Published Essay: Silver Lining
I was 16 when those first wild strands of silver sprouted from my brunette head. They were random and seemed to have a texture unlike the rest of my hair. Like unwanted weeds, I plucked them thinking that would keep them at bay. But, like weeds, they continued to sprout at will. It was inevitable, considering all the men and women in my father’s family were “salt and pepper” by age 30 and completely silver by 60. Indeed, premature graying was a deeply rooted trait, one that would both challenge and liberate me.
I think back on my 20s and wonder at what point the gray truly took hold. They were dark and serious times. Coloring my hair was one of the few ways I maintained some sense of playfulness and youth during that decade. It wasn’t until my early 30s that my regrowth became an obvious silver-infused line. My focus shifted from fun experimentation to spending an inordinate amount of money and time on professional coloring to keep the regrowth at bay. I wasn’t ready to face the fact that I was aging, but I did begin to wonder at what age would I gracefully transition to exposing my salt and pepper mane? At what age would I feel ready to embrace my silver and let the real me shine through?
I revisited the question of my silvering hair at 43. I was daring greatly in all areas of my life. I was in a happy and healthy marriage, walking away from a career that no longer aligned with how I wanted to feel, leaping into exploring my creative dreams full time, shifting friendships and cultivating connections that felt more supportive and nourishing. As I began to feel more rooted in my life, I felt ready to embrace my silvering roots.
The transition took 18 months. In that slow progression of uncovering my natural hair, I unveiled more than graying roots. With each growing centimeter of silver and charcoal, unresolved emotions resurfaced. Going gray challenged the part of me that felt sexy, young, and attractive. I experienced intense loss, feeling that my youth had faded along with my hair color. It was painful to accept that I had spent my 20s and most of my 30s feeling trapped in an unhappy marriage and in a life that I felt had robbed me of my youth and my sense of self. Although I had healed much of my past, in the process of going gray I struggled to see myself with wholeness. For a while, I could only see a woman aged in regret. It took deep inner work to resolve that sense of loss. Mostly, it took time. Time to grow out my gray and time to grow into a renewed sense of self.
As months turned into a year and my natural color emerged more fully, there was a softening effect on my soul. I began to see myself through a more gentle, accepting lens. I realized that my gray and silver, the increasing lines around my smiling eyes, the softening of my heart were affirmations that I was still alive and thriving. I found solace in accepting my place in the aging process and in recognizing that age doesn’t define who I am or how I feel. I always have a choice and in choosing to embrace my gray, I was choosing to embrace all of me.
My graying hair, my emotional scars, my smile lines, my open heart…they all hold stories of my imperfect journey, a journey that brought me to a moment of liberation. In exposing the wisdom and experience that can be measured in my many shades of gray, I reunited with my authentic self and allowed my vulnerable truth to shine through. One day, I will join the “silver foxes” and will rock a full head of silver hair with confidence. Until then, I value knowing that within the aging process there truly is a silver lining and it is a shimmering, beautiful truth.
(Written November 2014. Originally published in Bella Grace Magazine Issue #4 - June 2015)