I don’t quite get the phrase, “going gray”. Yet I hear women saying, “I’m thinking of going gray”. They’re already gray, of course. It’s just covered over with blonde or brown or black or red. And so it was with me. When my six year old granddaughter, Lillie, saw me with my almost gray head after a several month break in time, she asked if I had colored my hair. “No, Baby.” I replied, “This is Grandma’s real color.” Not missing a beat, Lillie said, “No Grandma. Your hair’s brown.” And so it had been, not my natural dark, dark, almost black brown but a little Carolina wren brown. And so, I, too, had talked about “going gray”.
I had thought about going gray for years but always chickened out at the thought of how many months of looking like a crazy woman it would take. I was working I told myself. I had to look my best didn’t I? As if gray hair wouldn’t look that good. I had friends who had opted to never dye their hair and looked great with gray hair. I’d been dying mine for so long that, in truth, I wasn’t sure how gray I really was. My stylist/colorist estimated I was two- thirds gray. And my stylist also said I was too young to go gray. Then I saw a discussion of 50, 60 and 70 somethings on Oprah. One of them commented about how there were entire towns without a gray head. So, coloring one’s hair was the new norm. Only your hairdresser knows for sure. Right? Wrong! Everybody knows, I thought. You’re not fooling anyone.
Every four weeks I’d spend 2 hours getting colored, cut and blown dry. I’d leave the salon with brown dye stuck to the skin at my hairline, trying to cover it with concealer and foundation. A couple of days later I’d finally look normal around the hairline, which lasted for maybe ten days before my fast growing hair started to show the shimmering truth at my temples. I’d also look at myself in the mirror and see a disconnect between the wrinkles and laugh lines and my hair color. Would the real Kathy please stand up?
So four months after leaving the 9 to 5 behind, I announced to my stylist I was going gray. Alas, the colorist in her couldn’t deal with my announcement. As I stood watching her FREAK OUT in what I can only describe as an out of body experience, I knew sadly this was all about her. She ranted about how I was too young to go gray. She asked me where this was coming from as if having such a desire equated having a screw loose. She suggested that we add some blonde lowlights to my little Carolina wren brown so it would look more natural. She never stopped talking long enough to listen to me. While each gray head represents dwindling income for any colorist, this was about me. It wasn’t about her feeding her family. It wasn’t about societal norms. It wasn’t about what other people thought of me when they looked at me. And, even if it was any of her business, which it wasn’t, I certainly didn’t have any loose screws rattling around in my head. This was about how I felt when I looked in the mirror. It was about finding and being my authentic self. So, I fired my stylist/colorist and found another stylist who was more interested in great customer service than what the world thought about my going gray.
It took about eight months. In order to minimize the brain damage I had my hair cut really short. I also took my new stylist’s advice and went with a new combination blonde/caramel/brown color (yes, I got my hair dyed one last time just for appearances) where the difference between it and my gray wasn’t such a contrast. All things considered, the transition wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. It’s been about a year now since I started the transition and I feel more comfortable looking at the authentic me in the mirror than I did that other woman. I feel less stressed living in my own skin. I’m free! Everyone around me has gotten used to seeing the real me. I’ve even received some compliments. And, oddly, or perhaps not so odd after all, I’ve had a few women ask me for all the gory details on how I accomplished “going gray”. You see, they’d like to be free, too.