To Dye or Not to Dye Takes Courage: How to Deal with Gray Hair

Posted: December 4, 2014 in Uncategorized
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previously published on Yahoo Contributor Network Aug 11, 2008 and updated for 2014

I would have loved to have had a manual that told me how to LIVE, one I would have appreciated reading before giving birth, certainly one that might have better prepared me for what being a parent entailed, and, more recently, one for getting old.

Now that I’m in my early 60s, I would really like to know not only what to expect, but also how to BE. And I want specifics like, what do I do with my hair?

When those first few white strands appeared, was I supposed to dye my hair my “natural” color, or was I supposed to let it grow out naturally? So many other things were going on in my life – I had a job that caused more white hairs to crop up every day and I had a son stationed in Iraq – STRESS with a capital S.

During that time a stranger approached me with genuine affection. She grabbed my hand and said, “You are so brave.” Oh, thank you – empathy. She must have known about the agony I’d been enduring throughout my Marine son’s journey to Baghdad. But no – she was referring to my natural growth of what she called gray hair.

Gray? How drab. I prefer the term, white, silver, or better yet, platinum.

Fearing I would look like Morticia, or, gasp, the dreaded skunk, I dyed my changing hair, but in the race to keep up with the growth, I found myself doomed. With each passing day, my hair grew just enough to show white growth along my scalp. It was like watching grass grow, but instead of grass growing from ground level, it hovered above the soil for about an eighth of an inch.

So what was I supposed to do? Continue dyeing it forever? Go lighter and lighter? Streak it? (Oops, I’m not supposed to call it streaking anymore – streaking is for people who run naked through crowds.)

I tried letting my hair grow out. But some people could not accept my new “do” and that included me. The mirror became my enemy. Eyeing my new growth suspiciously, I determined that my hair looked dusty.

“No, no,” my children comforted me (lying), “It looks fine.”

Then I visited my grandchildren. Eyebrows furrowed, eyes directed at the top of my head, one granddaughter commented, “Grandma, you know what that looks like?”

Without waiting for me to say, “Yes, but don’t tell me,” she added, “Like somebody painted your head white!”

To make matters worse, do you know where else I was getting white hairs? Silly Reader, I’m talking about my eyebrows. How the heck do those stupid eyebrow pencils work anyway? All they do is color the skin underneath. The hairs are still white. I’ve tried sweeping mascara across my eyebrows, but people are far less forgiving of clumps in the brows than they are of clumps in the lashes.


I determined that if men could dye their mustaches and beards, I would buy a box of the use-as-you-need dye and try coloring my eyebrows. Voila! It worked!

Speaking of eyebrows, how do you manage eyebrow growth? Call your hair stylist?

“Ah, yes, how much do you charge for an eyebrow trim?”

I remember Andy Rooney years ago, probably before he discovered the manual. When he turned sideways his eyebrows swooshed up into massive bushy curls. They eventually looked more manageable. He probably donated them to some bald man.

Since I first wrote this piece, I became a cancer patient and lost all my hair due to chemo and radiation. Great! A new start! What hair would I have now? Curly – yep, curly. And some of the black hair came back, but not all of the hair did! Every day I tried to figure out how to maneuver the hair on my head in such a way as to cover the bald spots. I was told that when I finished my chemo pills, my hair would return. I can hope. In the meantime I’m keeping my hair au natural. Or maybe I’ll color it if I don’t like what I see.

Society plays an important role in my decision-making. Gray equals old, right? Men with gray hair are distinguished. Women are frumpy. Who decides?

I thought of my own grandmother whose hair was actually blue. A lot of women back then had blue hair (my grandma, the original punk rocker). I thought of my mother, who now, counting the new one I saw a couple of weeks ago, has approximately ten white hairs.

And then I considered the stranger’s observation and wowed myself with the realization that somebody actually thought I was brave for allowing nature to take its course. How true – I am actually risking walking next to my mother and having people think I’m HER mother. Talk about bravery.

The sad fact is nobody ever tells you how to make the transition from black to white. Just like nobody tells you what to expect when giving birth or raising children. Or maybe they tell you, but they leave things out, like when the gynecologist says, “You’re going to feel a little uncomfortable,” what she really means is, “You’re going to feel like somebody has slammed an axe through your nasal cavity and into your brain cavity. Same situation. Different cavity.”

Letting your hair reveal its lack of pigment is a major life decision. Consider the repercussions. What happens when you go “cold turkey?”

Let me tell you.

If you have been dyeing black hair and what is underneath that dyed black hair is white hair, reconsider your decision. Unless you want to hear comments like – “Wow, that is so cool. Your hair looks like it actually hovers about an inch above your scalp.” – you would probably be better off using a temporary dye, trying a lighter color each month until the new growth isn’t so obvious, and then letting it grow. Or you could highlight or use a combination of highlighting and lowlighting (new terms for “streaking”).

If only I had known.

But back to the bravery issue. I guess in a way, I really did make a brave decision. After all, I ran into the burning building of negative thinking about women and aging, and rescued gray-haired women everywhere from century-long criticisms denouncing anything “old.” (Slap a badge on me.)

In the recording industry, going platinum is a more coveted reward than going gold. I have spun around my own turntable at least a million times. That does not mean I’m getting old; it means I’m going platinum! And if that makes me brave, so be it.

So to all women who are going platinum and growing old gracefully, I say congratulations. You are brave.


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