My hair has been a central aspect of “me” my whole life. As a youngster I had long, thick hair with bangs. It was long enough so that on the school bus I’d make a hair fan and cover one side of my face to hide because I was shy. As I grew, my hair became unruly, frizzy and wavy, and I wished I had different hair.
No one could wrestle all my hair into any kind of bun for ballet class.
At age 11 my mom, who had short red hair, (dyed since age 20 for fashion, she said) took me to get a pixie haircut. I hated my hair even more.
As it grew again, my hair became a focal point at the family dinner table. “Your hair is in your eyes.” “Did you brush it?” “Tie it back with a clip.” I wanted to be like the other girls who had silky smooth, Farrah Fawcett, flipping hair. Friends at school would whip out a hairbrush from their locker and run it through their tresses between classes. I was lucky if I could brush my hair every couple days, and it would take me half an hour. It was thick, unpredictable, and I cursed at it in my bathroom mirror, often through tears.
Curly hair became trendy in the 80’s and 90’s and I woke up to the idea that my hair might actually be a positive feature.
As I embraced my hair in college, my confidence grew. It became my most distinctive feature. Friends and strangers alike would ask where I got my perm (sorry, not a perm), or what products I used to get those curls! Despite wanting straight hair in my youth, I felt good about my hair for the first time.
As I matured, I still felt that straight hair was optimal for looking polished and put together. Especially in business. As professional blow outs became popular (why didn’t I think of Dry Bar?!) I sometimes got my hair blown out as a treat, and learned to do it at home – somewhat. Nothing compares to a salon blow out, but the at-home tools improved. For most of my adult life I’ve managed my hair by the weather; high humidity/rain means curly, dry weather means straight. And I mostly hoped for straight.
In my early 30’s I noticed the first gray hair.
There was a simple solution: just pluck! As I moved into my 40’s more than a few grays appeared, especially right at my hairline. A neighbor told me how great she felt after recently dying her hair, and suggested it to me. She was surprised that I hadn’t considered this yet, and extolled the virtues of the dye job. My hair would be glossy and uniform and she promised me it would “brighten your face.” This is what all women eventually do, I thought, so why not?
Our society stigmatizes gray hair. It’s for old people, grandmas, should be covered up, is a sign of letting oneself go.
I was from then on in the throes of hair color maintenance, a slave to the salon appointments, carefully planning around vacations, important events, meetings. The timing of my color started to take precedence over daily weather checking to worry about hair texture. I’d book a few months in advance with my colorist to make sure my calendar was set. I actually believed she was the only human who could mix the magic formulas for my hair!
Even with all this time, money and expertise, about 10 days in, I’d see a gray millimeter forming at my hairline as I put on makeup by my window with natural light.
I’d curse those grays. How did they come in so fast?
And seemingly trying to mess with me by appearing right next to my forehead (argh!). I discovered root spray and learned that eyebrow gels were particularly effective at covering the little grays in front. I started washing my hair less frequently, with the idea that I didn’t want to wash out the color too quickly. Deep down I knew this wasn’t sustainable forever.
During COVID that feeling of not being able to sustain the color was more pronounced. For six months I tried my hand with the DIY kit sent via Fed Ex by my salon, paired with a YouTube video that made it look soooo easy (it was not). Mid-lockdown my colorist dyed my hair in her Brooklyn apartment. The adventure included double masks and a makeshift hair sink in her tiny bathroom. I felt clever for figuring this out, this time, but again deep down knew what I was doing was a little crazy.
In December 2020, while scrolling through fashion and lifestyle pictures on IG I randomly came across my first Silver Sister, and was she ever striking.
With long, silky, silver hair to her waist. It was a revelation to me that a woman could have a beautiful, long head of gray hair. I was captivated, and dove head first (haha) into this global community of Silver Sisters. I found thousands of women who stopped coloring their hair (or never did) and are tenaciously embracing their silvers.
Some just celebrated their one year silver-versary. As Rebecca Mead recently wrote in the New Yorker:
“The pandemic obliged—or enabled—many women to go gray. They’re still reckoning with the transformation.”
These sisters are easily recognizable in the world. I’ve noticed that one year of silver growth brings your natural hair line down to about the cheek bone. The bottom part is evidence of the prior coloring ritual.
Many Silver Sisters embraced their grey years ago and are fully transitioned with beautiful silver hair. Some are about to get their final chop, which is celebrated enthusiastically within the IG Silver Sister community. In fact everything is acceptable and celebrated – going cold turkey, buzzing, chopping, blending, dying lighter all over, or a bit of everything. Ups and downs, wins and disappointments are posted daily.
The thing we share is that we’re all on a journey to embrace our natural color hair, and ourselves.
When first acquainting myself with this community, the most common statement I came across is that “it’s not just about the hair.” I thought – sure, OK – there’s probably a deeper meaning. My first month passed and I texted my colorist to say I think I’m taking a break. Then I started to feel all sorts of emotions: excitement, fear, self-consciousness, empowerment – all were there at once.
I talked to my husband about it daily in a giggly sort of way (he didn’t get why we’d need to talk about this decision more than once!). Still interacting on Zoom calls with my colleagues, I knew it would be a month or two till it became noticeable. One day at a team meeting, a woman started talking about her hair catastrophe using the wrong boxed dye color. So, unplanned, I shared that I was ditching the dye. Immediately, I felt free. People cordially nodded and smiled, and one woman texted me after with encouragement. That was the first time I felt fully committed to the decision, and I knew there was no turning back.
My hair is growing and I am marveling at the unique patterns and colors that are emerging.
Now as I turn the page on the decision to go natural, I’ll delve further into the meaning of defying societal stigmas around aging and grey hair. One thing I know for sure – there are thousands of badass Silver Sisters who are reimagining tradition, and I’m excited to be a part of it!