Going Gray in My 20s

Hair is such an integral part of identity. We are our hair and how we choose to wear it. It’s a source of confidence, self-love, expression, character. We color it, cut it, grow it, style it, gel it, comb it, flip it at our haters. We spend hundreds of dollars on caring for our hair, from treatments to coloring, shampoo to conditioner to styling products.

I’m fairly used to being in a salon. I have to go roughly every five weeks to have my hair colored and my roots touched up. You see, I started going gray in my twenties. Genetically, I never stood a chance. I was born with dark brown hair like the rest of my family, but my mother started graying in her 20s; at 24, I began to notice sporadic grays in my hair, too. I would pluck the strands out frantically, then put it out of my mind.

By 26, grays went from being strands to streaking little sections. Still hardly noticeable. But by 28, my hair was growing out white, and I was buying root touch-up for $10 at Rite Aid every month.

My hair would be called “prematurely gray.” Gray hair comes with age—as we grow older, our bodies may stop producing melanin, which is what gives our hair its color. Without melanin, hair can become gray, white, or silver. If your hair starts graying earlier than your thirties, it’s premature. And once it’s gray, it will never grow out of your head your original color again. Therefore, we associate gray hair with getting older.

No one wants to face their mortality, or accept that some day they will age out of the youth demographic. I shudder to think of the day when media will no longer be marketed directly to me. We don’t want to grow old and irrelevant and eventually die, so when we see a gray hair we pull it out, run to the salon, and ask them to dump a bottle of dye on us. We ask them to conceal what’s growing out of our head, to hide it so that we can stay beautiful and young. When I started going gray, I felt like a witch in a fairytale—I understood the desire to find a beautiful princess and make a potion from her hair, live off of her youth, and stay young forever.

But then I asked myself...why? Why should we cover up gray hair? It’s a natural hair color. Sure, it’s devoid of the original pigmentation, but so what? Honestly, it’s only a few shades away from platinum blonde. We bleach color out of our hair all the time in the name of fashion. But gray? Why would it be so wrong to embrace that? Why don’t we?

It’s time to flip the script. I decided I was going to give it a shot and grow out my gray hair. Dyeing my hair monthly is expensive—it costs $100+ to maintain colored hair. And besides, why shouldn’t I love the hair growing out of my head?

When I announced to family and friends that I was giving gray a shot, I was met with pretty immediate pushback. While some told me to go for it, that it was très chic and that the youths were actually dyeing their hair gray, others told me it would wash me out and age me. And that’s my fear, too. My ingrained fear. No matter how empowered I want to be about it, I still wonder, “Will I still be beautiful? Will someone ever love me? Maybe I should find a husband first before…” Before what? Being myself? Accepting what my body is doing? When people caution me against going gray, for any reason, what they are really saying is “You, on your own, are not beautiful in your body.” But this is what my body is now. My hair is going gray. Gray hair should not be indicative of the loss of youth and beauty; it should be something we embrace and love about ourselves and our bodies.

I’m a few inches grown out with my gray hair. It’s not all white—there’s still some of my original brown growing with it. I don’t know what it will ultimately look like, or if I’ll like it. Every day since I made this decision to give gray a chance, I’ve been plagued with self-doubt. And what if I choose to dye it another color? Does it make me a hypocrite to talk about self-love if I go back to hiding the gray?

We are our hair, whatever we choose to do with it. I can keep it gray or I can dye it brown, or I can get a pink mohawk. The empowerment comes in wearing it how we like, not how others think it should be. And that includes gray. Embrace what your body does. Dye your hair if you’d like. But don’t dye it out of shame or because you think you should. Think first about who you are, remember to love yourself, and then adorn yourself accordingly. And slay.

By Kaitlin Konecke
Visual by Sabrina Oliveira

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