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Aging and Retirement

This I Believe: I Believe In Going Grey

Essayist Savita Iyer

In my hand I hold a box of Clairol Root Touch-up in Black, chanced upon while cleaning my dresser drawers. I check the expiry date—it is still valid. And it is calling my name.

I look in the mirror, I take a deep breath.

This is—or was—my “just-in-case box,” to be used in-between salon visits in case I was invited to a party, had an important work meeting, or had to travel unexpectedly. In a mere 10 minutes, it would mask the unsightly roots I could not bear for anyone to see. It remains unopened, though, because I stopped coloring my hair about a year ago.

My decision to go grey wasn’t a feminist statement, though it has been liberating. Women are so conditioned to view beauty through a male lens; we’ve accepted the idea that grey hair is fine for men, but not for us. While I certainly aspire not to think that way, I decided to let my hair go grey when I realized the ridiculousness of living my life worrying about whether or not my roots were showing and planning my life around monthly salon visits.

Overall, I feel happier for having made this choice. Being dye-free has restored both softness and sheen to the hair I damaged over the years through the application of highlights, lowlights, and chemical treatments—and that’s a good feeling. But, I’ll be the first to admit that sticking to my guns wasn’t, and still isn’t, easy. I knew it would take a long time to fully come to terms with the spreading grayness. It has been a Herculean task to tune out the voices —my own the loudest among them—saying that I’ve let myself go.

To stay the course, I often turn to Instagram, where I follow women my age and older who have let their hair turn grey. Each has a different reason for doing so: one woman greyed in her teens and never colored her hair; another woman is a cancer survivor whose hair grew out beautifully soft and snowy post-treatment. Like me, many go back-and-forth between the “should I” or “shouldn’t I.”

Have I stayed the course completely since I stopped coloring? No, I have cheated every so often; I’ve spritzed tiny amounts of root concealer here and there and I have changed the part in my hair to minimize the amount of visible grey.

But now, as I look at the box of Clairol, I wonder if this might be the opportune moment to stop everything and go the whole hog. The gray in my hair has increased significantly since our lockdown began. Yet, it seems insignificant in the face of everything that’s happening in the country—the pain and suffering of the pandemic, the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. It feels like forever since I’ve seen my family and friends, but, while I do wonder if I will I look unsightly to them when we meet, I’d like to believe we have greater concerns than hair. For me, when the time comes, seeing my loved ones will far outweigh being seen by them.  That’s why I’m throwing out the unopened box of color.

That’s why I believe in going grey.

Savita Iyer is the senior editor of Penn State’s alumni magazine, The Penn Stater.

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