Going Gray in the Pandemic Made Me Feel Younger Than Ever

Itn the spring of 2020, I wrote an essay for TIME, “My Hair Is Going Gray during the Pandemic. Here’s Why I May Never Color It Again.” Publicly, I contemplated making the break from decades of dying my hair. My exploration was trivial in a moment when decisions about life and death were being made. Still for me, it was a pivotal decision tied up in my professional identity and society’s expectations. I ended the essay with a series of questions including, “Will I see this change through or run back to the beauty shop the minute this virus is in the rearview mirror?”

Although I have a solution, it is only mine. “To dye or not to dye” is ultimately a personal question, surrounded by double standards. We’re considered vain if we do and lazy if we don’t.

Growing out was hard. The result was that my hair became mottled, streaked and flecked with many colors. I felt like a tabby cat. My trusted girlfriends attempted to persuade me to abandon my search. I tried to convince several friends to let me go bald. There were many hats I had. Nonetheless, I persisted—working hard to stay patient.

To see how I was progressing, I would trim my hair every other week. Nearly two years after starting this experiment, I finally ripped off all the tired, sun-damaged, and bottle-blond bits. My bathroom floor was the final gasp in my struggle to resist the signs of aging and conform to corporate norms.

Today, my full gray hair is complete. Letting go of my commitment to my honey-wheat base with ribbons of “natural” highlights was liberating. I have seen the benefits beyond my wildest dreams. Here are the things I’ve learned.

First, I’ve saved time and money. It’s no longer necessary to be on the lookout for the stray white streak that will appear at my roots more often and make me run to the salon. While I miss my colorist’s witty banter, I don’t miss the hours spent on the multiple processes, my head in the sink, my hair wrapped in tin foil and damaged by chemicals. I was able to say goodbye to this mess, which has been good for my schedule and budget. Healthy hair was also a result.

Zweiten, I’m a member of a new gray-haired sisterhood. We smile and nod at each other when we walk by one another on the streets. I don’t know their names, but I imagine that they, too, used the strange period of working from home and social distancing as the moment to let their gray have its way. They are confident and sexy.

Next, I feel younger. It has been inspiring and motivating to have the courage to be me. In a world dominated by unattainable standards of youth and beauty, I’m amazed at how good it feels to drop my time-honored and stylist-approved hair routine. My middle has gained a few pounds since I was 60. My neck is sagging, and I’m constantly correcting my posture. I’m handling it. Being authentic is an indicator of self-love. It’s a badge to honor my gray hair.

The pandemic has finally set us back, without doubt. As the death toll rises, so do smaller and subtler losses. But in other profound ways, we’ve moved forward. The age of scientific revolution has arrived and we have witnessed the incredible resilience of healthcare workers. My acts of resistance should seem silly in comparison.

As I had hoped, the gray wisps which first flew out of my temples turned out to be wings. Now I see a wild Swan in my mirror.

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