This is The Good List — I’m Tsh Oxenreider.
This is a work of art. And yes, I’m calling it a work of art to basically stick it to the man.
I first wrote about going gray when I was 37, which is now six years ago for me (which, side note, is WEIRD because I still feel 28 internally). We were about to go on our round-the-world trip for a school year, so in the months leading up to our departure date, I decided to grow out my gray hair because I knew I would NOT want to mess with that upkeep while living out of a backpack and not having a home base for a year.
I kept it up for a while when we returned because frankly, it was empowering. I had been coloring my hair since I was in my early twenties — at first because it was fun, and every now and then still because it was fun, but honestly it was in order to cover the gray that started sprouting at what I thought was unseasonably early. I saw my first gray hair my senior year of college, and I couldn’t believe it. I plucked it out post-haste.
Well, a few years after our travels, and I just felt… blah. I felt drabby and unkempt, and as I neared closer to 40, I suddenly felt less young and more middle-aged, which weirded me out because I still felt SO YOUNG inside. I’d actually feel somewhat surprised when I looked at myself in the mirror, like I didn’t recognize myself. Who was that older looking mom in the mirror? Aren’t I the fun person who travels everywhere and lives by the seat of her pants? Why do I look like my favorite outing is Costco?
It was around this time that I also decided to chop off my long hair into a pixie cut, something I always wanted to try out, because the spirit of the idea echoed the same spirit of going gray — and that is: it’s only hair. If I hate it, it’ll grow back (albeit it’ll take a long time), because hair isn’t permanent. I can always grow it out or cut it, and I can always dye it or grow out the color.
So I did. I chopped off my hair into a pixie, and I went back to coloring my hair. And I loved it. I felt like myself. I’d tell Kyle that for the first time in ages, I’d look at myself in the mirror and feel like I recognized the person looking back at me. It was like my soul wanted a short pixie cut, wanted a rich, brown color. I know that sounds woo-woo, but that’s truly how it felt.
Except for a few hesitations here and there, the pixie cut has stayed. I don’t know if I’ll keep it forever, but it’s here for now, and I LOVE the low upkeep for a lot in return. Truly, it’s like I’m made for a pixie cut — I want my hair to look cute, but I can’t be bothered to do anything with it. A pixie cut? Solves that problem.
But the colored hair… thanks to the quarantine of 2020, that’s almost completely gone away now. And I reserve every right to change my mind again down the road, but surprising to me probably more than anyone: I really, really like my gray hair again. I think I’m gonna stick with it for a while. And this time, there’s a few good reasons I’m leaning on that remind me why I’m compelled to stay with my natural color.
I’ll share those 5 reasons in just a sec, after thanking one of this show’s sponsors. I’ll be right back.
Okay, so — going gray. Why am I now doing it, and why am I encouraging you to give it a try as well? Here are a few reasons.
1. First off, and maybe more importantly to me, it just looks better. Even when I use really good hair color, or go to a salon, going gray is like getting God-given highlights FOR FREE. And not only for free, but that obviously match your natural coloring, because it IS your natural coloring. I know that some people’s gray hair comes in differently than mine, but I really do love seeing the streaks of silver in my hair. Kyle likes it too, and so do the kids. I get compliments on it.
2. It’s easier. Keeping up with hair color is a LOT of work, especially when you have short hair. It felt like I was constantly having to touch up my hair, and at some point, it just started feeling like I was keeping up with it for other people, as though I would offend people looking at me with my gray hair. Which is ridiculous, of course. It just got tiresome — and expensive — to constantly color my hair.
3. My hair is healthier. I was worried my hair would end up all wiry and dry, and while that can sometimes happen, after a while my hair not only stopped being that way, it actually got healthier. My hair now feels softer, shinier, and thicker with no color in it. I’ve read that when most people go gray, you have to recreate your hair care routine, and one of the reasons people’s hair ends up dry and frizzy is because they care for it the way they did when it was colored. Natural gray hair requires different care, and once you find what works for yours, it really can be remarkably soft and shiny.
4. It’s better for the environment, both the world’s and yours. All the potions and poisons we put on our bodies and in our hair just isn’t good for us, and it’s not good for the world around us, especially considering it’s just not a necessity. There are studies out there that show an increase in cancer in women who regularly dye their hair.
5. Lastly, and maybe one of the more fun reasons, is that you are sticking it to the man in your own small way. We believe that women shouldn’t go gray in their twenties because we’ve been conditioned to believe that, and so most women start coloring their hair whenever they spot enough gray hair. We also believe that not only does gray hair make us look older, but even if it does, that looking older is categorically bad. Why do we inherently find men who go gray good-looking? We even call them “silver foxes.” And yet with women, we culturally believe that to go gray is to somehow be “letting herself go.” It’s such a double standard.
By going gray, you’re telling the culture around you that yes, you are getting older — and that’s a good thing, a thing to be celebrated and prized. It’s saying you actually like how you look in your natural state, and there’s nothing more counter-cultural than someone confident in their skin when it defies the norms.
Okay, so those are the reasons for growing out your gray hair, but I also do have a few tips for making it work better.
1. Like I said, there’s a good chance you’ll need to change your hair-care routine, so be prepared for that. What’s worked for me is a method called co-washing, which is washing with conditioner and not using shampoo at all. I use a natural conditioner, and I wash my hair just like I would with shampoo, massaging my scalp. Of course, this doesn’t take me long with a pixie cut, yet I still only do this about twice a week, max. In the winter, I’ll probably do it only once a week. I also still use my beloved Hair Butter once my hair is dry, to keep it de-frizzed and healthy — it’s all full of natural stuff like shea butter and essential oils, and one thing of it lasts me years.
2. Get a good haircut. There’s no one right haircut for gray hair, obviously, but I think getting a really good one for your hair type, face shape, lifestyle, and preferences is key to not looking like you’ve “let yourself go.”
3. On that same note, I think it’s KEY to take care of your skin. Now, I don’t mean tons of makeup, I simply mean skincare. I’m no expert, and there’s tons of good stuff out there, but I’m a fan of as natural as possible and as simple as possible – keeping it well-moisturized is huge as we get older. Taking care of your skin makes your gray hair look on-purpose, and not a by-product of not caring about yourself.
4. And finally, be prepared for your colors to change. By this, I mean the stuff that looks good on you. Your go-to colors you always wear might shift, and you may need to rethink what works for your natural coloring. Personally, I’ve found this kinda fun, like a new way to get to know myself. And with this, and kinda related to skincare — I do think it helps to wear a tiny bit of makeup that brightens my skin and reflects the highlights in my hair. I wear almost no makeup, so I’m not talking about much, but there are a few things I do when I go out and about to make my eyes look brighter and my skin and lips more vibrant. Not too much, because that can actually age us, especially with gray hair, but just enough to help yourself feel on-purpose, and not that oh-so-insulting term “let yourself go.”
Because you haven’t, at all. You’re letting yourself BE yourself. I still reserve every right to change my mind and go back to coloring my hair, just for fun. But for now, I’m truly enjoying my natural highlights, Kyle likes ‘em, and I see absolutely no shame in this game.
Hi Tsh, this is Stephanie Welch, I’m from Eatonton, Georgia. I’ve been a long time listener of your podcast when it used to be Simple and now The Good List. I absolutely love it. One thing on my good list right now during this quarantine is what I call the knitting hour. Every day at 3:00, I take my quote-unquote lunch break from working remotely, I go outside and sit on my back porch and I knit for an hour. There’s something about the repetitive motion of knitting that calms my mind and it also scratches the itch that I have to be productive during this quarantine time without putting too much pressure on myself. I’m nowhere near getting the sweater done that I was trying to get done, but it’s been so beneficial for my mind and my heart. Thanks.
Thanks so much to Stephanie for sharing with us what’s on his good list. A little reminder that my latest book, Shadow & Light: A Journey Into Advent, is officially out in the world, so go to shadowandlightadvent.com for more details and to order it from your favorite bookstore. Go ahead and order it now since there have been reported delays, and that way you not only make sure you get your book in time for Advent, but you also get some lovely extras as a thank you for ordering early. Again, that’s at shadowandlightadvent.com, or just use the link I’ve got in the show notes of this episode, #44 of The Good List.
As a reminder, I’m on twitter @tsh and every now and then on IG @tshoxenreider, but I mostly like to connect with you through my free weekly email called 5 Quick Things, which I send it out most every Friday morning. To get it, go to fivequickthings.email and sign up for free, or again, find the link in this episode’s show notes.
Music for the show is by Kevin MacLeod, and thanks, as always, to Caroline TeSelle and Kyle Oxenreider for their help, as well as my furry intern, Ginny. I’m Tsh Oxenreider, and I’ll be back with you soon — thanks for listening to The Good List.