Updated: Sep 22, 2021
When did the first strand of grey hair appear on my head? I ask myself this question more as a starting point for contemplating the changing of this body, rather than with an actual need of knowing the exact moment when the first grey hair made its appearance.
I grew up in a culture where it was not only accepted but encouraged that women color dye their hair. It was not so much about the experimentation of changing an outer identity based on hair color; rather the emphasis landed on the side of social appearance. There seemed to be an unspoken agreement that women didn't get older; they just dyed their hair.
Personally, I experimented with changing my hair color a handful of times. At first I used a home treatment that was henna-based, turning my already dark brown hair closer to a shade of almost black. After a few more home treatments of different formulations, I went to the hair salon and tried 'highlights' for the first time. That was the last time I changed the color of my hair.
One day I noticed a silver strand of hair amongst all the dark brown strands cascading from my head. I was fascinated. I wondered what I would eventually look like with a full head of grey hair. Growing up, there were not many examples of what women looked like with their natural hair color as they aged. Among many of the cultural shifts taking place, the emphasis on seeing oneself represented in the various forms of media has shifted a needed conversation. There is a greater welcoming and acceptance for allowing the true beauty of oneself to be seen and expressed without fear of condemnation because one does not conform to a set of unrealistic and illusory social rules.
Recently, I was delighted to find a story that NHPR published about Portsmouth photographer Nancy Grace Horton. Using her platform as an artist, she has "been working on projects that address women, gender and identity over several years." Her exhibit, titled "Becoming Grey", explores the questions, values, cultural perceptions of women aging through greying hair.
I delight whenever I discover the appearance of more silver strands amongst the dark brown ones. Sometimes, I separate out the one or two silver hairs from the dark brown ones that I find in my brush, a kind of wonderment that they exist. I think that what I find most fascinating most of all is the ability to observe the outward changes of the slow progression of time. We don't notice day-to-day the changes of growth and age, of shedding an old self to inhabit a new self. But the greying of hair is an observable change, one that is more distinguishable from the rest of the body.
For me, embracing these changes allows me to reflect on the temporariness of our time here, in this body and in this life. It brings me back into the present moment, to reflect on the importance of loving what we have here and now, to appreciate what and who is important, and to be grateful.
(This post is an update of the earlier version written in September 2020, updated on 9-22-2021)