I dyed my hair for approximately four years. My mom let me start dying it this strange shade of deep, rich mahogany when I was 14 (as a compromise because she wouldn’t let me dye it black or hot pink), and I maintained varying shades of reddish brown until my freshman year of college. It was a bright Thursday morning when I woke up and decided my happiness hinged on having short hair a la Jean Seberg and proudly walked my 18-year-old self to have it all chopped off. As it grew back out, I learned the truth: I was going gray.
Well, not exactly gray. It’s more shocking, sudden, is-there-paint-in-your-hair white. And the white hairs are thicker and kinkier than my brown hairs. So not only do they stand out against my natural color, they also fly off at random angles. I feel compelled to warn anyone who touches my hair that these whites exist, and to not be concerned because yes, they do belong there. Because the truth is I love my whites, and I have no intention of covering them up.
What started as a couple strands in my underlayer, tucked away to be paraded out as a fun party trick, have now grown together into near streaks. If I pull my hair back or part it the right way, a flash of white is waiting for anyone paying close enough attention. The hairs appear to be multiplying exponentially, which is strange because I can never find the start of the white on any given hair. It just suddenly turns up fully grown and luminous.
Many people have sought to console me when they learn of my premature whitening. They tell me I can easily dye it, suggest brands of dye, explain to me that really a lot of people start going gray at my age. But I don’t want to hide my whites. I’ve never felt ashamed or secretive about them and have always voluntarily offered them up for examination when their existence is called into question. I, in fact, adore them and can’t wait to rock a magnificent Caitlin Moran look in the hopefully-not-so-distant future. They pop and make my otherwise totally regular hair color feel more exciting. If it hadn’t been for my whites, I may have dyed my hair long ago to give the brown some life. But I don’t have to, because my whites are taking care of me naturally.
Granted, white hair is having a moment now. Not only is Moran’s mane a role model for my hairs, but I grew up with Stacey London’s lovely white-piece-against-black-hair elegance. Musicians like Robin and edgy hip youths on Tumblr make super blonde/white hair look very cool, and more and more white dye jobs are popping up on Pinterest. More and more people are embracing white hair, and I’m fortunate enough to have hairs that are ahead of the curve.
But as white hair becomes more trendy, I wonder what that means for women more broadly. The obvious assumption for a broad segment of society is that I, as a 25 year old woman, should not like that I’m going gray. I should have been horrified when at age 18 I realized that first strand was not just a trick of the light. To be going gray is to be aging, something women are supposed to fear, but I’ve never been able to muster the supposedly appropriate level of pearl-clutching terror at my hair doing as it wishes color-wise. White hair has always meant maturity (aka, old lady), and has not been a color for ladies in their 20s. Will that change as shades of gray become more common? Is it possible for women to reclaim white hair not as a sign of age, but as a chosen style?
Here in DC, I’ve noticed quite a few young women foregoing the dye job. One woman behind me in line at Target had more gray than I do, and I stopped to tell her how much I loved her hair, particularly as someone going white myself. She told me that she gets a lot of compliments, but often tinged with apology, as if pointing out how great her salt and pepper hair looks might offend her. But she loves her hair, and loves the response. As a substitute teacher, I’m asked about the white in my hair every now and then. I’m always careful to let the students know that, yes, I do have white hairs and I’m proud of them. The message I want to send, especially to girls, is that white hairs aren’t something to hide or be ashamed of — embrace those stray strands!
Maybe, given a few years, it won’t be assumed that I’d want to mask the actual color of my hair. Even if in a couple years white hair has once again become the domain of elegant middle aged women and those old enough to not give a shit, I will remain steadfast in my decision to not dye my whites away. In the meantime, haters to the left — and feel free to admire those bright whites in my part while you’re over there.