. I am a seer, a Farer, a hair is like antennae, living, breathing, connecting me to the multiverse. Like in the movie Avatar, it is a connector. Stripping it, bleaching it, and dyeing it back to its original gold was not an option. So I took the only natural alternative I trusted--henna--and slowly, over the course of a few years, went from graying gold to copper.

And I hated it.

Correction: I loved the color. Looking at the length of it hanging past my waist, it was a gorgeous coppery-gold. The grays, under the influence of the henna, became almost blonde. But when I looked in the mirror, looked at myself with this red hair, I thought, "That's not me."

I didn't look like myself. The color seemed to clash, somehow, with my skin tone, with my blue eyes. The blood of my Celtic ancestors might have been celebrating within me, but the generations of icy-eyed blondes were in open rebellion. And always, whispering in the background, was the voice that mocked me, mocked my inability to withstand the pressures of society. Why are you trying to cling to youth? Why are you trying to be anything but what you are?

I went to grad school. I started looking for a professional job. It seemed very important to not appear old in a sea of young people, to forestall any judgements about my age from prospective employers and co-workers.

And then, slowly, I began to listen to the voices within. I began to resent all the energy it was taking to try to appear to be something I wasn't.

I wanted to look like me again. Even if that me had hair that was iron-gray. I wanted to live truthfully, honestly--true to what I was--and tell the rest of the world to fuck off if they didn't like it.

So I stopped putting henna in my hair.

It has been nine months since I made the decision to let my hair return to its natural color. Since my hair is very long I figured it would take a few years for the red to disappear, even if I continued to snip off the ends. The gray is creeping down, showing through underneath the red, while the crazy hairs continue to explode joyfully from my skull.

The red hair is now beginning to fall out, as if pushed aside by the determination of the gray to reclaim its territory. Watching the red hair slip away, I feel like I am a snake shedding its skin, slipping off one life cycle so that another can begin.

It is scary, this change. Part of me does not feel ready to embrace the aging. And then there are other parts of myself that are reveling in it with childlike exuberance, feeling somehow freed from expectations, free once again to play and explore. I find myself admiring women with hair of white, gray, and silver, and look forward to the morning when there is no more red in my hair, when it falls naturally in whatever color it is meant to be. 

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