I recently saw a set of photos in my Facebook newsfeed that really inspired me. They were created and posted by an Australian mother of four and registered nurse who had just had a complete hysterectomy, bilateral mastectomy and some other serious procedures in order to maximize her long-term health as a carrier of the BRCA gene. The photo journal, titled “Under the Red Dress,” showed with laudable honestly and confidence the physical scars of cancer, and the realistic beauty of the pure, ever-rebounding human body. The artist herself reminded me of something else as well, something that I do know but occasionally lose sight of, and it is this simple fact: truth is beauty. What we are, all that we’ve seen and done, is etched on our faces and bodies like a brilliant map of our lives. These lines written onto us demonstrate to all who we encounter that we are sages of our own experiences, professors of many small phenomena within the human condition, from blissful to tragic and back again. They say that we have lived. This kind of wisdom is important, worthy of respect. Our history should be celebrated. We, our paths, our journeys and learnings should be celebrated, and I intend to do just that.
I found my first gray hair on my 27th birthday. I was working at a dot.com at the time, freshly married, freshly out of business school, and still slightly wet behind the ears in at least a few ways. I didn’t freak out when I saw it—I’m not a freaker by nature—but I did yank it out. Not too many years later I was enmeshed in the “dye cycle,” that routine 6 (or sometimes 12, if you’re me)-weekly jaunt to the stylist to hide the tinsel and touch up the rest of the follicular color palate. And to drop about $150. And to continually wonder what water temperature and shampoo type would have the least chance of ruining your stylist’s good work. And, once you’ve returned home, to hear your spouse remind you that his haircuts only cost $32. And to not be sure, a week later, that you’ve chosen the “right” color. Year after year, this routine continues for every woman who chooses to keep her grayness under her hat, a perpetual commitment of both time and dime.
"Enough," I said recently to my raven reflection in the mirror. The next time I walk into my South Florida salon, I committed, I will advise my stylist that we are going to begin the process of returning my hair to it’s natural hue, which used to be chestnut and is now a unique mashup of brownish tones mixed with lots of lovely silver. How will this turn out? I have no idea. What will my business associates think? Not a clue. Do I care? Not one little flippin’ bit. My reflection was slightly agog at this particular decision, but she ultimately made her way to my line of thinking, and by the end of our little dialogue was nodding to me enthusiastically from her window on the wall. I do believe I even saw her give me a little thumbs-up.
This is my hair. Mine. My physical history unfurled from the inside. My highs, lows, joys, agonies and indigestions all interwoven into the colors that surround and insulate me. My hair is partially gray. This is a fact—not one to be frightened by, like an illness, but just a simple fact. It’s a color. And I am going to wear all of my colors proudly.
In some cultures, rather than representing weakness of the body or the mind, gray hair symbolizes wisdom. Medicine men, seers, and even witches are consistently conjured with silver locks in stories and works of literature across the world. The sorceress, the queen, the enchantress—they all walk through the forests of popular lore trailing a gorgeous flowing mane of white. They have no soft sentimentality for brown or blonde or red—white is pure brilliance, a faithful and shimmering reflection of the sage within. The enchantress is there, my friends. She waits patiently under layers of numbered dyes to to let fly her fabulousness. We need only let her.
My enchantress is now free. She plays discreetly among the highlights and lowlights planted strategically within my long hair, there to support her in good fashion as she makes her way down my back and into the world. She has been officially welcomed by me physically, and been given room to grow. And now, I continue the infinitely harder task of embracing her within.