When I decided to stop covering my generous burst of grey hair in my mid-40s, I wasn’t following the latest fashion trend and I wasn’t turning into a crunchy granola kind of gal. I just had faith that Mother Nature had a good plan when she started squirting silver in my hair. It turned out, I was right.
Growing up, I believed a woman shouldn’t show grey before 65, that she’d better cover up. I observed my own mother’s hair-dyeing journey. I still remember that strange purple paste on my mom’s head while the acrid ammonia stench tore up my nasal passages. Despite the promise of ash-blonde hair on the box, the end result always looked as if a weird brown helmet were on her head.
When my mom did decide to stop colouring her hair in her late 1950s, an amazing transformation took place. With soft silver hair, she looked younger and prettier, and her skin glowed in a way I’d remembered from old photos. Perhaps Mother Nature knew what she was doing. I began testing my theory and observing other grey-haired women. With every woman I surveyed, their skin and natural hair colour were a melodious partnership, no matter her age.
As an adult in my 20s and 30s, I saw all manner of frenetic grey hair cover-up: dyeing, streaking, highlighting, tinting, bleaching and foiling. I watched with fascination as friends and colleagues made a part-time job of determining what process and colour they were going to try next. Some results were lovely and most were an improvement on my mother’s brown helmet, but still the colouring often looked brash or didn’t complement their skin tone.
I was in my mid-30s when a few shiny threads slid their way through my hair. By the time I was 40, the silver shimmer was somewhat distracting and I had blonde highlights added. One day, I was startled at the sight of the exceedingly blonde lady in the mirror. Who the hell was that? Maybe, I thought, I’d look and feel better if I embraced the grey. Although my children were five and two at the time, I was ready to show my true colour at 45 years old.
It took almost a year to grow out the highlights in my bob, but it was worth it. I loved everything about it from the bounce and body of my dye-free locks to the artistic placing of the various hues of grey. I felt like a better version of me, and I loved being different from most women my age. As a bonus, I started getting compliments on my hair.
One afternoon, I was sitting in the mall drinking my chai when a hip fifty-something man approached me. First, he complimented my hair colour and then told me about the girlfriend he wished would stop dyeing her hair. Next, he sent his girlfriend over to my table to check out my hair. I told her she would look younger, her beautiful brown eyes would pop and the pain of growing it out was minimal – Mother Nature knew what she was doing. This exchange was surreal. When had I become a going-grey consultant? Secretly, I was so thrilled to have my hair noticed and admired, I was walking on air for the rest of the day.
Stranger still, this was not an isolated incident; “grey-hair consultation” began to happen with surprising regularity. There was the older lady at the grocery store that I ran into not once but twice in the produce aisle; I helped her find the courage to cut her long grey hair into a modern style. There was the schoolyard mom distressed about turning grey in her 30s and wanted to know my story. I happily shared and got the sense she felt empowered to try it herself. Last year, I met a fellow soccer mom who admired my hair at the weekly games and wondered if she should go natural. In my usual upbeat way, I encouraged her.
I’m happy to report that the lady in the grocery store did find the courage to cut her straggly long grey hair into a fashionable bob. When I saw the schoolyard mom seven months later, she looked every bit the artist she was with her distinctive grey hair. I saw the soccer mom earlier this month and barely recognized her. Despite being halfway through the process, she was already transformed by the partial head of grey. When I told her how amazing she looked, she reminded me that I’d inspired her.
I never would have guessed that embracing my grey was going to start a mini-career as a grey-hair life coach. But I am deeply grateful and appreciative for the opportunity to empower and inspire others. Women loving themselves at all stages of our lives promotes self-love that will benefit ourselves and future generations.
There is a vigorous movement of change right now, a growing need for human connection by inspiring and supporting one another. I do believe we can make that change, one grey hair at a time.
Kyle Williams Gonsalves has had a dream to become a writer for a very long time and this year her journey has begun. With her love of words and gift of the gab, she hopes to motivate, inspire, and uplift others. She loves life after 50, is devoted to her spiritual path and embracing the wisdom of her years. Kyle lives in Burlington with her husband Mark and is dedicated to her dream job of mom to their two entertaining, loveable teens.
This essay was originally published in the Globe &Mail under the title "Gorgeous (and Gray)." For information about submitting a “Facts & Arguments: essay to the Globe & Mail, see here.
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