Why Women Are Refusing to Dye Their Gray Hair
Which parent do you most resemble? For me, it’s my dad. From the large Roman nose to the muscly legs and dare I admit it, the semblance of a ‘tache. My sisters all take after my mom, which I was always jealous of until we hit our teens. One by one, from the age of 17 my sisters started to notice their first streaks of gray. Mom, herself, started to lose her color when she was 19. I’m now 38 and only recently spotted my first rogue gray whereas my dad’s defined salt and pepper look began when he hit his sixties. I was hoping for that longevity until I noticed a change in my siblings.
After years of damaging their locks and scalp with regular hair dying and highlights, my sisters and mom have all recently decided to embrace the gray and in doing so have seemingly found a new lease on life; one not constrained by society’s preconceived ideas of beauty, and they aren’t alone.
Welcome to the graynaissance
There’s a new beauty revolution happening–a graynaissance, if you will. In a time when surgery culture, and social media filtering is all encompassing, many women are rebelling against societal pressures and choosing to age gracefully by embracing their natural beauty and all that entails, including gray hair.
It’s believed the pandemic helped bolster the movement with women (particularly those aged between 20 and 40) taking advantage of lockdown to experiment with ditching the dye, creating a much-needed radical shift towards going gray with positivity.
However, for Jessica Fitzsimons, fighting social pressures to dye her hair started long before the coronavirus. She was just seven years old when she spotted her first gray, and 13 when it became noticeable. “I was so embarrassed,” she recalls. “None of my friends had any, and, of course, at the time I bought into the gray equals old belief so I headed straight to the box dye aisle.” And so began a 20-year affair with hair color, until 2018, aged 33, Fitzsimons decided to allow her grays to flourish.
Just over a year into her transition, Fitzsimons sought comfort in Facebook groups “with women from all over the world and all walks of life who were embracing their natural hair color.” Inspired by their journeys, she launched her own blog and instagram account @embrace.the.grey for the “silver sisters from all over the world rocking their gray.” Including honest testimonials from fellow silver ladies, what began as a side hobby fast became a pillar of positivity for the gray-haired community.
One of those inspired by Fitzsimon’s account was Tracy Carlisle, a 41-year-old mother of three whose own battle with gray began when she was 17, when a boyfriend carelessly plucked a whitey from her head. “It was so awkward,” says Carlisle, whose hair started to gray more noticeably in her twenties, confounding insecurities about her looks. “I was so disheartened and annoyed when I realised I was turning gray very young. It knocks your confidence–I always thought I would dye my hair forever.”
Society must reassess its beauty values
The stigma and pressure to dye gray hair in the attempt to ‘look younger' can have a devastating effect on self-worth. While men become silver foxes, women are dubbed as haggards. Is it any wonder women feel ashamed when they lose their color? They are made to feel their youth is also stripped.
“Pressures from society make you feel there is no other option but to conceal your gray hair,” continues Carlisle. “Turning gray in my twenties meant it was not acceptable to show my true color and be myself, and feel comfortable in my natural beauty. You get judged or people make rude comments for having gray hair unless you are of a certain age. Aging and turning gray is hard to understand when you are younger, but gray hair is not an indicator of age, so why can't you be young and have gray hair?”
Whitney Lichty, 40, last dyed her hair in 2019 and her luscious gray mane has seen her become an unofficial ambassador of the gray hair movement. Documenting her transition via her Instagram account @silverstrandsofglitter, she rapidly garnered a following of more than 45,000, but still faced some contention. “I received mixed reactions,” she explains. “Some people were supportive of my decision, usually because they were on the same journey but there were others who couldn't understand why I would go gray at this age. I was surprised by the negative comments but I believe it has more to do with their own insecurities.”
Despite receiving comments that “gray hair is ugly”, Lichty fully embraced the hue but admits it wasn't an easy journey. Gray hair doesn't grow in a neat uniform manner like highlights (unless you're incredibly lucky). So growing into your natural color requires patience. “The journey is hard, and it's long. I felt scared, self-conscious and nervous,” says Lichty. “So surround yourself with cheerleaders–people who will encourage and support you. Remind yourself why you made your decision to go gray.”
“Track your progress,” adds Fitzsimons. “And take lots of pictures in every kind of light, and enjoy it! Also try purple shampoo and conditioners. Not everyone needs it but it makes my hair so bright and pretty.”
Embracing Mother Nature has positive effects
One common thread throughout the graynaissance is positive comments from women exalting their softer and healthier looking locks. Free from dying their hair every two to three weeks–which for some, including Carlisle, can result in hair loss–embracing the gray has not only restored natural luster, but also a new sense of confidence.
“As I matured and gained a better understanding of my own self-worth I recognized that gray hair had no bearing on who I was and what I had to offer,” says Lichty, who still receives negative posts from outsiders on Instagram about her gray choice. Meanwhile Carlisle reveals she’s receiving more compliments, “I was recently asked by a young girl if I had silver highlights put in my hair as she thought it looked really cool. It makes me feel more confident and comfortable in my own skin.
The reality is gray hair is simply hair that lacks pigment (melanin), and when you go gray is actually down to your genes–not age. As well as genetics, certain medications and health conditions can also cause hair to turn gray. “Vitamin B12 deficiency, pernicious anaemia and thyroid disorders can cause premature graying,” explains Anabel Kingsley, top trichologist at Philip Kingsley. “When hair initially grows back after Alopecia Areata, it often comes in white, and then usually reverts to its usual pigmented colour. Stress has also been linked to premature graying.”
Go gray with positivity
With hashtags including #silversisters and #grayhair on the rise, and Pinterest searches for “going gray” increasing by 879% at the end of 2018, the graynaissance is well and truly underway with more women accepting their natural beauty. Actor Salma Hayek received nearly half a million likes when she posted a selfie boasting her white strands. “Proud of my white hair,” read the caption. Meanwhile, British Vogue’s deputy editor, Sarah Harris has long been a champion of platinum locks, stating, “I like the rebelliousness of gray hair. I like that it’s nonconformist.”
Going gray is no longer a sign of letting go–it’s a statement of confidence and intent. “Going gray is perfectly normal,” adds Carlsile. “It means having self-belief and being happy in your own skin. Embrace it and help empower and encourage other women who are thinking about doing the same. Show other women that anything is possible if you put your mind to it.”
Photo credit: @silverstrandsofglitter