Greying Gracefully? It's Complicated...

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By Tabitha A. Wiggins 

It’s another Saturday night in and I’m about to start my normal weekend routine of laundry, food shopping, and of course…wash day. For over the past 7 years I have proudly navigated my natural hair journey. I have gone years at a time without applying heat. I have had moments of being a strict follower of the Curly Girl Method.  I have washed and styled and washed some more. My journey has certainly been my own, and I have truly embraced all things “natural” about my curls. Well, all things except for the ever so noticeable silver streaks no longer sporadically placed upon my head.

As I think back to a younger, less stressed, and certainly less tired me, I cannot think of a time when my tresses weren’t sprinkled with a grey hair or two. Even as a little girl, I was always flattered when adults would say things like “Oh, I see you have a few grey hairs! You must be so smart!” or “I see your wisdom streak.” My two or three grey hairs growing from my temple became a stripe of honor. I felt proud, wise, and unique. As I continued to grow into my teenage years, my long waist-length straight natural hair cascaded down my back. My streak of silky grey strands always flowed and stayed neatly tucked behind my ear. I never felt ashamed or the need to hide my silver truth. I seemed to get positive reactions and attention. Then in my mid-twenties….I went NATURAL NATURAL.

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Gone were the days of my waist-length hair. Now I found myself trying to embrace my curl pattern and learning to accept the love/hate relationship I was having with shrinkage. My grey hairs no longer had their silky sleek appearance but were now coiled and unruly. Instead of a stripe of honor they now felt more like an eye sore! What started as two to three strands quickly multiplied into an entire army of salt and pepper protestors. It seemed as if every time I experienced a major life event, or even stubbed my toe too hard, a new grey hair would pop up. Whereas they were all once strategically placed at the front center of my head I began to see them pop up on both the right and left temple. There were greys in the center, grey hair near my ears, grey hairs in my kitchen, grey hair EVERYWHERE! How could this be? I had yet to reach my thirties, however my hair seemed more like I was age appropriate for a mid-life crisis.  I began to draw more and more attention and to me the comments seemed less flattering. Now I heard remarks such as “Oh girl, is that grey I see?” and “Oh honey, you’re so young to have all that grey.” To my surprise, even those who grew up with me would often say, “Did you always have that grey hair?” as if having straight grey hair was acceptable but now that it’s coily grey hair they don’t remember ever complimenting it. Talk about quick shots to my ego!

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At this point in my natural hair journey, I was only accepting using a flat iron roughly 2-3 times per year. As it became harder to embrace the multiplying grey I found myself applying heat more often and thus causing major damage to my hair cuticle. When seeing an abundance of long silky grey hair was no longer keeping me sane I unfortunately took matters into my own hands. I discovered my ability to apply box color! Insert horrifying screams and sighs of disappointment. Yes curlfriends, I became that girl that naively applied box color to my tresses every few weeks because now that I was presenting myself to the world with this perfect shade of Clairol Natural Instincts Black Midnight #2 there was NO WAY I could be seen as that old tired grey streaked girl again right?! Box after box I slowly began to ruin my curl pattern for the sake of vanity. I found myself frustrated with my now damaged hair but too ashamed of my grey to stop applying color. My grey hair was no longer viewed as cute, or signs of earned wisdom. I associated the grey to the exhaustion of being a wife, a mother, a full-time corporate healthcare worker, friend, sister, daughter. I thought as each grey showed itself this was a sign to the rest of the world that I wasn’t handling being an adult very well.

As I dove deep into building my social media influence my insecurity about my grey strands had only increased. Day after day, I saw myself scrolling past and supporting other curly girls my age and even older who were yet to show any signs of grey. I felt very out of place and even more so like I wasn’t aging gracefully. I began to compare my overall beauty and base it partially on my hair color. Although my husband compliments me all the time, my marriage became affected in the sense that I struggled with feeling attractive despite his reassurance that I am beautiful, grey hair and all. It wasn’t until I began to search for other curly girls that I could relate to that I began to ease up on myself. Natural hair blogger Naptural85 was someone I found the most relatable to my own journey. She is young, she is a wife, she is a mother of now two, she is absolutely gorgeous, and she too has a streak of grey hair in the same spot as me. As time went on I realized her hair is sprinkled with grey strands, and although she has various YouTube tutorials dying her hair, her motive to dye never seemed to be fueled by lack of confidence due to her grey strands. The more I watched Naptural85 the more I realized I needed to include more silver strands in my newsfeed. I began to follow Gabrielle Bass, Naturalsilversista, and MzCurlyRizos just to name a few. My confidence began to slowly rise.

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I realized I had two choices. I could either continue dying my hair and accept the struggle and potential damage that came with that decision, or I could change my perspective on what it means to age gracefully. Since a major key to my natural hair journey is happy healthy hair, I chose the latter. Instead of viewing each new grey strand as a sign that I’m failing to handle the stresses of adulthood, I began to embrace the reality that God has given me yet another day and a step closer to a head full of salt and pepper curls. I had to remind myself of how beautiful all women with salt and pepper hair are! A head full of silver is a sign that they have lived a potentially long and full life filled with amazing stories of love and wisdom. How was it that I have always shown so much respect for women like this, yet I took it as a flaw in myself? As I always say, this journey for me tends to be about more than just hair. Greying at an early age opened my eyes to the fact that although I am a confident woman, I still have some ways to go with truly loving all of myself.

Through it all, seeing other women embrace their grey strands has certainly helped me to not be as anxious about going grey at such an early age. Not only do I want to continue to grow in my confidence, but I also want to open the conversation about my struggles with other women. Now, this is not to say that I don’t still have my moments. Yes, I’ve personally chosen not to alter my hair color, but there are certainly days that I feel overwhelmed and find myself trying different hairstyles that will hide most of the grey. I no longer want to feel a sense of shame tied to the color of my hair but instead I want to embrace how this makes me unique. Not only will opening the discussion to other women let them know that they are not alone, but it will also help me to continue to embrace my now natural GREY hair journey. So, cheers to getting older, wiser, and greying gracefully.

Is greying gracefully an issue for you?
Follow Tabitha A. Wiggins at www.cocoabrowncurlsxo.com

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