It wasn’t until I finally accepted my hair was naturally curly, that I started to worry about going grey. Think about it, how many older women do you see with curly grey beach waves? Scratch that. How many older women do you see with shoulder-length hair? Eight minutes later and I’d already started typing in ‘Legally Blonde courtroom scene’ on Youtube to try and take notes on Elle Woods’ tips for perm maintenance. Was that what the future held for me? A curly grey perm?
There is a certain stigma about women turning grey. While a man with grey hair is considered a ‘silver fox’, grey hair on women has long been associated with an air of unkemptness and the worst parts of getting old. And surprise, surprise, we’ve got society’s sexist beauty standards to blame. While men are often praised for ‘aging well’, women have been told their entire lives that getting old should be our biggest fear. it’s estimated that the anti-aging beauty market will generate a revenue worth $421.4 billion by 2030. That’s in less than 9 years’ time.
And there is no doubt that this narrative has affected the way I see grey hair. I grew up reading fashion magazines aimed at women in their twenties with free sachets of anti-aging cream sandwiched between countless articles about the best way for women to look younger. Going grey meant getting old, and according to these magazines, my life would practically be over by the time I hit 30.
However, the pandemic has seen a shift in the stigma of women going grey. As a result of the numerous lockdowns leading to constant salon closures, more women have been letting their hair turn silver and not reaching for the dye to change it back. In a year that has been full of restrictions, having to dye your hair just to fit into society’s ideal of supposed perfection was one limitation too many to handle.
While salon closures meant that women were inevitably forced to decide whether or not they wanted to cover their greys, the idea that women can embrace getting older the same way men can has been gaining traction for a while. This so-called anti-anti-aging movement, see also: pro-aging movement, views age not as a restriction, but as another step for female liberation. The older women get, the freer they are from the pressure of society’s impossible beauty standards. This, of course, includes keeping grey hairs, well, grey.
Although it’s not the same as going grey, when I finally accepted that my body probably will never look like it did when I was 17, I felt a massive weight come off my shoulders. I realized that I did want to look my age and I have no interest in appearing younger. I don’t want to look like I did when I was in my late teens, I want to look like I do in my early twenties. Because I am in my early twenties. And there’s no changing that.
The societal shift from women fearing getting older, to actually embracing it, has been welcomed by celebrities as well. Last April during the first peak of the Covid-19 pandemic, Michelle Visage asked her fans if instead of dying her grey’s back to her signature raven black color, she should grow them out. And now, the queen of everybody’s hearts and my favorite adopted anglophile, has switched up her signature hairstyle to a snazzy half and half combo.
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Other women like Michelle who have let their grey grow have noted how their hair feels softer and healthier from not dying it all the time. However, there has also been a recent surge in younger Millennials and Gen Z actually dying their hair silver and grey, long before their first white hairs have come in. In many ways, silver streaks are now one of the biggest hair trends.
While the majority of Boomers and Gen X actively take pleasure from disliking literally anything the younger generation do, young people dying their hair grey on purpose removes the stigma that this hair color is only associated with getting old, and gives it a new meaning – one that doesn’t really mean anything at all. Grey hair is now no longer just for older women, but instead a color that anyone of any age can enjoy.
Yesterday, a friend of mine confessed that he started getting a few of his first grey hairs a few years ago, I think I would have worried a lot more than I did when he first told me. Seeing more and more women of varying ages embrace their silver streaks – including people my age who are actually choosing to dye their hair this color – has meant I’m no longer worried about my hair getting whiter. If anything, I’m actually looking forward to the chance to look like the Queen of Arendelle herself.
And while I’ll probably opt for longer grey curls myself, remember, the first cardinal rule of perm maintenance is that you’re forbidden to wet your hair for at least 24 hours at the risk of deactivating the ammonium thioglycolate.
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