A silver lining: How I learned to embrace my greying hair
When I was a teenager, along with budding breasts and widening hips, my first white hair also began to sprout. Back then, I didn’t know anyone with grey hair. Everyone in my family and neighbourhood seemed blessed with glossy dark hair (which might have been fake, in hindsight). My grey was occasional enough for us to try various home remedies to camouflage it. Those were the days when Pinterest (or even the internet) were not even a figment of an inventor’s imagination. The popular women’s magazines of the 80s came to the rescue with weird and wonderful tips. Pulling out the strands was painful. A mixture of curry leaves in hot oil did nothing except leaving me smelling like leftovers. Henna cooled down my hot teenage head but the gloopy mass left an orange tinge that I was not crazy about.
By my mid-20s, I wanted to move on from the orange Garfield look and began experimenting with hair dye. The only one available back then was the ubiquitous Godrej hair dye that came in a little sachet. It turned your hair jet black and the texture of dry straw. With the liberalisation of the economy, new brands began trickling into the market. Over the years, I have tried every shampoo and hair colour that promised to hide or slow down my grey. I’ve been every colour from maroon to purple (and loved it) but the grey kept coming back.
You know what’s coming next, don’t you? Yes, nothing worked. My grey was as rebellious as the rest of me and continued to show up no matter what I tried to stop it.
In my early forties, all my excess time on Facebook rewarded me with links to several pro-grey groups. Suddenly, I was exposed to women all around the world who were in the same situation as me. Some took the plunge and stopped colouring cold-turkey, others highlighted and lowlighted their way to natural. Still others, like me, were voyeurs, sighing and exclaiming over every shiny silver hair in Facebook photos that had survived another root touch-up.
Being in these groups is empowering. I felt emboldened that I could go natural. By this time, I was sick of my hair parting turning bright white every fourteen days. I mean, how does hair know when two weeks is up? Is there a hidden follicle calendar in my brain that short-circuited when an invisible alarm went off? Sometimes I coloured when the line showed up. Other times, I angled the dressing table mirror so I could only see my face. Pretending a problem does not exist always worked for me.
The sceptre of those silver Facebook groups would not leave me, though. Over the years, I saw some incredible transformations and some hard ones. There were tears and tribulations. There were many successes and ‘I wish I had done this earlier’ moments. All those hair dye advertisements questioning my self-worth and the potential dismayed look on my mother's face, however, kept me reaching out for the bottle (of dye).
At some point, a shift happened. I was going to try it. And I did. Three times. For all those attempts, I went six weeks or more without colouring before some important event came up and I couldn’t very well look like that in photos so back to the mixing bowl it was.
Earlier this year, I decided that I had had enough. In February, my family came down to Goa to celebrate an important religious ceremony in my son’s life. As soon as they (meaning, my mother) left, I threw away the bits of squeezed out colour tubes and donated all the unopened and unused colour-correcting shampoos, gloves and other paraphernalia to the local beauty parlour.
February segued into summer and my short hair began to get that ombré shade that the rest of you spend so much money on. With school holidays on, not many people saw me wandering about though. In retrospect, that helped tremendously with the process. The fewer the people who judge you, the easier it is.
By June, it was evident that something strange was going on. My local vegetable vendor commented that I was looking like a “foreigner”. With my dark brown skin and multi-coloured hair, I was not sure what her reference points were. Perhaps she meant that no self-respecting Indian would walk around with hair like that.
When school reopened in June and my chauffeuring duties resumed, I had been in the process long enough to feel brazen about it. I wore faux rose flowers behind one ear or a hair band. The contrast was startling and called attention to my silver. I was not hiding anymore. My fellow mothers at school pick up had varied reactions. Some reacted with a studied silence and said nothing. Others said it looked nice, while yet others asked what was wrong with my hair. Still others jokingly offered to have a drive to collect money to buy me hair colour as if I couldn’t afford it anymore.
The men around me had even more interesting reactions. I found that for the most part, grey hair makes you invisible, a non-sexual being. Men look at your hair first and then at your chest, which is quite liberating in a corny way.
In all these months, what kept me going were two things: I took photos of my hair and face through the change but did not post them on social media so no one online knew what was going on. And more importantly, I did not tell my mother.
I don’t know about you, but my mother is still a terribly scary influence on me. She will laugh given how much I terrorise her but it’s true. Two of the afore-mentioned ditched attempts were thanks to her. “Let me take you to the salon,” she said very kindly then and I went along after some feeble protests, not wanting to be the reason for yet another disappointment on her face.
But I had wizened up now (in more ways than one).
What she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her and reports of my silver hair from a five-year old nephew who visited me were not damning enough for her to intervene.
By the time I met her again in November, it was too late. My hair is now a glorious mix of grey, silver, white and some left over brown. It’s unique and scrumptious. I turn heads. I stand out. I can’t stop looking in the mirror and enjoying my hair. I’ll never tilt the dressing table mirror high up again.
Image Courtesy: Chryselle D'Silva Dias
In my mid-forties, I feel like the rebellious young woman I once was. It is still a struggle for women to go against acceptable forms of beauty but there are many of us who either don’t care anymore or dig deep to find the courage to go against the grain. I finally feel as if my hair is what it should be. It feels authentic and healthy. My goal this year is to now to get the rest of my body on the same page.