Fear Of Having Gray Hair


I was writing in my journal the other day and playing with the thought – “If I had no fear, what would I do?”

Much to my surprise, one of my first responses was “let my hair go gray naturally.” Wow.

Not train for a marathon. Not skydive. Not take the kids out of school and sail around the world. Not move off the grid. Not say whatever I think.

Just, let my hair go gray naturally.

I guess I have to ask myself – why am I so afraid to let my hair go gray naturally?

(Spoiler alert – this post is not going to end with a big “come to Jesus” moment where I decide to let my hair go gray naturally. This is a purely hypothetical mental exercise and any semblance to my real life is completely coincidental. I am still just as shallow and vain about my appearance as I have always been.)

Without editing out anything that is ridiculous or irrational, here is my list of “Fears of Having Gray Hair.”

1. That I will look “old.” And looking “old” means that am not current or relevant anymore. I am already afraid this might be true. I don’t need my gray hair announcing it to everyone.

2. “People” will not pay attention to me because I have gray hair. Yes, the general population. All of them. No one will listen to what I have to say.

3. Having gray hair means that I have passed the half-way point of my life. I do not feel ready for that. I still have a lot of figuring out to do. I need more time. Please.

4. I will look like an old crone with crazy gray pubic hairs growing out of my head. Children will be afraid of me. Young women will try not to stare. My only friends will be other old crones. I want to have old friends and not just friends who are old.

5. I will be presumed to be a stereotypical middle-aged lady – whose kids are grown and don’t need her much anymore, so she has meaningful conversations with a bunch of cats and reminisces a lot about how things used to be. I don’t want to be a stereotype.

6. I will have to get in great shape, wear flawless make-up, and have a nice, year-round tan to compensate for how drawn and gaunt my gray hair will make me look. I don’t want to have to worry about my appearance so much.

7. Men my age will think I am way too old for them. The bar is already set way too high because men my age date women who actually are 10-20 years younger. I don’t need gray hair to widen that gap even more and make me appear even less desirable.

8. Gray hair is like announcing to the world that I am starting to go through menopause and all of the indignities associated with that time of life. It just seems like it would be easier to go through all that without people watching.

9. If I let my hair go gray, maybe I will start to think it is okay to stop shaving my legs or wearing a bra. I am afraid gray hair is the beginning of “letting it all go.” I want to keep it all together a while longer.

10. My son who thinks I should let my hair go gray because, as he says, “you are old, mom,” will be right. Then who will I be?

I don’t have everything in my life figured out, but brown hair is not making it any easier. Thinking about what I would do if I had no fear is so much more productive than avoiding gray hair. Owning up to fears and looking at what is beneath them is the real job. The things I am afraid of will not be avoided if I dye my hair brown forever.

We get in our own way without realizing it and often give ourselves excuses that keep us stuck. Being stuck is more familiar, and therefore more “safe,” in a way, than trying something new. If I could come to terms with my ambivalence about aging, I bet it would feel like becoming unstuck. Because I would be working on the real issues, not wasting time worrying about a few gray hairs. And I might be able to do even more and feel more free and safe in the world. I am not there yet, but I am working on it.

How do you feel about aging?

Let’s stay in touch!

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  1. Stacie says:

    I love this post! Your honesty about how vulnerable you feel is reassuring to the rest of us who share the same feelings and fears.

    Last fall I gave up lipstick (the only makeup I wore on a daily basis). To say it was liberating would be an understatement. I have to say that for decades I’d hated having my picture taken, until I stopped wearing makeup. It was a startling revelation to realize the way I liked myself best was natural. All that time, all that money, all of the wasted effort reapplying after meals. . . Lately I’ve been wondering how I would look if I let my long hair go grey. My mom has beautiful, sparkling white hair and I can already tell mine will most likely look the same if I let it happen. It’s been over five weeks since I last touched up my roots with at-home, non-permanent color so I figure this is as good a time as any to go for it. I wish I could leap from where I am now with some grey to going all sparkling white overnight. But, I realize it’s a process that will take time. Am looking forward to just how it will change my appearance, my self confidence, and my self acceptance.

    1. annie kip says:

      Oh Stacie, I admire you so much! Being comfortable in your own skin and at ease with yourself is the most attactive quality, don’t you agree? I am working on getting there. People like you are an inspiration to me! Thanks for sharing your story – I am sure it helps a lot of people!

  2. kristine says:

    great perspective. I believe that almost everything in our lives boils down to two choices…fear and love. that’s it. the older I get the easier it is becoming to choose love. “Love yourself” were words of wisdom my mom delivered all of my life. I have come to see that those words were more about begging me, then teaching me. she never did, love herself. in wanting a better life for me, she saw what was missing in her own and wanted more for me. It is only now, in my late 50’s that I understand the premise. Pleasing anyone and everyone to your own personal detriment gets you nothing but exhausted and depleted. Loving yourself and loving “what is” fills your emotional cup like no one else is capable of doing. I find it interesting that the picture you used here is of the PERFECT gray hair. Few of us while ever be that lucky until we are in a nursing home somewhere. The brown woven in with the gray is more like it. I think aging women need to understand that they aren’t fooling anyone with whatever procedure they submit to. We are aging, we look like we are aging…what revelation to accept it with grace. Grace is what we should be teaching, not everlasting youth. Thank you for your candid and courageous articles.

    1. annie kip says:

      I admire you so much. Yes, I am almost embarassed that I put up a picture of “perfect” gray hair. It was so pretty, I just couldn’t resist. I even had a nice picture of my friend, Jean’s beauitiful gray hair and I didn’t use it. See, I have so much trouble being sucked into this idealistic vision myself!!! Arrrg. You are right, we are aging whether we like it or not. Loving what “is” is so much more nurturing. We do this kind of kind acceptance with our kids and their quirks and phases, so why not oursleves? I want to be more like this. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. It means a lot to hear your words.

      1. kristine says:

        nice to you hear from you annie. honey, life is journey and every step we are learning or teaching. you know what they say, “you teach what you need”. Believe me, I teach because I have so much to learn. Thank you for sharing your message today, I look forward to more.

        1. annie kip says:

          Thanks, Kristine! I love when people call me honey. It makes me feel like I belong. I believe you are right – we talk about and write about and try on things that we are exploring and figuring out. I certainly do.

  3. Kris says:

    This is laugh-out-loud funny! I have an additional concern–I had my children “late in life” and I don’t want people to think I am their grandma! I am MOM, thank-you-very-much.

    I know a few women who are naturally gray who look great–and they all have short hair styles. I have yet to see a woman with long gray hair whose style I admire.

    I don’t color my hair yet but I am very adept with tweezers! And for whatever it’s worth … my mom is 82 years old, colors her hair, and looks fabulous. I want to be like her–I want to look attractive but not like I’m trying too hard. Enjoying the wisdom we (hopefully) gain as we age but staying relevant to our current culture.

    1. annie kip says:

      You are hilarious!!! I actually did think of that one, but I realized that sharing my fear that people would think I was my daughter’s granny would betray my secret little absurd fantasy that someone might think we are sisters. (Apparently, I am not too embarassed to share that today!) It is just like I used to hope people thought I was my dad’s wife when we were walking together. When I was about 12. Completely weird, I know.

      1. Kris says:

        A little Freud thing you got goin’ on? 😉

        1. annie kip says:

          Sure seemed like it!

  4. How do I feel about aging? Way more things than I can put in a comment…
    This summer I decided to stop highlighting my hair. I was a blonde for as long as I could remember. I stayed blonde after high school. I was a “real” blonde until my mid-30s, after my kids were born. I couldn’t conceive of myself as not-blonde, so I started getting my hair highlighted.

    This summer, I decided I was done with that. I was tired of the hassle. I asked my hair stylist to dye it something close to its real color, so it wouldn’t look terrible growing out. I have had so many compliments on my hair since doing that–more than I ever got as a blonde. Now, I don’t really have gray hair yet, so I know it’s different. But I’m thinking there’s some common nugget in both our stories. It was about letting go of a younger me, and my idea of who I am.

    I appreciate you sharing your journey through this middle passage so honestly. Comforting to know I’m not the only one who wonders about the things that take up real estate in my mind.

    1. Oh, and this reminds me that I really need to change my gravatar photo!

    2. annie kip says:

      I like knowing your hair color story and hearing that it has turned out to be a good move. I have seen your pix and like the darker color on you a lot! I finally jumped into the hair coloring game this year and have been bummed about how much time, money, and worry it has caused me. I am thinking about going native again and just learning to get comfortable with my hair the way it is changing. You are an inspiration!

  5. Shelly says:

    You bring up many interesting points. I didn’t think of any of them as I let my hair “age/gray” .
    Aging is not a choice, but how I act toward myself and others is in this process.

    1. annie kip says:

      I guess it is more about figuring out your own way to age gracefully and comfortably. I do not like the idea of resisting it and trying to fake looking younger, but my vanity makes it hard for me to give in. I wish there were no hair coloring or anything and we could all just look the way we look.

  6. Ingrid says:

    Hi Annie
    This couldn’t be more appropriate. I was at dinner last night talking about
    Aging wrinkles etc. I wish I could march proudly through every stage of life. I know finding humor is one way to cope.

    1. annie kip says:

      We go to so much trouble to slow the process down, I just wonder if we are fighting a losing battle. There a beautiful women with wrinkles and gray hair – and they are beautiful because they are not self-conscious. I want to be more like that!

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