To Dye or not to Dye

In Rosalind Wiseman’s book Queen Bees and Wannabees, Wiseman talks about the empowerment seminars that she often holds for young women. In those seminars she asks the young women to write down a physical feature that they like–and then adds this stipulation: No listing hair or eyes. Those two features, she argues, are the easy way out–they’re relatively¬† neutral, culturally speaking, and so it’s easy (and culturally acceptable) to admit to liking them. There’s a lot to be said about this idea, about why we find it so hard to embrace various aspects of our physical appearance. But I’m not going to say it. At least, not today.

When I read Wiseman’s description of these seminars, my first reaction was a sense of guilt–and recognition. Hair and eyes: those are the two features that first pop into my mind when people ask what I like about myself. I’m certainly not going to say anything about my good birthing hips, or the CRT (charging rhino thighs) that I inherited from my mother and passed onto my own daughter.

IMG_1114But I’m particularly attached to my hair. I didn’t always love it–up until age five or so I desperately wanted blonde hair because all the princesses in fairy tales had blonde hair. But then my mother found a gorgeously illustrated version of Sleeping Beauty where the heroine had long, red, curly hair and I was won over.¬† (I loved Kel’s recent reflection on her own red locks). My hair has garnered me a lot of effortless attention over the years: when I was a baby, people would stop my mom in the grocery store and ask to touch my hair (this may be why–to this day–I don’t particularly like people to touch my hair). In grade school, one of my teachers asked me to pose next to the green chalkboard while she took my picture because she was so struck by the contrast of red on green. In ninth grade, my English teacher introduced the idea of archetypes by talking about the red-headed heroine as an archetypally strong woman. (And despite the fact that I had the worst hair cut of my life at that point, I felt stronger just hearing him). My hair was one of the first things my husband noticed about me. And to this day, I have people ask me what kind of dye I use . . .

I don’t think I realized how much of my identity I had invested in my hair until recently, when I started to discover my first gray hairs. And they seem to proliferate like rabbits: every few days, I discover more of them. I’m in my mid-thirties; I’m not nearly ready to relinquish my identity as a red-head and give in gracefully to the gray. My parents didn’t go gray until their late 40s–this isn’t something I expected to think about for another decade at least.

But, here’s the thing. I’ve never dyed my hair. Part of me is afraid to: what if I never get the natural color back? But what are my alternatives? Gray isn’t a color that I look particularly good in.

I realize that, in the grand scheme of things, the color of my hair is a really minor thing to worry about. It won’t change my relationships with other people.¬† (I hope!) It won’t change my responsibility to act with faith and charity. But I think it does–even if it shouldn’t–change the way I think about myself.

There’s always a lot of collective wisdom in the Segullah hive-mind. I’m curious about your experiences with your hair as you began to go gray. Did you give in gracefully? Do you dye it with confidence? Or do you do something else altogether? (And please tell me I’m not the only woman out there who worries about this . . .)

About Rosalyn

(Prose Board) currently lives in Southern Utah with her husband and three small children, where she teaches writing part-time at the local university. She has a BA in English from BYU, and an MA and PhD (also in English) from Penn State. She served a mission in the Hungary Budapest mission. In her spare time (what's that?) she likes to read, write, try new recipes (as long as she doesn't have to clean up), watch movies with her husband (British period drama is her favorite), go for walks, and generally avoid anything that resembles housework.

35 thoughts on “To Dye or not to Dye

  1. I HATE my hair. I’ve always hated it. But my husband loves it, so I’ve grown it out for him. He also loves the color, so I don’t ever dye it. As grays start to sneak in, I can’t help but think of my mom, who silvered beautifully and naturally. She has been complemented on it all the time for the last 15 years. It helps her skin still looks young, of course, but it helped me realize gray/silver can be beautiful too. And yeah, she probably did gray a bit prematurely (having 5 kids in 9 years will do that), but honestly, I think her gray hair is much more attractive than women her age who can’t seem to get a natural color back after years of dying. A woman in my ward in houston was letting her gray grow out after years of dying black, and she said she was stunned how often people congratulated her on it, and told her how beautiful it was- she got more compliments growing it out than she did keeping it black.

  2. It is a curious thing how invested we become in our hair, isn’t it? I’ve never loved mine, hated it at times, but mostly tolerated it, especially when the cut and color are well done. Color. . . .I’ve been black to blonde and everything in between. So here are my two cents on coloring your hair. Don’t do it unless you are willing to make a commitment of time and money. No natural hair color is worse than a poorly done or maintained color job. Good hairstylists with a knack for coloring can work wonders and keep hair looking rich, vibrant, and natural. But you get what you pay for. My personal motto is “Life is too short for one hair color.” I’ve had a lot of fun experimenting, but I’ve had enough hair color fails to learn my lesson!

  3. My husband is/was strawberry blonde – he started going white when he was in his mid-20s and now his hair has faded into a very light brown almost non-colour, because the white has mingled with the red so much that you can’t tell what’s what anymore. I’ve heard that red-heads lose their colour sooner, like the red isn’t as stable or something. All I know is that my fire-engine red-headed grampa was fully white by 40.

    I’m pregnant with my fifth and will be 32 in a couple of weeks. My hair is a darkish blondish mousy brownish, and right at my forehead there are some WHITE hairs that have weird kinks and curls in them that none of my other hair has. What’s up with that? I don’t think dying it will change the kinks.

    At this point, I won’t dye it (pregnancy) and reserve the right to change my mind in the future. I really dislike going to the hairdresser and having someone fiddle with my hair. I’m also cheap and lazy with beauty products and don’t wear makeup, so the upkeep of hair dye puts me off completely. Also, chemicals. Yuck.

  4. I think you are too young to go grey! If at a later date you want to gracefully embrace your grey, great. But I don’t think you are there yet.

  5. So, I couldn’t see your thighs in the picture you posted but I’m sure you’re exaggerating – because that’s what we do, exaggerate our perceived flaws and compare them to other’s “strengths.”

    Dye your hair if you want to. After going for it on mine (just because it was such a bad, boring color before), I think it’s no big deal. Go for it. If you don’t like, don’t do it any more.

    I just wanted to say if you have to pick two qualities and it can’t be hair and makeup, that smile is fantastic. Say smile next time you are asked. Because yours is rockin.

  6. These comments have given me a great reason to smile. I love the diversity of viewpoints!

    @Sarah–I wish I’d heard about red-heads going gray early before experiencing it myself! I think it’s likely true, though. My dad had red in his beard that went white a decade before the rest of his hair.

    @Laurieann–thank you for the compliment! And yes, I think we do magnify our faults (to what purpose, I don’t know.)

  7. I had blonde hair for a long time, and because I spent a great deal of time outdoors, the sun kept it naturally streaked and fairly light. Then, I moved to a cloudy climate and got an indoor job in my 40’s. Simultaneously, I started getting gray streaks, so it lightened it back up. Once, I was getting it trimmed, and complained of the gray streaks. The hairdresser, in his Brazilian accent, informed me: “Oh, honey, women pay me lots of money to make streaks like this. You got them free! It’s beautiful!” I’ve never colored my hair–too lazy to keep it up. It’s mostly gray now and I get compliments all the time. But, hey! It’s your hair—YOU get to decide!

  8. Hair grows. Over the years I have dyed, weaved and let it grow out. Right now I dye it. Hair color over the years has improved by leaps and bounds to become something that leaves your hair feeling wonderful. It improves the texture. Try it…if you don’t like it you can let it grow out, or just dye it a different color.

  9. I started dying mine because I didn’t like the gray that was creeping in – my mom dyed hers for the same reason. I have always loved my hair, and recently tried a color that I thought would be good on me but was always too nervous to try and discovered I really love it. I know lots of people who want to go gray naturally, which is good for them, and maybe it’s my vanity or ego or whatever, but I don’t know that I will ever been seen as gray.

  10. I’m experiencing the exact same conundrum. I just turned 31, and simultaneously starting finding distinct white hairs. I’ve also never dyed, and hate the idea of the maintenance (especially the expense.) But, that said, I’m too young for white streaks. So, I’m leaning towards dying it. Reluctantly. I’ll probably let it all go white eventually, but not in my thirties!!

  11. I colored my hair for about 18 years (plain dark brown to a dark auburn). Finally when I was 35 I decided I’d let it go back to natural and give it a rest until I went grey. My husband had never even seen my natural hair color until this point.

    So now I am almost 42 with dark brown hair and I kind of like it. Mostly because I have no grey hair whatsoever and can proudly wear that badge with honor.

    Once I start going grey, though, I’m going to be at the salon right quick. And I’m going red! I’ve always considered myself a redhead trapped in a brunette’s body and I’m going to use grey hair as an excuse to finally get the color I want. I’m going to be dying my hair at that point anyway!

    Growing old gracefully? Hail no!

  12. I’m a fellow redhead and have wondered this same thing…will I grow old (ie gray) gracefully or fight it? I’m lucky, though, that at 41 my color isn’t changing, other than becoming more brown than when I was younger, so for now the question is theoretical. If I go white, I’ll be more likely to keep it, but the gray that redheads often go is not a pretty gray, so I might just stay red with the help of a good hair person for as long as it doesn’t look ridiculous.

  13. I’ve always said that I would never dye my hair. I would go grey gracefully! My parents both went grey fairly early and I have done the same. My mom started to dye her hair as soon as it started to go grey. (She took 18 boxes of hair dye to Russia on her mission with her, which I still laugh about!) Now that I am 41 and the greys are filling in rapidly, I will admit, it’s taking a small toll on my pride. But so far I am trying to carry on, holding my (grey) head up high. Wish me luck!

  14. I had been red for the past 5 or 6 years. I loved it. I recently went natural because it suddenly occurred to me that I didn’t want to miss finding my first gray hair.
    So I did it. I am now completely natural. I have about 3 gray hairs and I think it is exciting. It looks like it is late, but the feminist part of me thinks it is wrong for women to buy into the idea that we need to stay looking young. So I want to try graying naturally.
    My husband misses the red. But I have consistently changed my hair over the years so I’ve always told him if he doesn’t like a hairstyle he can just wait and I’ll change it soon enough. But he still calls me red. And my kids are a little confused too.
    Red was hard to keep in my hair. So it changed colors from the time I died it all the way through the 6 weeks till the next time. If you dye it red you will probably find the same thing. Hairdressers said it was typical. Not only am I tired of dying, but I hated being a different shade of red everyday, and I didn’t appreciate the roots reacting differnetly than the ends.

  15. I’ve been finding grey hairs since I was 16, so I’ve dyed my hair for quite a while now (I’m 41). Like Lisa S. said, hair grows. I’ve been platinum blonde (not a good choice), black with streaks, red with streaks, brown, dark brown, black, red, you name it. I have fun dyeing my hair. Right now it’s dark brown, but I’m planning on growing out my pixie cut bangs and doing some streaks again. I’ve decided, though, when I’m older I will fully embrace the Silver Fox that is currently percolating under my dyed locks. Just not yet…

  16. Here’s another vote for graying naturally: Embrace the gray!

    I really, really, really enjoy a life where I don’t have to regularly spend time and money at a hair salon. I really, really enjoy a life where, when I look in the mirror, I see what I am naturally and don’t have to worry about whether or not I am fighting it effectively. I really, really like a life where what the mirror reflects is what really happens to a real woman in a real world and that woman isn’t trying to change that reality or stave it off.

    My decision to embrace my graying hair and the slow but sure addition of wrinkles in my skin has saved me endless bother and preoccupation and made me happy in the body I have. I enjoy not having to worry about fighting off it’s natural graying and wrinkling processes or ever wondering if it’s time to touch it up again.

    I fully intend to enjoy this process of completely and naturally morphing into a gray haired, wrinkled, smiling lady who feels fine about how she looks and goes full steam ahead in the body she has as long as she can get it to keep going.

    I cannot begin to say how at peace I am about how I look having consciously decided to embrace the natural aging processes in this body God gave me. I don’t look like what I looked like before the graying and wrinkles started but I’m fine and happy with what I do look like. It’s liberating. I highly recommend it if you are at all inclined to go that route.

  17. From about the age 40-50 I had streaks of blonde put into my brown hair to hide the gray that was coming in. A friend of mine who had been a hair stylist did it for me and was very reasonable. When I moved to the opposite coast and found out what people were paying for streaks in the local hair salon, I was astounded. So began my journey to gray which turned out to be very similar to the ratio of blonde/brown I had, but now it is salt and pepper. I went to get a fishing license once and the man who had to take down my height, weight and hair color looked at mine and said “natural”. :) Now here is what I am currently wondering. I have had very short hair for years and am thinking that when I turn 60 I am going to grow it out very long for one last time. My husband has never seen it long and says he might like to see it put up in a “French wad” as he calls what the girls do today. I think it might be fun to have a pony tail or be able to french braid it once more. As noted above, its just hair and it should be worn in a way that satisfies the wearer…right?

  18. There is so much to admire in all of these perspectives: those of you who are courageous enough to go gray, and those of you who are courageous enough to try lots of different colors! For now, I think entropy is winning my decision (upkeep sounds like a lot of unnecessary work when I still have a baby on my hands), but you have given me lots of ideas to think about.

    I do have to say, though, that I’m jealous of those of you (like Jennie) who don’t have to worry about gray yet . . .

  19. And JP–absolutely, you should do what you want with your hair. I know a professional woman who has the loveliest thick white hair. She’s probably in her late sixties now, but she looks fabulous with her long hair.

  20. I’m in my late 40’s and have been dying my hair for about 7 years now. I’ve always had light blonde hair, but started getting bright white sides with silver/peppery on top. I color it the light blonde color I’ve always had. Most people don’t know I color it. I’m cheap too, mine comes from a box and I do it myself. When I started I was only doing it about every 4 or 5 months, now I dye it about every 6 to 8 weeks. I just can’t embrace the bright white yet. I need a little blonde in it. To each his own. Do what you want but OWN it!

  21. I came of age in California in the 70’s, didn’t wear a bra for 20 years and swore I’d not dye my hair when it turned grey. Well, that didn’t last long. I keep it short and let the color go natural once in a while, but I always end up with a $3 box of hair color (which works just fine — I’m not into fancy salons) ’cause it takes 10 years off my face. I don’t think I’m particularly vain, but it’s weird to look in the mirror and not see the girl you always feel like. And if you’re into it, hair is fun! My 13-year-old currently has bright red streaks in her jet black hair. It’s a harmless way to play , no matter what our age.

  22. I found white hair for the first time about two years ago. I’d been going through a hugely stressful period, and felt it was literally the unwelcome icing on top of the stinky cake! It was a cluster of white hairs, right where my part started. Bright, obviously white!

    Turns out, though, that my hair looks very harsh and clashes with everything (including my face) if it’s not broken up with some colours, so I get blonde, caramel and/or brown streaks put in to break up the overwhelming red. I like it, helps me feel pretty, and I don’t focus on the natural blonde bits!

  23. To JP #17 – I feel the same way about long hair. I’m 59, dark blonde. I started highlighting my hair when I (finally) separated from my first husband 12 years ago. I cut it shorter and LOVED the way I looked and felt. I’ve had it various lengths since, always with highlights. In the last two years I’ve had a nice gray/white streak on the top right of my head, especially when I pull it back. I had my stylist keep the streak. Since November, I no longer highlight my hair, letting the gray strands blend in on their own. Definitely a sense of freedom! Now I’m letting my hair grow long. It’s below shoulder length and I too want to have long gray hair when I grow up – I want a long gray/white braid! I often have my 16 y/o daughter french braid my hair after I shampoo – two braids. When I take them out in the morning, my hair looks awesome!!!!! Better than a perm, which I did for decades – such gorgeous curls – I get compliments on it all the time. I tease my husband that he needs to learn how to french braid my hair before DD leaves for college in two years! Bottom line tho – do what makes you happy. PS – my 39 y/o DD has had gray hairs for years. She’s colored her hair for a long time. She has little kids and does NOT want to be gray while raising them.

  24. I am in my late 30’s and found my first grays at 18. I have more gray hair than my 65 year old uncle. I hate the thought of not recognizing myself. I just can’t imagine covering it up–I want to see the changes taking place, and own them.

    I see some older women with hair color that obviously doesn’t match their age–I don’t want to have to make this same decision in 30 or 40 years.

  25. I think it’s interesting that not coloring your hair is seen as “aging gracefully.” I don’t think that coloring your hair means you are aging awkwardly or uncomfortably or in a vain way. It just means you like your hair a certain way.

    I started getting greys at 28 and now, at forty, I have lots. And I keep it colored. It makes me happy to come out of my hair dresser’s with a fresh cut and color—just as happy now at 40 as it did when I got blonde streaks put in when I was 16 (and not covering up anything!)

    I think you find your peace in aging through individual ways and, for me, it makes me feel better to be happy with my hair color. It’s an easy fix.

  26. I coloured a lot when I was younger (including blue streaks)- but have gone natural for a few years – too much upkeep. I am 41 and have only a few white hairs – not really noticeable.

    My hair changes are not about colour – about 3 months ago my hair went from dead straight (all my life – even as a child) to really curly. Everyone loves it – but I keep looking at it and just don’t know – doesn’t look like me. Apparently it isn’t that unusual at this age. I spent a lot of money getting perms in the 80’s and now I have it and I am not sure I like it.

  27. My mom started coloring her hair when’ she started greying. My grandma told her to stop coloring and just got grey (grandma had beautiful silver hair) so she did. A few months later grandma suggested she start coloring it.

  28. Great discussion! I have dyed my naturally brunette hair to cover the gray for the last ten years or so, and just recently made the decision to go natural. A few factors figured into my decision. I got tired of the money and the time that went into the upkeep, worrying about what sun and/or pool water would do to my color, packing special hair products to keep protect the color when traveling, etc. I also have friends who made the decision to go gray and are rocking it. I don’t buy into the myth that gray hair automatically equals looking old or unstylish.

    I recently found a couple of blogs about going gray and embracing aging that are rather inspiring:

    goinggrayblog.com
    linesofbeauty.com

  29. Thanks to Sherry (#24) for the inspiration. Another reason I am thinking of long hair is because my husband and I would like to some day travel around the world for a year and I don’t want to have to worry about my hair and getting a good cut. It is naturally curly, I don’t mind the color that it has turned out to be. Plus I like long hair, or at least the idea that I can have it up during the day and then down long for my husband in the evenings. I once read it could be like a “shining cape”. Anyway, the only thing I rather dread is the in between stage…the growing out part. But perhaps that can be liberating in its own way too! I love the idea that we can all do what makes us happiest in the long run. Hair is such a personal thing…luckily if we don’t like it, we can change it.

  30. The “in-between” is a little messy but I kept growing it out. I had my stylist put in fewer highlights over the last two years and a few lowlights here and there to blend everything. Sometimes I clipped my hair up especially in the summer. Sometimes I used hot rollers to give it some body (my hair is NOT thick). Mostly I kept it barely trimmed and let it grow. If you go to my website http://www.sherryjohns.com you can see how it looks now. Still dk.blonde on the ends with more gray coming in at the top but all in all I like how it’s all blending. I too got tired of the expense – thinking how better i could use the $$$. But I do admit I LOVED my highlights for years, mostly I think because my X believed to do anything with my hair was vain, altho I did keep it permed for years. My new DH loves me/my hair any way I choose :)

  31. I went gray at a young age…. didn’t color my hair – never planned to color my hair. Then one day after I was completely gray at age 45 I saw a picture of me and realized “wow, I look old”. So I went home from work, asked my husband what he thought about me coloring my hair and he said whatever I wanted to do was fine as long as it wasn’t blue something. So – I colored it back to what it was before the gray started to appear. Wow! It did a lot for my self esteem. So – I go every 6 weeks and get all fixed up by a dear friend whom is also my beautifician. Best thing I ever did for myself. If you want to color it – do it. If you don’t – don’t. Do whatever makes you feel good about YOU!

  32. I’m turning 34 in a few weeks, and have been seeing whites in my dark brown hair for several years. It hasn’t been enough to risk my really nice natural color over yet, but I worried. I felt like I’d have to dye at a certain stage or it’d look like I’d “let myself go”, like I didn’t take care of myself. Then, the other day, I pulled my hair back on the sides and saw all the silver hairs and suddenly thought they were actually kind of pretty, like silver accessories. The relief I felt was a little shocking, but really nice too. Silver accessories. I could like that.

  33. My grandmother is an 85 year-old red head. She is the spunkiest darling I know. I don’t know when she ceased to be actually red and became bottle red. But I’m so glad she decided to stay red. It is part of her. And the part of her that I inherited. If red is part of who you are, darling, find a wonderful colorist and go for it.

  34. I consider myself blonde, but after my son was born, I started going mouse. Not attractive. It made me feel ugly. So, I started coloring my hair back to it’s natural color, or at least what I considered y natural color. At one point, I decided to dye it back to my roots, and went dark. It was fun to be dark, and then I let it all grow out without touching the color, and lo and behold it was blond again.

    Hair is funny.

    I say do whatever makes you feel pretty. Get a cheap box, splurge for highlights (which is what I do now, but only twice a year. They’re expensive, I’m cheap.), or experiment, or leave it alone. They’re are lots and lots of options, and the beauty of hair is that almost all of those options are temporary and can easily be changed if you decide it’s not what you want, or if you want something different. But I’m comfortable with coloring my hair, I make no secret that I do, and like I said, it makes me feel good. Do what makes you feel good. Red from a bottle can be awesome too!

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