On the Precipice of 50: Gray Hair, Vanity, and Breaking Free

In less than three months, I will turn 50.  As is often the case with milestone birthdays, I am experiencing some anxiety around moving into a new decade and have been giving a lot of thought to the transition and what it means to me.   Although it could be said that it’s just a number and age doesn’t really mean anything, that’s not how I’ve been feeling.   I decided to do a few “stream of consciousness” posts leading up to the big day (August 8) to share my thoughts and insights. This first post will focus on issues related to my appearance, specifically around my hair.

50th birthday cake

But You Don’t Look 50…

I’m often told that I don’t look 50 and I take that as a compliment.  It’s nice to look younger, especially since I have not yet availed myself of Botox, fillers, or plastic surgery (save the rhinoplasty I had following a bicycle accident at age 20).   But there is one thing I do to stay looking younger, I color my hair.  I started to go gray in my mid-thirties, so I’ve been having my hair professionally colored since that time.  This really wasn’t a problem for many years, but the interval at which it was necessary kept getting shorter and shorter.

I’m now at least 75% gray and have my roots touched up every four weeks.  However, I start to get a gray stripe along my part even before the two week mark rolls around.

23-day gray growth

This is what my hair looks like with 23 days of gray outgrowth.

Thus, I have to use a color spray from that point on.  It does the trick, but it doesn’t look as natural or attractive as I’d like.  I refuse to visit a salon more often than monthly, though, and I don’t want to do my own coloring at home (I cringe at the mess and I doubt I would be happy with the result).

gray cover spray close-up

Here’s a close-up of my part after I use the gray cover spray. 

On “Hair Prison” and Fighting a Losing Battle

In addition to coloring my hair, I continue to maintain a relatively long style.  I love the look of long, straight hair, but my dirty little secret is that my natural hair is not at all straight.  It’s unevenly wavy and quite frizzy (likely due to the gray), and the hair that others see is the result of my slaving over a flat-iron on a daily basis.   I’m accustomed to doing it and I never used to mind, but now I don’t even get the desired result anymore.   Because my hair is more fragile than it used to be, I have to use a very low heat setting on the flat-iron, so it often doesn’t get as straight as I’d like.  Plus, a few moments in humidity is all it takes for my hair to puff up and ruin the lovely smooth look I worked so hard to create.

While I was known for years for my pretty hair, the truth is that it’s not very pretty anymore.  It’s dry and damaged and I had to have it layered about three years ago because it was breaking off.   I’ve been trying to grow out the layers ever since, but my hair keeps breaking and splitting, getting in the way of that goal.  I’m sure that my less than ideal health isn’t helping matters there.   I often feel like I’m fighting a losing battle, but I don’t know what else to do.   Even some stylists have told me that I have “difficult hair” and they would probably do the same thing I’m doing.

Back in November 2014, I wrote about what I’ve termed “hair prison” in one of my most emotionally raw posts to date.   After re-reading my words the other day, I realize that I haven’t changed much at all. If anything, I’m worse than I was back then in terms of my vanity and resistance to change.   I continue to cling to my old image and identity, of which long straight auburn hair is a big part.   In truth, I really don’t know who I am without so-called pretty hair.   I’m ashamed to admit that, but I’m doing so in the hopes that “the truth shall set you free” will apply to me and will release me from my self-imposed bondage.

A Price Increase and My Friend’s Story

At my last hair appointment, my stylist told me that she needed to raise the price she was charging me for her services.   Because the increase was quite steep, I started to ponder doing something I explored last year but was talked out of when I mentioned it to my stylist.  I’m considering stopping the coloring and going gray.   Not only would that save me a lot of time and money, it would also be liberating for me as a person.  But the question is, can I let go of my vanity enough to do it?

A few months back, a friend of mine made the transition.  She’s just four months older than I am and retired from her long-term job last year.  Like me, she had fairly long brown hair and had to color her roots every few weeks.   She had switched to doing it herself because of the expense of salon coloring, but wasn’t very happy with the fuss or the results.  As she approached her 50th birthday, she decided to just stop.  After all, she wasn’t going into an office every day anymore and didn’t need to maintain a certain look for professional reasons.

After three months of growing out her gray roots, my friend walked into a salon and asked a stylist to cut her hair off at the line of demarcation.   She walked out with extremely short hair, but her transition was done.  I saw her a week or so later and was both shocked and impressed by what she had done.  I probably annoyed her with my incessant questions and comments, but I truly marveled at her courage.  She chose freedom over vanity, which was a choice that I didn’t think I could make.  I still don’t know if I can make that choice, although I really wish I could.   I think it would be empowering for me and would help me to grow and change in important ways.

I saw my friend again a few weeks ago and her hair had grown in nicely.   It now has more of a style to it and the color (mostly grey but with some dark patches in the front) looks good with her skin tone.   She looks attractive and seems more relaxed and at peace with herself.  She plans to grow hair out to bob length and see how she feels and whether or not she wants to go longer.  She really only had to go through six months or so of an awkward period, first with growing out the roots and then with having extremely short hair.   She was able to see the big picture and make a choice that would be better for her in the long run.

What Matters More to Me?

My decision to let go of hair color is not just about what I look like; it’s also about my health.  There are a lot of toxic chemicals in hair dye, even some of the ones that are supposed to be more natural.  When  a person gets their hair colored as often as I do, it’s an important consideration, especially when I already know that I’m chemically sensitive and have a lot of health issues that I haven’t been able to overcome.  Surely, my health needs to be more important than my vanity.   I have investigated an organic hair color option, but even if I go that route, my roots will still need to be touched up quite often, so the expense and hassle will be much the same as they have been.

Inspired by my friend’s story, I recently joined a Facebook group for women who are transitioning or have transitioned to their natural gray hair.   There I read stories of women who feel better about themselves now that they have broken free from the slavery of coloring their hair every few weeks.  I also saw pictures of many attractive women with lovely silver locks. Not all of them opted for a pixie cut like my friend did; some sported two-tone hair as they grew out their natural hair color.   Some women use highlights to soften the harsh “skunk stripe,” but that really isn’t an option for me given the poor condition of my hair. It would surely break off if it were ever to come into contact with bleach.   I could use grey clip-in extensions to make things look more natural, but no matter what I will have to face looking less than my best for a period of time if I decide to get off the color train.

Then there is also the matter of my hair texture. While it’s possible that stopping color could improve my hair’s condition and texture, I may still have to give up on having long, straight hair.  I have a hard time envisioning that I could ever look attractive with an alternate style, but there has to be a chance of that.  Strangely, I am less afraid of facing the gray than I am of either cutting my hair short or trying to manage my natural texture somehow.   But I cannot fully express how tired I am of living in “hair prison,” so I have to find a way out somehow.  It’s simply not sustainable to keep living the way I am, not if I want to continue to grow and evolve.  There has to be more to my self-worth than the way I look and especially more to it than just my hair!

I Don’t Have the Answers

I don’t have the answers yet and I don’t know what I’m going to do.  I’m mostly just thinking aloud here and sharing my thoughts. I know that you don’t have the answers for me, either, but perhaps some of you can relate to my struggle. I realize that what I’m talking about are “first world problems.”  I know that many women around the world don’t have the luxury to think about whether their hair is auburn or gray or straight or frizzy.  I also know that thousands of women lose their hair every day from chemotherapy.  That was the case for a friend of mine a few years ago and now she has made peace with both her natural color and texture.   Surviving was far more important to her than grappling with her hair woes. In fact, when she first started to lose her hair, she asked her son to shave her head and didn’t even cry when he did it.

People have often praised my courage for writing this blog, but I have never considered myself to be a very brave person.  I’m actually ashamed at how obsessed I am with my appearance and how I cling to my youthful image so fearfully.  I let fear stop me in so many areas of life and I’m tired of that.   I want to be free, but I don’t know how to make it happen.   If outing myself and my intense vanity will help me to break free – or if it might inspire someone else out there to break the chains of their self-imposed bondage, it’s worth my embarrassment in writing this post.

I don’t know what my 50’s will be like, but I do know that I have at least some control over how they will shape up for me.  I know that I don’t want more of the same.  My hair issues are just the tip of the iceberg.  I also want to change and break free in other important areas, some of which I have written about previously and others which I will address in future posts.   The last thing I want is to look back two, three, or five years from now (or even one) and see more of the same. I don’t want to continue to feel like a broken record in terms of my complaints.   I may feel helpless and powerless to change, but I know I’m really not. I may not be able to overcome all of my health issues (although I will certainly keep trying), but there are some things I can change.   It may be silly to get so worked up about my hair, but perhaps that’s where my metamorphosis will begin…


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Comments

  1. Sarah E says:

    Debbie, bravery is feeling scared and doing something in spite of it. So I think that makes you very brave. Every week you come here and write vulnerable things even though it’s scary. You are amazing and have hundreds of people who will love you no matter what your hair looks like. Will you love yourself?
    Also something we fail to realize as women is that we are all faking it to some extent. Think of a person whose hair you are jealous of. I’m 100% sure that she also has problems with her hair and is self conscious about it sometimes too!!
    Have you considered a temporary hair color while your permanent color grows out? I’m sure the right stylist could do that at the salon. And you only have to look to our beautiful friend Terra to see how awesome a silver Bob looks!!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      This was a wonderful first comment to get on this post, Sarah. Thank you so much for your kind words. Loving myself has been a very big challenge and something I’m still working on. I do better with it sometimes than others… Good point that those whose hair I’m jealous of likely have some problems with it, too.

  2. Debbie, Maybe just tackle this challenge like that of not shopping?: resolve not to color your hair one day at a time and it will grow out to a length where you can cut it. One thing you can count on is that hair will grow. I turned 60 this year and haven’t colored my hair since I was in my late 30s, so now it is 75% gray. But, like you, I have cool coloring and I really think that as our skin gets more faded with age, dyed hair contrasts too harshly and really is not flattering. I spend money on a good contemporary haircut and people tell me that it looks attractive. Aging has really been a liberating experience for me–such a huge relief to let go of so much anxiety about not being good enough. Don’t get me wrong, I still like to dress stylishly and try to appear vibrant and youthful, but I have made peace with getting older and becoming more of the kind of person I always wanted to be, i.e., less fixated on myself and more oriented toward others. I think you will find your fifties a fulfilling decade. You are so much stronger than you realize, and you should know that just as you are compassionate and nonjudgmental towards people, most people are also generous in their perceptions of others, or, if not, are too busy worrying about their own flaws and inadequacies to notice 🙂

  3. I agree with Dianne above, I have cool coloring as well and I think that’s mainly what caused me to become dissatisfied with my hair color over the years – ironically it made me look washed out and older. By going gray, it actually made my skin appear younger and I started getting comments on how striking my eyes were – the color and shorter cut allowed people to see my face rather than just a mass of brown hair. I won’t lie and say it was easy, and I still occasionally have moments when I think wistfully about my lost youth, but all the compliments I’ve received have convinced me that it really was the right decision.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Your eyes definitely stand out more now, Tara, and your hair color complements your skin tone very nicely. I’m glad you think you made the right decision. I still think you’re very brave and you’re courage is helping me (and I’m sure others, too) to make the change, too. Perhaps it will be like a domino effect and I will be able to help others with this as well.

  4. A lot of women, and some men, use or have their hair as a blanket or a shield. Hair is imbued with a lot of power in our culture, so it’s hard to let go what we are so often told to do with it. You really are brave, to speak to your fears and to want to move past them. I think many people can barely acknowledge fear, let alone conquer it. I’ve had a pixie cut off and on now for 11 years, and despite all world telling me how great my long hair was ( it wasn’t), I know that this is the right thing for me. I feel powerful and alive with short hair. You may not. But at least you are thinking about what would make you happy and help you enjoy life! I’m pro- aging and the wisdom that comes with it( most of the time 🙂 ) . You have done so much to live openly and honestly, you should be proud of who you are and all the work you have done! Hair grows back – I cut mine off in agony and anger, and I’ve never regretted it. It was freeing. I do regret letting others and my fear hold me back. Sometimes when the consequence are mild, I think we have to jump! You know what you want – to be free of harsh chemicals and broken hair. Go for it! Or switch to henna for a transition? Whatever you do or don’t do – if you chose it for yourself, that’s enough. Your lovelyness comes from inside and we are glad to share in it.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I was very inspired by your comment, Cassie! I love that you have embraced your pixie cut even if others prefer you with long hair. It’s what you think and feel that matters most and I applaud your courage and resolve of listening to your own voice rather than the opinions of others.

  5. Debbie, I do understand your feelings. I’ve struggled to accept that I’m no longer the young, beautiful girl I once was, but – the truth is – I didn’t appreciate THEN what I had, and it’s an effort to appreciate NOW what I have! My health is my #1 priority, but of course I still care deeply about how I look. I try to remember that, without good health, nothing else will matter. So I use as few chemicals as possible, in my food, in my home, and on my body.
    I transitioned to gray a few years ago, first getting highlights and a short haircut (to make the growth less obvious), then experimenting with new styles as it grew longer. Now I can’t imagine taking the time, money, and physical risk of coloring my hair. Yes, my coloring has changed. Yes, I’ve had to adjust to different styling and products to accommodate changed hair texture. And I certainly look older than 35. But I’m not the same woman I was in my 30’s! I treasure my hard-fought wisdom – and like the outward signal to others that I am both seasoned and authentic. And I get more compliments on my hair than ever in my life!
    My advice: give it a try – let your gray come in. The worst that can happen is that you’ll enjoy a few months of relief from maintenance, and you might find you like the person underneath better than you thought. If it doesn’t work for you, then explore natural color options. Your beautiful smile and spirit is always unchanged. Hugs, my friend!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you, Sybil! I appreciate your sharing your wisdom here. I think you look lovely with your silver hair and the short cut looks very nice, too. You’re so right that health needs to be the number one priority and we need to appreciate what we have!

  6. Hadilly says:

    Hey Debbie,

    I am 45 and have let my hair go grey. My hair used to be dark brown, but was becoming more and more white at the front. Very frustrating when a dye job only looks good for two days! I went to my local Aveda salon and set up cut and color consultations. I let my hair grow out for about two months and then had color done. The colorist lifted as much tint as she could and put in lots of blond streaks to break of the line of demarcation. I then got an excellent haircut, short, and undercut with a long swoosh of bangs. Think Michelle Williams. I think I spent about $1000 in total to do that twice, so not cheap but worth it to me to do it well.

    It is almost all grown out now and I love it. It is a little weird to look in the mirror and see pale hair rather than dark. I am happy I made the change.

    I think it is really becoming, much more so than the harsh brassy brown I had. At a certain point, that looks really aging. Plus I am having fun experimenting with paler, more pastel colors.

    Sounds like you are really frustrated with your hair. I wholeheartedly encourage you to go grey.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Sounds like your hair looks great now, Hadilly! I love reading success stories like this one, as it helps me to believe that I can be one, too. Congrats on getting out of “hair prison”!

  7. Hi Debbie sincexw met when I was on holiday in San Diego I have not coloured my hair and the grey is coming through. I’m 45. Once your hair has transitioned you may find black does not look so good on you and a gradual wardrobe transition is also needed.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Good for you for starting the transition, Ruthie! I would be super sad if I couldn’t wear black anymore 🙁 One of my friends said she could never wear black UNTIL she went gray, so you never know…

  8. Hi Debbie,
    I think that you could be nice with grey hair and a modern hairstyle. My mother has a nice gray hair (she let it turn naturally in gray) and everybody tell her that it is going well for her. Aspecially because she is still dinamic and takes care of her look.
    I would wondering how you would look like with your frizzy hair. You should show us once!
    I think coloration and ironing is very bad for the hair. Let you hair free and liberate it!
    Yes, a stilist can say that you have a difficult hair but a good stilist can make miracles even with a frizzy gray hair! 🙂

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I seriously doubt I will ever post a frizzy hair photo on the Internet, Dory! I’m willing to pour my heart out here, but I have my limits (LOL). Yes, I fight against my hair too much, but baby steps…

  9. CristiLu says:

    Debbie, thank you for being yourself, with all it takes, and putting it all out there in the open. I am absolutely positive about all of this being perfectly normal. In fact, I know people who worry more about their appearance, and some of them are in their 30s. Yes, you are a brave person, I just think you need to know that you have more friends than you probably think. (To me you are a friend, so I will write you a proper e-mail soon, if that’s OK.) On topic: Could you try a silver spray or something like that, just to check what it feels like having all-grey hair before making a decision? As for the real friends, I know that you could wear green stripes and pink polka dot highlights in your hair and they would not mind, they would even be happy for you being happy with it.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Of course, you are welcome to write to me, CristiLu! I’m very lucky to have such wonderful and caring readers. I know I have friends all over the world!

  10. I echo many of the others above, you are brave and hair is sooo personal. It defines how we see ourselves. There have been huge advancements to hair care for those with frizzy/curly hair so you may not have the problems you anticipate. I have been in transition with highlights so don’t have the large grow out pattern, but I’m ashy brown. I use to do all over blonde. When I cut my hair to bob length and started highlights instead of all over color my hair became healthier and less toxic. Currently I still do limited highlights to create depth three to four times a year. In this age of computers, I’m sure you can experiment with color and style before making the choices. If that isn’t an option I would pick a brave older actress, business woman etc that you believe has the same facial shape and coloring and see how they look and how they handled the process. With all the health issues you have getting to the “natural” the quickest would seem the be the best way, but you have to do whatever makes you feel the best. Everyone eventually faces these decisions so you are not alone. Can’t wait to see what direction you take. What an adventure!

  11. Debbie–I am approaching not 50, but 70, and have never colored my hair. It is mainly laziness but also the belief that advancing age is not a negative thing for either men or women. My hair is salt and pepper, and I have continued to prefer wearing blue to go with my eyes and my skin. I do notice an increasingly polite public as they offer me seats hold doors, and let me smile at their babies with no fear. That might have happened with dye anyway, as I do have wrinkles!
    Health is another reason not to color: oncologists have advised a couple of my acquaintances against hair dye.
    Good luck deciding! You will still be the beautiful blogger who is so sensitive to her readers.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Congrats on never coloring your hair, Helen! I agree that advancing age shouldn’t be a negative thing for either men or women. Good for you for not giving in to societal pressures.

  12. Cornelia says:

    I just turned 60 but am told that I do look much younger, and indeed my face has held up quite nicely. :))
    As a warm colored brunette, I had been warned that gray would make me look washed out, but I decided to take the bull by the horns, and my hair color is a definite salt and pepper. The texture is not as nice anymore as it used to be, especially on humid days and it has thinned. In order not to look like a crazy cat lady, I maintain a once-a-month cut at the salon. At the moment my bob is chin length, with the hot and humid summer approaching it will be a bit shorter with more layers. No drastic changes, but vigilant maintenance because I need to have my hair looking good and healthy in order to feel good. And let’s face it, only the very young look good in messy hair…. You will no doubt come to the conclusion that balances time/money/vanity.

  13. Charlene says:

    Debbie…It is comforting to read the support, care, and concern for you of the previous commenters. Recently, I met with a friend who had decided to let go and go gray. Like you, she was tired of the tyranny of her hair color maintenance. I was absolutely struck by her transformation! She looked ten years younger! Gone was the harsh contrast between her complexion and her dye color. Her eyes seemed brighter! Her face was radiant when I praised her choice. I should mention that we are both approaching seventy.
    I have not dyed my hair but have allowed it to take on its natural salt and pepper appearance. I am thankful for healthy hair and a stylist who keeps it very current in a short cut. I have chosen to spend my money on my complexion. Within a very limited budget, I have chosen to seek a skincare regime that keeps my skin as fresh and supple as possible. My intent is to look my best at this stage of my life…not to stay young. Your friend, Bridgette Raes, has a wonderful post about the difference in “dressing young vs. dressing youthful”. I have taken her adage to heart in several other areas of my appearance.
    May this post and its commenters support you in the choice you make for yourself, Debbie. You have faced your concerns both honestly and publicly. Thank you for adding to the rich blog-world discourse about looking into the mirror as we women age. May the conversation continue to grow and enrich our lives and our choices.

  14. nutrivore says:

    Debbie, I had dry frizzy, very breakable hair. Two months ago, I stopped using shampoo and conditioner. I blended together organic aloe vera gel (from amazon) and coconut milk in equal parts, made ice cubes and put them in a container in the freezer. Each week, I take three ut and out it in the fridge to thaw. Thrice a week I take one of these thawed ice cubes and massage the liquid into my hair (with longer hair you may need more than one). After five minutes or so, I rinse it off in the shower in warm (not hot) water. The rest of the week, I wash my hair with plain warm water.

    Even when I go for a haircut, I ask them not to shampoo my hair. Yesterday my hairdresser commented on how soft and manageable my hair has become. The aloe-coconut oil mix has the perfect pH that lets your scalp naturally manage the state of your hair. Try it.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thank you for all of the hair advice, Nutrivore! I have heard of the “no poo” approach but have never tried it. Glad it’s working so well for you. Wondering if you just massage the liquid into your roots or throughout the entire length of your hair.

  15. nutrivore says:

    And aloe gel plus vegetable glycerine (equal parts) makes a great conditioner. Leave it in while swimming, or generally to soften your hair, then rinse.

  16. nutrivore says:
  17. I feel I can totally relate to you wanting to hold onto your old hair of your youth, particularly because in your case, I’ve seen some of your older pics and you really had an awesome mane! If I had hair like yours I would mourn it as well.

    I relate to the fear of change to gray and the uncertainties over what it will be like, though perhaps I am in the extreme because I remember being terrified of my period when it first started. Familiar is comforting. New is not.

    All that said, I’m excited to see your new gray hair! I’ve actually seen super young girls with gray dye jobs. Not sure how long this recent fad will last, but it goes to show that gray isn’t necessarily a stigma at all. I remember a boyfriend whose mom had piercing eyes and light silver gray hair. Went gray quite young. I saw an old photo of her with dark hair and actually preferred the gray because I thought it really brought out her eyes.

  18. I think you are very brave to share this with your blog audience. A couple of thoughts – first, when I decided to retire and stop coloring my hair, my hairdresser used semi-permanent color, and at each six-week visit would use a lighter color. Eventually, I was able to stop coloring because the dye and the color were getting closer in tone, and the growing out gray blended pretty well. I have gotten compliments on my gray hair, which rarely happened earlier. A key is getting excellent haircuts, and it took me a while to find the right stylist. Second, at age 60 I realized that my teeth seemed to be getting more crooked. I made the decision quickly that I wanted them straight and knew that the year and a half process wouldn’t be fun, but it would be over. And, it was – not fun at all, but also over and now my teeth are straight. The lesson is that it will always take the same amount of time to grow out one’s hair or straighten one’s teeth, so why not start now so you can see the results!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Love these stories, Nancy! You’re right that it’s good to start now. It’s been less than a year since my friend started her transition journey and she looks great. She had to go through some rough patches, but she’s free now and I’m still struggling… Congrats on your lovely gray hair and your straight teeth!

  19. Claudette says:

    I don’t know if you follow Imogen’s blog/website… She had very dark hair,and found the time between coloring it was getting more often, she slowly transitioned to a light Color and looks better than ever…I was surprised, and don’t know if her hair Color now is natural or coloured…she is in Australia, the trick is likely to find a great colorist, best wishes on your journey to finding what you love!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Yes, I remember those posts, Claudette. I would love to do what Imogen did, but unfortunately my hair is too damaged to withstand the bleaching that would be required to lighten my hair. I agree that she looks great, though!

  20. I am on the precipice of 60 and have let my highlights stop. Having blonde hair makes it a bit easier I think. I don’t miss the trips to the salon and the $$ going out of my wallet. It was a hard decision but I don’t regret it. I found a hairdresser who specializes in transitioning to gray. She put a toner on the highlights on the bottom. The texture of my hair is better. This summer I am getting a color consult for makeup from my color guy John Kitchener in Oakland. This is a treat for me as I’ve never had it done. Do what you want with your hair. My husband wasn’t on board and one day I gave it to him and said leave me alone about my hair. None of us want to get “older”. I try to find things about my appearance to be grateful for so I don’t obsess about my age. Be kind to yourself and find happiness with your decision!

  21. It’s a difficult decision! Around 3 years ago, I was going in every three weeks for haircolor – I felt like it had turned into a part-time job. Also I was worried about all those chemicals soaking into my scalp every 3 weeks. I had thought that I would always color my hair, mainly because I have very fair skin, and my fair-skinned grandmothers did not look good in their later years. But I realize now, it wasn’t the so much the color as the cut, and their general lack of attention to makeup and skin health. In my case I have taken the middle path: I get blonde highlights and a few lowlights every seven weeks now. I need the lowlights because I’m about 50% gray, so they soften the dark grow out stripe. The advantage of high and low lights is that the chemicals are on foils and don’t have much contact with your skin. I know you said your hair is too damaged for this approach, but if you try growing it out and end up not liking it, you could go back and add high or low lights on the newer, healthier hair. I suspect you will look lovely in gray hair though!

    I have to smile when I read about all you go through with straightening your hair, because my hair was always naturally straight, and I grew up listening to my mother and grandmother telling me how much more attractive I would look if I curled my hair. So I spent my teen years sleeping in brush or foam rollers (ouch!), and using hot rollers, blow dryers and curling irons. I was never very good at it, and my mother and grandmother were quite critical about the results. When curly perms were in style in the 80s, I permed my hair for awhile. And then, one day I just decided it was all too much. So I had my hair cut to about collar bone length after telling the stylist that I needed a no-work style. Any stylist that was scornful of this was replaced immediately. I’m 60 now, and for the past 30 years or so my hair routine is to wash it, brush it out, fluff it with my hands a bit, and let it air dry. Ironically, I get more compliments now than when I was younger, although never from my mother, lol. Sorry to go on so long, but my point is that it is a relief not to fight one’s hair – it opens up time and energy for other things!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I hear you about it feeling like a part-time job, Murphy! I don’t like the trajectory I’m on… I refused to color more often than every 4 weeks, but it certainly needs it more often. Your middle path sounds like a good one and I may end up doing something similar. I think I could get the lowlights but not the highlights (since they require bleach).

      I’m sorry you fought your natural texture for years, too, but I congratulate you on breaking free. Having an easy hair routine feels so far away for me, but I would love for that to happen. I can imagine it’s such a relief for you!

  22. I think we get anxious when what we see in the mirror doesn’t match the image of ourselves we hold in our heads. Can you imagine what you want to look like with gray hair? Is it long and silky gray or a spikey gray pixie or a sleek gray bob or… Gather pictures of beautiful women with gray hair. Imagine yourself as one of those gray beauties. Maybe try one of the transition methods mentioned above. Or just dive in and color your hair gray. You can do that now, they have a multitude of shades of silver… Gone are the days of blue haired ladies… Unless you like blue. Ask your colorist to match your natural gray if you want to make the transition but retain the length of your hair. Or if your hair could not withstand the processing, try just transitioning to a shorter style in anticipation of the big chop. Life is about change at any age, so make the most of it!

  23. I think you would absolutely rock with bob-length wavy grey hair! I would love that myself, but it won’t happen. I have short Afro hair that I wear in natural twists but, oh, do I feel a fraud. People feel I’m this strong black women rocking natural hair when I slavishly colour my hair every four weeks so I am not au naturel at all. I’m 43 and completely paranoid of going grey before I get my next big job. I don’t think I can be grey yet as a female lawyer (even though it is almost mandatory for men at the same level to be sporting a minimum of 30% grey). My boss (completely) grey suggested I might want to consider straightening my hair as it is the preferred look for the professional black female, but I can’t both dye and chemically straighten – that would kill off my fine hair I think. I thank you for being brave and for providing a non-judgemental platform for sharing.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      It sounds like you are in a much worse bind than I am, Janet. I know that both dyeing and chemically straightening is extremely damaging to the hair. I have done it myself and my hair barely survived it! I hate that there’s such a double standard in terms of gray hair. I hope it won’t always be that way. I would like to be one of the people who is bucking the trends and taking a stand that gray can be beautiful for women, just as it’s “distinguished” on men.

  24. Two years ago I let my hairstylist dye my hair red. I had always longed for red hair. (My natural color was cendré) I loved the new color. It made me feel creative and happy for a couple of weeks. Then I started to notice my grayish hair again. Every fourth week I had to renew the color. I love my hairstylist. She is so inspiring. She was the one who helped med to dare wearing red hair. But after about a year I just felt that now´s the time to let the color go and let the silvery hair out. And now it´s here. My hairstylist helped through the period. I´ve not regretted it a minute. I love my new grayish hair. I goes well with my skin and eyecolor. I wear other colors on my clothes. I’m reborn. I feel liberated. So go for it, Debbie!

  25. Honest question: is there a reason to not just switch from permanent to using semi-permanent color for a year or so, and then let that fade once the semi-permanently dyed section is long enough to cut off the rest? I’m sure there could be a difference in tone – maybe? – and it requires a few more months of dyeing, but it surely it wouldn’t be as noticeable as a gray bar or a pixie cut…
    (although: yes, you’d go slowly gray over just a few weeks once it was grown out and you stopped dyeing it. But you could also just use progressively less of the semi-permanent dye, and sort of stretch that process out if you wanted.)
    I ask because that was my plan, eventually…hoping to avoid the awkward stage!

    • Rachel I tried semi permanent because it does work for some hair types, but it stained my hair instead of fading like it does for some people, and required me to cut my hair short and start growing out the gray all over again.

      • Hmmm….I guess I’ll have to experiment a bit! As I recall — and it’s been a looong time — my hair soaks it up like a sponge, although a tiny bit of the gray tended to not take…but I could never tell if that was just because I’m lousy at putting ANY sort of dye on my own head without missing spots. I guess I’ll find out. Thanks!

        • Hi Rachel,
          Just piping up as another sometimes user of semi-permanent dye. I think your strategy has some merit. I’m 40 and have used both semi- and permanent hair color for fun and for texture. I’ve always liked the look of roots growing in and am fond of my little white hairs that have started appearing, so luckily I never felt like I had to stay on a certain coloring schedule and am fortunate it works for my lifestyle.
          When my white-ish hairs sprouted, I noticed that the semi-permanent dye affected them kinda like you describe – the color did not take as much and seemed to wash out in a matter of weeks, while my brown hairs took the color like Terra describes, where it morphed into a “stain” that was different than the original color on the box. I guess even our grey, white, salt/pepper or whatever hair can react differently to the semi-permanent dyes – just wanted to add another data point. Don’t know until we try, I suppose! I actually enjoyed the changing look/color, kinda funky and cool.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I had that question, too, Rachel, and I’m glad that both Terra and Claire chimed in with their experiences. I think it would be a risk for sure. The lowlighting I am pondering would use semi-permanent color. I know it would likely prolong the process, but I don’t know if I am “zen” enough to deal with the skunk stripe inches down my head or brave enough to cut my hair into a short pixie like my friend did.

  26. Everyone always wants what they don’t have…I have the stick straight hair and use a curling iron every day to give my hair bounce and body. Otherwise it just hangs and there is no fluff to it. I hate my straight hair!! As for color, I have been coloring it for 30 years, about every 6 weeks. The color helps give my hair some much needed thickness and bounce. Of course, I do it to cover the gray as well. Not sure if I could ever let it go all gray.

    On a side not, I think you would look great with some wispy bangs …plus the” part” in your hair would be less noticeable. Just a thought. Thanks for being so honest about your feelings.

  27. Cindy l says:

    I found that going natural was one of the most difficult things I ever did (how vain am I?). When I was 48 I had been coloring my hair for 20 years. I started going gray in high school. I couldn’t stand the skunk stripe every two weeks, plus the time and money spent. My husband was my best supporter, almost everyone else thought I was crazy. I was surprised how people thought it was okay to continually make comments such as you’ll look older. Going gray was unheard of in my community. These comments brought out my stubborn side and made me more determined than ever to end my relationship with hair dye. My hair stylist was very against my decision so I found another. Unfortunately she didn’t know how to make this transition and I looked pretty ridiculous for about a year. I wore my medium length hair piled on top of my head until it grew out enough to cut it. Looking back (I’m 59 now) I’m amazed that my husband and I are still together. I drove him crazy with my stressing out about my appearance. Some days I would love my hair and other days it was all I could do to not run to the drugstore for hair dye. I would dream about my beautiful dark hair and my glory days. For heavens sake it’s just hair. Fast forward to now. I love my beautiful silver hair. People stop me on the street to talk about how Great I look. I get more complements than ever. Even my 18 year old grandson loves it. What I have learned is that your hair color doesn’t define you. We are so much more than that. Embrace the change and free yourself. PS: You can always color it again if you want. lol!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Cindy. I can see how going gray could be one of the most difficult things you’ve ever done. I think it may be for me, too. I can see how the negative comments would make you more determined than ever. I’m rebellious like that, too… I’m already driving my husband crazy talking about this, poor guy! I love that your story has a happy ending and that you love your hair now. So inspiring!

  28. It is one crazy society that tells women that their value is based on their worth, causes them fret over it and feel guilty for not being perfect, and then feel ashamed for worrying about it so much? That my friend, is a no win roller coaster from hell. Give yourself a break. You’re human, you don’t have to be perfect, and you are still worthy and loved. We all struggle with those feelings.

    I agree with other commenters: go for it! Even if it feels scary to break the “rules” it will be liberating. Free yourself from hair prison! Come up with your exit strategy (aka transition plan). Your hair will likely get healthier if you’re not coloring and flat ironing it. Plus, I agree that you’d look great with a wavy silver bob!

    I am a big fan of shampoo bars (yes, a bar of shampoo). They’re gentle, non-toxic, eco-friendly, travel-friendly, inexpensive, and break that annoying oily-dry yoyo cycle of traditional shampoos. I use jr ligetts and camamu.

    Maybe try less frequent shampooing and in less hot water; those are both very drying

    Also, eating enough healthy fats makes a huge difference in having shiny, healthy hair and skin (and it helps regulate mood, as well).

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Amen to your first paragraph, cm! Thanks for your advice. I don’t wash my hair often and eat lots of healthy fats, but haven’t tried shampoo bars yet. I hadn’t even heard of them before I saw your comment!

  29. Google “ladies with gray hair” and click on the images tab. There are many beautiful ladies with gray hair. Contrary to society’s belief, old is not ugly. Society has made us afraid of looking old. Youth fades, but inner and outer beauty does not. I understand how you feel. I hope that I have the courage to not dye my hair when I have a lot more gray hair. I don’t know if I will, but my skin allergies may decide for me. Whatever you decide to do is okay, though.

  30. Kudos to everyone’s suggestions and encouragement. If it’s any consolation Debbie, I’ve began the process of going fully gray and stopped coloring my hair 3 months ago. I have black hair so the contrast is very apparent. My hair is past my shoulder with lots of layers and I plan to get a new edgy haircut that will accommodate the increasing amount of gray hair. I also do weekly deep conditioning treatments (homemade with organic ingredients) to keep it shiny and smooth and I highly recommend these two things – new stylish haircut and rigourous deep conditioning treatments to combat the frizz and recover the health of your hair. As jarring as going gray may seem at first, I’m certain once you take tangible steps to make the change, you will immediately see and feel the advantages instead of seeing it as a drawback.

    To start, get a new hairdresser! A truly good hairdresser is someone that will be excited that you are embracing your gray hair and give helpful solutions instead of talking you out of it. I found my current hairdresser (whom I adore) by asking a woman’s hair that I admired on the street who her hairdresser was. Most women would tell you since you are giving her a compliment. I would of never found her (my hairdresser) otherwise since none of my friends whom I would normally ask have heard of the salon she works at. Because of her, I’m actually quite excited to get more gray.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Congrats on starting the transition process, Wendy! Good advice about getting an edgy haircut and doing deep conditioning treatments. I’d love to know what you’re using for the deep conditioning. My hair needs the help! What you said about a good hairdresser is right on. I agree!

      • When I had very damaged hair, I used deep conditioning treatments from a company called Lush. you can order them online and you may even know about them already. I alternated between a product called “roots” and another called “Jasmine & Henna Fluff Ease” – did those twice a week for a month. My hair was completely transformed from a dry, overworked frizzy mess to smooth, shiny locks. Be generous with the amount you apply and let the product sit for twice as long as it recommends. I know they are a bit pricey but it’s really worth it. After your hair is healthy again, like I said mine took about a month, you can use eatable ingrediants to make a much cheaper treatment. Now I just use a mix of coconut oil and avocado for weekly deep conditioning and apple cider vingear mixed with water 2 times a week. It really makes the growing out process a lot more tolerable!

  31. Hi Debbie,
    I really loved this post. I am 46 and just started growing out my gray hair 5 months ago. I am so loving it! Freedom from the chemicals, the time spent re-dying my roots. the mess. I am so mad I didn’t do this sooner! By the way, this is coming from a 46 year old that a lot of people mistake for late 20’s! I kid you not. I dress pretty youthful, skinny jeans, leather jackets, and tons of black. I have a very rock n roll life style. People think I am a younger person dying their hair gray! Check out the Facebook page ‘Going Grey, Looking Great’ for more inspiration. I am so excited for you and do hope you give it a try. Please keep us posted.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks for sharing this, Luci – very inspiring! I will check out that Facebook group. I’m already in another one, but the more inspiration the better. Congrats on becoming free from chemicals and the dreaded roots!

  32. I think you’re amazing and a real role model for those of us who want to live a more closely examined life. Whatever you choose, we’ll be with you for the journey!

  33. Oh, my! Here I am posting again, when I have been simply reading for about a year. I am so excited to see all the support in the posts above! I remember us talking about going gray last year over coffee, and you were in such a different place… My going-grey experience mirrors many others here; I get more compliments now than I ever did with my colored hair. I cannot imagine ever going back to coloring! I discovered that the freedom isn’t from the coloring/time/financial commitment, but from the self-acceptance it communicates. That stone creates far-reaching ripples! Come join the party!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Good to see you posting here, Liz! Yes, a lot has changed in a year, but talking to people like you planted the seeds in my head back then… I remember that you did look good with gray hair. What you wrote about the freedom makes a lot of sense to me.

  34. This is a deeply inspiring and honest post, filled with wisdom and insight. Sending you love and faith. As you know I’m in my 60s and I transitioned to gray in my mid 50s. I ‘m warm toned and decided to let my hair go gray because I began to notice that wearing my hair dark was beginning to make me look older than I was. What was striking in my 40s began to look harsh in my 50s. When I first began to let my hair go gray many people told me that I would look to washed out and tried to talk me into dying my hair brown again. But I forged on and I didn’t look my best for a few years with a faded gray-brown color. Then finally the gray began to take over, and instead of looking washed out my skin tone began to glow. The lines in my face became less noticeable, and for the first time in my life black began to look great on me. Also for the first time in my life I receive a ton of compliments on my hair, and lately it has occurred to me that my identity is starting to be built around my hair, just like you are feeling. This post nearly brings me to tears, your words carry so much truth. I don’t want to allow my hair to have that much power. Also I know that the way my hair looks now is temporary. As I age it will continue to change. Lately it has begun to thin though my health is good. My hair never was very thick, and maybe it will be thinner in the future and perhaps someday I will need to return to wearing my hair very short again. I’m beginning to look around me and I see many women with beautiful short gray hair. The past few weeks hair transitions have been on my mind and I love how the universe has brought me to your journey. Let us both embrace our hair and understand that there are many ways to continue to be beautiful and that there are many ways to have beautiful hair.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Thanks so much for sharing this, Terra. You have been one of the people inspiring me most to take the plunge with going gray. I see now that once I do that, it won’t necessarily be my LAST hair transition, as we continue to evolve over time. I’m sure you will look lovely no matter how you decide to wear your hair, but you know that I understand what you’re going through now.

  35. I’m not gonna comment on the grey hair because it’s not something that’s happening to me yet, but I can tell you something about breakable, frizzy and hard to manage hair.
    I was a ballerina until I was 15. I always had to have long hair for the ballerina bun and my hair was always pulled out of my face, pinned in place with bobby pins and hair spray. The only times it was down was when I was washing it (I was sleeping with a braid otherwise it would get extremely tangled).
    When I was 15 I had an accident that prevented me to dance ever again. For the very first time, I didn’t have to wear my hair in a tight bun anymore. I discovered my hair texture then and I hated it. It wasn’t curly, but it wasn’t straight either, it was frizzy, the volume was uncontrollable. I started to flat-iron it. Everyday. I made my mom buy me “straightening” shampoo, conditioner, hair mask, serum, etc. It damaged my hair so much every time I was brushing it I felt like half my hair was on my brush.
    I decided to cut it to shoulder-length (I had it down to my butt) and the first few weeks were fine but I was still flat-ironing it and it eventually became dry and breakable and even more frizzy than before. I spend the next few years cutting it, letting it grow, coloring it, flat-ironing it, dumping tons of chemical stuff on it, then cutting it again because it was in terrible shape again.
    Until I couldn’t take it anymore and shave it all off three years ago, throwing my flat-iron away, along with all the chemical products I was using. I started anew. Now I only use natural, gentle products on my hair, I never flat-iron it, I don’t wash it often and all the frizzy/dry texture went away.
    All this story to tell you this : the more you flat-iron it, the more you use chemicals, the more frizzy and breakable and dull it’ll be. Industrial cosmetics actually provoke the damage we seek to repair by buying those cosmetics, that’s consumerism logic. Change is scary but once it’s done, it’s really for the best.
    Beside, I’m sure grey hair would look absolutely lovely on you. Also your extensive earring collection would be more noticeable, even more so if you cut your hair shorter than what you have now!

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I appreciate your sharing your hair texture journey, Cedrique. Congrats on embracing your natural texture. I know it took courage to do that. Reading your story and that of others is helping me to feel more ready to take the leap, ANY leap, toward fighting less with my hair.

  36. Carolyn says:

    I relate very much to your post. I am 55 and have been dying my hair for many years now. Like you, the period between colour has gotten shorter and shorter and my regrowth is now obvious every 2 weeks. Like you, my once glossy mane is now dry. I never even used to use conditioner on my hair and now I need conditioner and serums.

    A few years ago I also decided to stop colouring and let the grey grow out. I went about 4 months. In the end I decided I wasn’t ready for it. I decided that I had years ahead of me to be a grey haired woman and right now I wasn’t ready to be that just yet. So, I went back to the dye.

    I do it myself but NOT with supermarket dye. I buy salon dye and mix a recipe of colours myself. It’s very easy to do a root touchup yourself and I can do it whenever I want without an appointment. I can leave the regrowth a bit longer or do it if I’m going out.

    As for hair length, I cut my longer hair into a shortish hairstyle 4 years ago. I hated it. Although technically it was funky style, it was not me and it did not feel feminine to me. I don’t subscribe to the idea that a woman of a certain age can’t wear long hair. I feel sexier, more feminine and happier with longer hair. At this point in time, I’m happy to continue with the high maintenance the comes with my hair (and everything else!!!)

    • TAGgirl says:

      Carolyn, you and I are on the same page. I’m 63 and started going grey around 30 and for many years, my hair has been totally white. My “birth” hair was a very dark brown, so dark that people thought I had black hair. It’s always been naturally curly and frizzy. I was always fighting it.

      Over the years, I have tried many products, cuts and styles to work with my hair and to feel happy about it. There’s a good reason for the expression “bad hair day.” My hair sets the tone for my day. If I don’t like the way it looks, it doesn’t matter how well my clothes look on me or how cute my shoes are. I am not at all ready to have white hair. I applaud women who can go all natural and love that they love their look, but like Carolyn, that’s not me.

      I have taken a somewhat extreme path to loving my hair. With the help of gifted stylists, I have been a blonde now for more than 15 years. I made the switch gradually, but white roots on blonde hair are far less noticeable. I use a high-end flat iron every work day and sometimes on the weekend. I shampoo twice a week using Bumble and Bumble products and only air dry my hair. I have my roots touched up professionally every two weeks as my hair grows fast. I have my hair trimmed and cut frequently to change it up and keep it current. I added bangs two years ago. I never thought I could wear bangs. Thank you, flat iron! Bangs are a lot cheaper and safer than Botox! Like Carolyn, I think it’s worth it to spend all that time and money on my hair. I will “save” my white hair for when I’m older . Different things are important to different people. What I spend my hard-earned money on is different than what other people spend their money on.

      I want my hair to match the person within. For me, that woman is a straight-haired blonde who works full-time and still has energy left over to exercise daily. Debbie, I’m sure you will find the path that works for you. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best and feel your best. Thank you so much for this thought-provoking article. Take your time on this one.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      Carolyn and TAGgirl, I appreciate your sharing your perspectives here, too. There really is no right or wrong here, but I do think it’s good for us to question things and make empowered decisions. I may end up coming to the same conclusion as both of you have, but I DO need to change SOMETHING about my hair – the color, the texture, or the length (or some combination thereof). It’s not working for me to keep doing what I’ve always done. I have faith that if I keep questioning and exploring, I will come upon what works best for me. At this point, I still don’t know what that is!

  37. Debbie, I haven’t commented before, but this post made me think what a great opportunity this will be for you to explore what might end up being a great new style statement. I absolutely see you with your natural hair color of brown and silver, perhaps cut shorter and with a bit of wave/layering/movement. There are also all kinds of products to enhance natural hair color that are protective of the hair and much easier to use than DIY coloring. Now I can’t wait to see it if you decide to stop coloring your hair!

    • Hi Debbie,
      While I am lucky in that am not at the age to need to color my hair, I understand the idea of having a “mind’s eye self.” I absolutely agree with Luna and some of the ladies here. While most of them emphasize and support you going gray, I first think you should allow your hair to keep it’s wavy texture.
      Perhaps breaking down the steps will allow a more gentle transition. Instead of 1) go natural with my hair and 2) cut it after four months of growth
      instead 1) let go of straightening, 2) let go of permanent dye, 3) do semi permanent dye instead, 4) let it grow for two months, 5) do a lighter colored dye to break up the line of demarcation, 5) let it grow for an additional two months and cut and shape it, and 6) let the lighter colored dye go.
      I think breaking it up into steps will really help make it less of a stressful transition and allow you to retain the hair length that you mention is important to you. Also, the time you allow yourself to let it grow may help you enjoy your wavy hair. I think giving yourself the time and allowing yourself to be gentle will do much more for you than just waking up and convincing yourself that “gray is the way to be!” While it may be the case for you, sudden change is hard, and being nervous about change is not something to be ashamed of! Also, sudden change can also cause regret, and you are so open and honest with everyone here, and we all would hate for you to be upset over something.
      We look forward to your changes, at whatever pace benefits you.

      • Heather says:

        I think breaking this up into steps is a really good idea. You’ve mentioned you have to ease yourself into new clothing styles sometimes, so it seems like it might work best to implement a slow and steady plan with your hair as well. The order of that is something you’d have to decide. Since humid season is coming soon, if you decide to try letting go of the flat iron (and maybe even just for helping make your hair healthier) naturallycurly.com is a really helpful site for determining what your hair needs based on all kinds of different factors. My hair is a lot like yours and it helped me go from ugly random waves to discovering my wave pattern and working with it (at least in the high humidity season).

      • Debbie Roes says:

        I appreciate these different perspectives. I’m actually MORE scared to embrace my natural texture than I am to go gray. While I like wavy/curly/big hair on others, it doesn’t feel like “me.” The me in my mind has long straight hair, but it’s not working for me anymore. That said, I do tend to do better when I ease myself into change rather than leaping in headfirst. I just want to be having SOME movement on this issue. If it takes me a while to fully transition out of “hair prison,” that’s okay. But NO movement is not a choice I want to make anymore.

        • Heather says:

          It sounds like dealing with the dye will be the best early (or only) steps for you. I will say, having dyed and flat ironed – the dye was WAY harder on my hair than flat ironing ever has been. Once that grew out, my hair became a lot healthier again. The naturally curly site does have some helpful information for determining your hair’s porosity, which I think you’d find helpful as you try to restore health to your hair. It was very eye opening to me to see that my low porosity hair was more subject to buildup than the other types, which means I have to moisturize in completely different ways, and I don’t need a lot of protein – it explains why so many things I would read about were dismal failures when I tried them. People with high porosity hair have a different set of problems, and a different set of solutions.

          • Thanks for the link, Heather, I never knew about hair porosity! I think this is important for straight and curly-haired women as well.

          • Debbie Roes says:

            I’m beginning to feel the same way, Heather, that the dyeing is more damaging to my hair than the flat-ironing. I have flat-ironed my hair for over 20 years, but it never looked bad until after 3 or 4 years ago, which coincides with more frequent dyeing. While I would like to break my flat-iron addition, too, I think getting away from the dye is more critical for both my hair and my health. I will definitely check out the information about hair porosity. I have heard of this concept before, but didn’t know how it impacts hair health. Thanks for sharing this information! A lot of the things I’ve tried on my hair haven’t worked, either, even when others had recounted “miraculous” results.

  38. Karen Comerford says:

    Hi Debbie
    I have been following your blog for well over a year now and it has helped me a great deal especially tracking my purchases and outfit photos. But what I have noticed is that you are very hard on yourself. Many women have issues with their hair or self perceived body flaws but there is nothing to be ashamed of. As we are getting older we do not have a map to tell us what to do, our generation does not want to become invisible, we want to look the best we can but are sometimes unsure how to do this. I think we should be kinder to ourselves and more accepting if possible! The main thing is that we are all still open to change and trying to enjoy the journey of life we are on.

  39. Katrina says:

    Reading your post and all the lovely comments has been very encouraging for me, as I have been struggling with the same hair color decision. I have two of my own experiences to share.
    The first is about aging in general. I think we all feel a bit shallow when we obsess about our looks, but the fact is, it’s a huge part of how we define ourselves. I actually let myself grieve over my “loss” of my youthful face and body. It sounds overly dramatic, but once I got over the anger and crying, I was ready to accept it and just be my new self.
    The second is about frizzy hair. I always thought my hair was frizzy, fuzzy, rough, and impossible, until I stopped using so much shampoo. My frizz has relaxed into shiny soft curls that I don’t feel the need to straighten. I “wash” my hair with conditioner most days and only use shampoo if there’s actual dirt in my hair (like if I’ve been gardening).
    Good luck on your hair color journey – you will look beautiful with any color hair!

  40. I am a redhead. Or rather I was. Unlike every other redhead I know I didn’t go grey/’white I went brown/white. What the hell was going on? I was planning on a few years of pale red and white followed by a chic white crop. Instead I went salt and pepper and I hated it. I am still red but it is no longer natural. Every time I go to the hairdressers I have a good look at the roots to see if I am happy enough to go natural and every time I look at the dull browny grey and wonder what on earth happened. I would love to be properly grey or even better to be white. But my hair has seriously upped the ante.

  41. Oh Debbie, you know you have my sympathy and support. I like to think that just posting this, and the thoughts you shared here, is a significant, important step in the process. I’m also reminded of a concept I learned from Havi over at the Fluent Self website – she calls it “fractal flowers” – basically it means that whatever you are working on/dealing with right now is secretly helping all the other projects/issues under the surface. Meaning, even though you would think at first glance that hair is not as important as something like your health for instance, by tending to it (hair) you are actually making a difference to that and other “bigger” issues (health or whatever) because everything is connected. I hope that makes sense, she wrote a rather lovely post about it here – http://www.fluentself.com/blog/stuckification/fractal-flowers/

    But anyway, I just wanted to encourage you that #1 your problems are valid, first world or not (I think we have to be careful about using that concept as a way to minimize/invalidate our pain), and #2 by digging in and working on it you will also be working on other issues in a more indirect and gentle way. I think this is related to self-care. I think you are on to something here.

  42. Dear Debbie,

    I haven’t read the other comments, but I’ve often thought you’d look better with shorter hair. I believed you were doing a California girl thing. (I know I have Midwest hair: shorter, easy care.) There are many mornings when I look at Norah O’Donnell on the CBS morning news and think Debbie would look good with that style. Of course, she must have someone to fuss over her hair each day.

    I colored my hair for 20 years. My husband didn’t like the wiry white hairs sticking out, so I started coloring it myself. He also influenced my going gray; he became ultra-sensitive to smells and that included hair products. It wasn’t easy. Be glad you look good in hats! Luckily, I have lovely wavy salt and pepper hair.

    I’d advise going shorter over time. You’ll know when you don’t want to bother with color. Inner beauty shines through no matter your age or hair color.

    BTW, my 99 year old mother still has her hair colored to minimize the thinness at the crown of her head. So there isn’t a right answer.

  43. Sharon W says:

    Hi Debbie. Lovely heartfelt post. I totally empathise with the turning 50 anxiety as I will be 50 in August too. I was a very pale redhead as young girl with a skin condition so I suffered terribly from bullying. My colour faded to honey blonde by my 20’s which freed me from the tyranny of hair frustration. Whilst I don’t have the same issues with hair you experience I found cutting my hair into a short graduated bob did make my face & overall look appear more youthful. I used to joke that I was Barby from the rear & Barbys mum from the front. Like other commenters I think you would look lovely with a chic bob which would really suit your new style. I adore grey hair & often save images of chic older ladies for inspiration. I am the oldest female in my family so I am grateful for all the wonderful stylish 50+ bloggers out there to show me the way. Being continuously inspired by them helps me worry less about ageing. I had major anxiety turning 30 & 40, but I am planning a celebration for my 50th. Shorter, grey hair will show off your lovely bone structure & dazzling smile. Go for it!!

  44. Hi Debbie,

    I am over 50 and planned to go gray. The only coloring I ever did to my hair was to streak it it high school Right now, it is a dark brown with a few stray gray hairs. I have permed it a few times and it is not a good look on me. Growing out a perm is awful.
    I have wavy hair that is neither straight nor curly and decided to forgo the trip to the hair salon every four weeks to get a short bob cut. (I still had to flat iron one side to make the sides match.) Right now it is to my shoulders and I just had a great blow dryer to cut down drying time. I don’t use any styling tools.

    My oldest sister has gray hair, short because she likes it short, and looks just like Judi Dench.
    There an article on More Magazine from 2004 that is available on-line (“Back to My Roots: A Diary of Going Gray “). This article turned into a book. I read the book and it had tips on how to go gray and keep it looking good.

    I wonder if you could use a color from the drugstore that washes out and just keep trimming your hair in the meantime.

    It is hard to find a stylist that knows how to cut textured hair but you could consider embracing your hair texture and seeing how that goes. You could always consider a chemical straightening at a salon to free up time from flat-ironing your hair.

    Maggie

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I bought that book last week, Maggie, after reading the article. I started reading it and am enjoying it!

      I have done chemical straightening numerous times but had a terrible reaction to a “keratin smoothing treatment” back in 2009 that made me very sick. My hair wouldn’t be able to handle any more chemicals, anyway. I know I need to learn to accept my texture, too, but one step at a time…

  45. Hi Debbie,
    I wonder if your readers have seen the documentary on Iris Apfel or the Advanced Style documentary on Netflix. There was also a BBC production called “Fabulous Fashionistas” and a few video clips are on YouTube. These women who choose to have gray hair show people how fabulous gray hair can look.

    Maggie

  46. Debbie Roes says:

    I am overwhelmed by the wonderful support and advice I have gotten in response to this post. Thank you all SO MUCH! I usually like to respond to all comments individually, but given the volume of comments here, I have decided to do a follow-up post instead. That way, others who don’t read the comments will be able to read and benefit from much of what was written here, as well as my responses. I certainly don’t want to get too off-topic with this blog, but given that so many of us have hair issues, I think a few posts on that subject are appropriate. I will probably comment a bit here and there above, but if I don’t respond to you directly, please know that I have read and appreciate every single comment given here (as well as the emails I was sent from readers). You have all given me a lot of food for thought and I am very grateful!

  47. I found it very interesting to read the posts on this topic. FYI – I follow the blog The Accidental Icon and she rocks gray hair and black. I remember reading a woman somewhere saying, “Growing older isn’t an aberration!” The website StyleLikeU has some great videoclips of women of a certain age and up.

  48. Hi Debbie, Re-reading your description of you hair as naturally wavy and prone to frizzy, reminded me that you might be interested in Susan Street’s (Fifty, not frumpy) decision during last summer’s heat and humidity to stop blow drying and flat ironing her silvery gray hair and release its natural wave: http://fiftynotfrumpy.blogspot.ca/2015/07/keep-learning.html She describes her lifelong efforts to tame her hair in terms very similar to yours, but with a stylish cut it looks buoyant and lovely in its natural state.

  49. Longtime reader says:

    I applaud you for thinking hard about steps like this. While they may seem picayune to some, gender identification has a huge impact on self esteem (and hair is a definite part of that). For most people, having your hair look a certain way (long vs. short, curly/natural vs. styled or straight) is linked to very deeply rooted ideas about what makes a woman attractive (and specifically YOU attractive) and those messages are REALLY hard to tune out.

    Just for a different perspective: As an artist I believe everyone should wear what they like. However, also as an artist, I have opinions on what looks good (which I don’t often express, since there’s rarely an opportunity to do so.) Strictly speaking aesthetically, I find the current style of very straight hair worn long generally unattractive on most women. Nothing in nature is perfectly straight….we are all a mass of curves, from grass to leaves to bodies to mountains. In the past 10 years I’ve observed very flat, straight hair take over and it looks so artificial and shapeless, as well as highlights every irregularity and flaw such as rough skin or asymmetrical features. For people with flawless, symmetrical faces it’s okay, but the majority of us do not fall into that category. Stick-straight hair worn hanging straight down points up every wrinkle, bump and discoloration because the juxtaposition of smooth and perfect vs. human and imperfect is right there in your face (literally). I’m not trying to single you out Debbie just offering a perspective that may be different than your own.

  50. Catherine Graham says:

    Echoing what some have said, please don’t ever apologize for any of your wonderful posts. Whether or not all or even many can relate, we are subscribers for a reason. My 50th birthday two years ago was an emotional challenge for me (some friends said it was self-fulfilling). We cannot hide behind the thinking that you’re still “youngish” in your 40s. I look quite young for my age and still dreaded it. Only lately, have I accepted it as well as the idea that I still look good and while certainly not 28 or even 35 anymore, it’s better than the alternative. All this said for my own therapy AND perhaps the hair issue involves your view of getting older. I wish you well in this decision.

    • Debbie Roes says:

      I appreciate your sharing your experience of turning 50, Catherine, and the view from two years down the road. I agree that 50 is definitely better than the alternative! Yes, my hair issue is related to my view of getting older. I want to be viewed as an attractive woman, not an attractive OLDER woman. But you’re right that it’s okay not to look 35 anymore. We can still look good, just in a different way. But of course, the most important thing is to be healthy and happy and I’m working on both…

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