A few months ago I was combing the silver rising like giggles in my hair while being baffled that there is gray in my eyebrows when I had a wild realization: most of my favorite singers, actresses, and motivational speakers have gray hair. I can’t actually prove these women I admire have gray hair. I’ve never seen it. You haven’t seen it either but it’s safe to assume that these amazing women, who range in age from 50 something to 80, have gray hair. I’m not 50 yet and my hair is slowly becoming a silver thicket but as I look around no one else’s is. Not even the 80 year olds I admire.
And this is how they catch you. This is how aging catches us unaware, because no one seems to do it out loud, proud and in public. You might find yourself confused by the glints of silver in your hair when you encounter your raven haired peers and elders. Heck, I was confused. I thought my hair would turn gray at 65 but not now. I started asking my friends questions about their hair. Mostly what folks said was, “I dye my hair, no way am I gonna have gray hair. NO WAY.” Ok, cool. Please know this is not gonna be a diatribe about the evils of hair dye. I understand perfectly well why women, particularly why we women of color, dye our hair. We are already battling racism, sexism, and in some cases colourism, hair texturism and style discrimination now we have to take on ageism by keeping our hair gray? How much marginalization can a woman stand? How many battles can one woman fight? Pass the hair dye, I get it.
Let me make this abundantly clear: I have no idea what I’m going to do with my hair and I’m not trying to tell any celebrity or you what to do with your hair either. If anything, I am suggesting that we do something with our minds and that we dare to talk to each other about aging.
Right now my strategy is to create a space to observe my own thoughts about gray hair. I want to examine those thoughts and make sure they are actually mine and not some market driven drivel I’ve inherited from this youth obsessed country I live in. It occurs to me that between social media, ageism, and celebrity culture many of us have warped expectations of what it means to age. Some of us don’t really know what anyone at any age truly looks like.
It’s good to see celebrities with huge platforms opening up discussions about menopause and urging us not to resist aging but it’s a mixed message when those very same people resist aging themselves declaring that, “hair dye is the best beauty invention ever.” It’s a challenge not to be complicit in the anti-aging sentiment. Even for me.
Sometimes I say to myself: consequences be damned, you have to set an example, you have to show younger people what it looks like to embrace the different aspects of aging. Other times I think aging too obviously and visibly might be a luxury that I can’t afford because if famous, wealthy women can’t deal with the consequences of gray hair then how can I?
For now I want to explore. I want to spend some time with these silver strands. I want to see if they cloud or glisten. Will they make me feel overcast or celestial bodied? I won’t know until I leave them alone and so I have left them alone for a year. They don’t do what their melanated friends do, these starry strands stand out, laugh at curl patterns, and do their own dance. Are they trying to give me a new recipe for living?
I want to acknowledge that it is difficult not seeing other women rock their silver. And when I say ROCK IT I mean wear it like a crown, with sass and spirit and sensuality. Like a badge of honor because they survived all of what they’ve survived and they are here to tell the tale. Rocking gray hair like they cherish their heads full of stories. Yes, I want to see women rocking their silver hair. I think it would help me rock mine.
Now here’s a confession, I can admit that gray hair has sometimes simply signaled old to me and by that I do not mean vintage wine I mean “over the hill.” Sometimes my eyes rush past the silver sisters or settle on them with preconceived notions about what their lives at that moment are or are not. I am not proud of this, I am observing the truth of it.
There are ways that older women become invisible here. Our eyes shut them out or we see them and call them “cute” or we watch them and feel ourselves filled with looming unformed questions. While I have reprogrammed myself to do the daily work of rejecting this country’s beauty standards–because to love myself, I absolutely had to– I am struggling to do the same work in regards to aging.
A quick turn on this dance floor of thought is that I certainly have always loved my elders. I have been enthralled by their stories and their spirits and their ways. I had the joy of brushing and braiding both my Grandmother Mariah and my Aunt Izola’s beautiful silver hair. Aunt Izola was someone I cherished hanging out with. Her sharp humor, legendary temper, and love of life still inspire me. What can I learn from my ancestors about how to age? I’ve got this red carpet of women in my DNA showing me something sweet about living, why am I so busy looking at who is on the red carpet that Hollywood rolls out?
I look in the mirror. I move my body. I live my life and it’s all coming down to this: if I can be honest with myself about what I think and why I think it, I can make decisions from a conscious, intentional space. Clarity allows me to move in my own truth. That goes for everything from figuring out whether I want to post on social media to choosing the work I say yes to to deciding what to do with my silver hair. And because I am constantly evolving, my decisions change over time. I am working to become the manager of my thoughts and as such I reserve the right to refuse service to any thought that doesn’t serve me. Being more able to turn away from the noise and listen more deeply to the urgings inside is one of the gifts I am able to cultivate after being on the planet for almost 5 decades.
I think these silvers are saying, “enjoy yourself, move to your own rhythm.” Which means living on my own terms–whether I rock my silver crown today, tomorrow, sometimes or never. This is about hair and aging but it’s also about everything. I deserve space to determine and do what is true for me. My wish is that you allow yourself the space to find out and do what is true for you.
Photographs by Dominique Sindayiganza
Shoutout to the silver foxes: