Going Gra(y)cefully: The Movement of Women Embracing Their Aging Locks
As a teenager that looped herself into the alternative crowd, I was fascinated with people who were free to experiment with different hair colors. I was limited by my school to what was considered natural (blonde, brown, black and red, all of which were yesterday's news), so I dyed my hair the color I knew nobody else would have— gray.
I received compliments, clapback and most of all, nagging from older folks who criticized my decision. They couldn’t fathom why I wanted something that millions of people every year go through loops and bounds to cover.
Through it all, I remembered my mother who was adamant about maintaining her dark brown locks, and my friends’ mothers who did the same to preserve their balayage's and baby lights. It seemed the women in my life acted desperately to vanquish their gray as if their lives depended on it.
I soon learned the color itself wasn’t the issue; there’s nothing inherently wrong with gray and its many shades, it’s more so the association of the color on a woman’s scalp that compels them to hide their aging locks.
The Stigma Surrounding Gray Hair
Harvard Health states the reason we lose our rich color is from our hair follicles losing their pigment over time, resulting in gray strands popping up during the hairs natural dying and regeneration cycle. This happens around age 35, give or take depending on your genetics, and contrary to popular belief is not associated with stress. If it’s something so natural, then why is it societally disfavored?
Aging is somewhat of a polarizing topic, especially when it comes to women; we grow older each second, and developing gray hair is one of the many signs of those seconds turning to decades. Gray hair has been the subject of fearmongering I’ve witnessed since childhood; in hair dye commercials nonchalantly targeted toward aging women, in salon magazine ads that raved about their gray coverups and even in tabloids that shamed female celebrities who’d failed to cover their roots fast enough.
Like anything involving women’s surficial beauty, the universal animosity for gray stems from the obsession of women preserving their youth. Women are pressured to obsess over the idea of aging gracefully, with an end goal of as few wrinkles and as little sagging skin as possible. And gray hair is the clear depicter that a woman is “getting old,” or that she’s finally “let herself go.”
Though women have fought against misogynist pressures in media, the issue with gray hair digs deep.
Think of the evil witch in Snow White, for example. The closer you pay attention to many notable female antagonists, the more evident it is that they embody features that are funneled down women's throats as the thing they should not be. Annie Wilkes from Misery is overweight, Mom from Futurama has a wrinkled neck while Bellatrix Lestrange’s hair progressively grays as she becomes more of a threat throughout the Harry Potter films.
This negative connotation with gray goes back further. Women were expected to have a family and care for it by their early twenties. Once a woman hit their graying years, they were mere throwaways, as she’d surpassed her fertile window. Female celebrities began to uphold their natural hues as early as the 1910s when L’Oréal’s founder Eugène Schueller concocted the first synthetic hair dye. It became more accessible for the average woman starting in the 1950s, and as of 2015, it’s estimated that roughly 70% of women take to dying their hair.
However, what I still struggle to understand is the appreciation of gray hair in men. The term silver fox is often thrown around by people who fancy the maturing men’s hair. Think of George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Mads Mikkelsen, who are only a sample of the graying actors that are viewed as some of the most attractive men in Hollywood. These graying men are often viewed as sexy, intelligent and mature, while graying women are viewed as brittle, weathered and old.
The Social-Media Mini Movement
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous when gray influencers started popping up on my for-you pages. I wondered if somehow my feed was trying to alert me to the fact that I was about to graduate from the 18-24 age bracket and that I needed to start preparing for what was on the horizon.
But as I stopped and scrolled through a few of these pages, my nervousness blossomed into admiration. These communities are not only highly supportive but serve as a safe space for graying women to share their hardships and successes. You can find some of these women showcased here, who are some of the forerunners in breaking down the stigma.
And as I’ve delved further into the realm of this sort of “go gray” movement, I’ve realized that more women in the media are rocking gray hair. From Meryl Streep and Diane Keaton to even Lady Gaga and Kylie Jenner experimenting with silver dyes, gray is slowly but surely pushing its way into the limelight, and in the foreseeable future, it won’t be something women fear, but rather embrace.
The Pros and Cons of Going Gray
One of the most universally shared experiences between women embracing their gray seems to be the inevitable backlash. This was apparent on the influencers feeds as well; it seemed to stem mostly from women around the same age who were claiming that there’s nothing wrong with wanting to continue dying your hair. It’s all a form of self-expression at the end of the day, and though they’re entirely valid in their point, it’s perfectly okay to want to go gray, too!
Women also seem to struggle with how to let it grow without it looking like a botched bottle dye experiment. Some resort to a stylized pixie or bob, others take to the salon to have gray highlights weaved throughout their current color and I’ve even seen some women rock a gray root with a funky color!
When it comes to hair health before, during and after the transitioning phase, one of the most common struggles that women combat is coarse, brittle hair. If you want your silver mane to look healthy and hydrated, it’s important to find a mask or hair oil to fit into your daily routine.
We recommend the Seriously Magic Hair Oil here at Rabbit Brush! Argan and Jojoba oils work as an all-natural, cruelty-free means of regaining moisture while conditioning the scalp. It also works as an overnight mask for prime absorption; it can be distributed onto the ends of the hair and worn in braids for effortlessly shiny, moisturized strands from the moment you hop out of bed!
It’s 2022, if a twenty-something can rock a shaved head or green rattail, it should be perfectly acceptable for a woman to show her individuality through allowing her gray to show.
Though I’m not at this stage of my life yet, stumbling upon this cyber corner of women online who bond over the beauty of embracing grey has only made me more hopeful that when my time comes, I’ll feel comfortable to embrace my natural locks, too, whatever shade they might become.
At Rabbit Brush, we make hair products for people of all ages and hair types, whether you’re in the process of growing out your grey or are rocking a full rainbow. You can rest assured that we will never criticize you for your hair choices, whether you’re learning to care for your gray or take to cutting 3 AM bangs with a pair of kitchen scissors. Our products work for everybody, every time, and as always, your hair will thank you!