By Sue Mayfield-Geiger

Several years ago, I stopped coloring my hair and let the gray finally have its way. It has become my badge of courage. Many of my friends yearn to do the same thing, yet they just can’t let go of the one thing that stops them – fear. Fear of looking old, fear of the time it takes for the gray to grow out, fear of being categorized. Going gray is not for the faint of heart and not for those who are not ready to try it. Yet, fear can prevent us from growing and becoming who we were meant to be.

Many of my friends who just can’t seem to give up the “bottle” often say to me: “Well, your hair is a nice mixture of salt and pepper; mine would never do that because I have splotches of gray in strange places.” So did I.

Others say: “I’ve tried going gray, but the gray is not the silvery color like yours – it’s more whitish.” So was mine.

And then there’s: “I just don’t want to look old.” I didn’t either.

But I took the plunge and went through the stages of more gray on one side than the other; dull gray and shiny gray mixed together; and short, curly gray hairs poking up from the top of my scalp like little corkscrews. But they all finally decided to get along.

Most of my life, my hair was quite black. As I aged, the black got dark-brownish as the gray crept in. I used a drugstore product that just covered the gray for years until I finally starting doing a complete dye job.

After menopause, however, I noticed my hair was thinning. Surely all those chemicals must have something to do with that? So, one day, I just stopped. I made a decision to see what would happen if I just stopped coloring my hair – cold turkey. The new hair that grew was a mixture of not only gray, but red, brown, black and white. Yuk! But, I stood my ground.

As my hair grew longer, I got it trimmed, and by the time it was shoulder length, a lot of the unevenness had settled down. My patchwork quilt head was starting to look more like a zebra, but I didn’t mind because my hair was getting healthier – and thicker! Yes, my old mane was coming back to life again! No more hairs on my pillow every morning when I awoke and no more massive fallout in my hairbrush.

Don’t be afraid of the color gray. It’s a natural phenomenon. For some reason, our culture bought into the myth that gray hair is a sign of aging, therefore, growing old must be bad. As a society, we’ve become obsessed with trying to look young – forever. It doesn’t always work.

If the thought of gray hair means growing old to you, don’t despair. You are in very good company. According to research, by 2030, one in five Americans will be 65 or older. Thanks to improving longevity, there are now about six million Americans age 85 – twice as many as in 1990.

Quite frankly, I’m not ready to throw in the towel, especially since many “seasoned” seniors I know are taking tango lessons, working out with personal trainers, going on hiking vacations and – gasp – finding companionship via on-line dating.

One friend recently told me that she wants to move to Santa Fe, go make-up free and just wear moisturizer as she strolls through the Desert Mountains. Yet, her frosted blond hair tells me that she really doesn’t mean it.

Aging has its stages. We go through them differently, I suppose. Would I like to have my jet black Ali McGraw, parted-in-the-middle “do” atop my head again? Only if it meant I could take back the collagen that has left my jaw line sagging. And since that is not about to happen, I can only say “thank you” every time a young twenty-something stops me on the street and says to me: “I love your hair!”

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