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How I Ditched the Dye and Embraced My Gray Hair

I was 23 when I discovered my first gray hair. I thought nothing of it. For six years, I went about my business rocking my grays. And then a man asked me how old I was, saying “You look really young, but you have all that gray hair.” I was coloring my hair within days.

That comment changed the way I saw myself.

Twenty years passed before I decided it was time to give up hair color. By that point, I was no longer just covering the gray, I was lifting the color too, to make myself a redhead. It was a maintenance nightmare: My gray hair rings my forehead, and within two days of coloring my hair, silvery roots would appear around my face. There was no escaping them. I tried using one of those coloring pens to stay out the hairdresser’s chair, but it felt like I was running behind a galloping horse, and that pony was always out of reach.

I looked at my tribe of female friends, aunts, and mentors, and I realized that no one was sporting her natural color. I spoke with each of them individually about their thoughts about going gray and they all said that it made them look old. I was looking for a signal, for permission to let myself go gray, but I didn’t find it in their answers.

And then one day, I was shopping for a baby gift and noticed that the woman behind the counter had salt and pepper hair. I heard my inner voice say, “Here’s your signal. You’re not alone.” At my next visit to the salon, I skipped the dye. Three months later, I cut the hair that hung down the middle of my back to the scalp.

I was free!


I couldn’t help but wonder why I was the only woman who could “get away” with not coloring her hair, but something told me I was doing the right thing.


But I was also self-conscious. It took me nine months to get over the shock of seeing myself in the mirror. I felt as though people were making assumptions about me because of my hair. A few of my closest friends tried to convince me that I looked old beyond my years. “Monique, you look too young to have gray hair,” they’d say. I’d find myself at events where I was the youngest woman at a table, surrounded by women 20 years senior. Some of them expressed support: “It works for you,” they’d say, immediately following up with, “but I could never do it. I’d look too old.”

I couldn’t help but wonder why I was the only woman who could “get away” with not coloring her hair, but something told me I was doing the right thing.

I knew that allowing my gray to grow was somehow revolutionary. I’d watched my grandma dye her hair my entire life. The same was true of all of her sisters. Only the women 80-plus had gray hair, and even some of those continued to color their hair (or what was left of it).

Soon after the big chop, a man I’d been dating told me, “You’re so pretty you can do anything with your hair and look stunning.” He didn’t turn from the stove as he said it, letting me know it was no big deal. I was myself no matter what my hair was doing. Other men started approaching me in the grocery store or at the movies, to share how much they appreciated my look and tell me that I was beautiful.

It occurred to me that if I was going to wear gray hair, I needed to wear it like a rock star, so I started growing a silver and black afro. It took nearly two years before I felt like myself.

Now when I look in the mirror, I see woman whose hair I love.

Letting myself go gray has been a journey of accepting myself as I am.

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