Going all in: Natural gray hair

by Tamara Nolen in

Over the last year or two my mom made a decision to start wearing her natural gray hair. I decided to ask her some questions about her decision and what advice she has for other women.

What made you decide to go natural at your age? 

You told me that you were going to go natural and I wasn't very supportive. Then you pointed out what a poor self-image we have of ourselves because of societal messages throughout generations of how black women were not beautiful just the way we are. I thought about it and I started viewing things differently and trying not to let the those negative messages influence me. So, I decided to try it myself, which is funny because I wore my hair natural in high school. I wore an afro, so it wasn't completely new to me. I then started thinking about going all the way natural by letting my gray hair grow out as well.  

Has going gray been hard? If so, what’s been the hardest thing?

It has been hard. It’s hard to see yourself changing and also with the negative messages about aging, such as graying makes you look "old" and old is a bad thing. Getting older is not viewed positively. So, with all these messages in your head it does affect how you feel and think about yourself.  I had to start trying to erase those messages and view myself differently as an aging black woman. Older women are beautiful, and I have to start looking at myself that way. 

What have been some reactions to you going natural and going gray with those you know and even in the workplace?

I feel like I’ve gotten negative responses with some people. It hasn’t been fully embraced by some, although they don’t say anything. If I wear my hair a certain way—if I straighten my hair—I get all kinds of compliments on how great my hair looks. I don’t get as many compliments on how great my hair looks curly. Black women who are embracing the natural look themselves will compliment me when my hair is curly, but I noticed other cultures compliment me on it being straight after I’ve worn it curly but won’t make those same compliments when it’s actually curly. So that is interesting, and again another message, I think. 

What advice would you give women that are thinking about going natural or are considering going gray?

I definitely would encourage them to do it. I also think it’s more healthy to go natural and to go gray because you’re not putting chemicals in to your body with the hair products and colors you use, which I think is probably affecting women more than we know. Of course we’re not going to get told that, but I think it can affect your health. There are lot of things affecting older people and we don’t hear it because we don’t have data to say, this is affecting older people, but it’s a possibility that it is. So I think it’s just healthier all around if you do both, or if you try to do both at least the majority of the time. 

I think we [older women] also have to get rid of the mindset that we have about aging and about wearing our natural hair that has been played in our minds much longer than younger women. You have to get rid of that mindset and start developing a positive mindset about yourself and the aging process and how you look. Do the best that you can do with the way you look. There are haircuts you can get that can keep you having a youthful look. So maybe you want to think about changing your hairstyle.

You’ve recently started wearing wigs. Tell me about your process and decision about this. Why did you start to do it and what have you found out?

I started wearing wigs when I wanted to let my hair grow out and it started losing the shape that I wanted. So, to get through the growing out phase, I decided to wear wigs. It also gave me the chance to wear different colors without having to use the chemicals or damage my own hair. It gives me different looks that I like. For me, it's also good in the winter when I don't want to wash-n-go and let my hair air dry. Wigs also give you a break when you have bad hair days or just don’t feel like doing your hair. All of those reasons are why, but mainly it was my decision to grow out my hair. I will probably wear my natural hair more in the summer as it grows out to the length I want so that I can cut it to the shape I want and then I’ll go back to wearing it natural more. 

What have you learned in the process of buying wigs because not all wigs are the same?

I’ve learned to find a wig that is complimentary to the shape of your face and that you really have to style the wig to your face. A lot of wigs have too much hair and aren’t shaped right for your face so you have to take the time to thin your wigs out and cut them to suit your face shape in order for them to look the best. You have to work with it like you do your own hair. 

Tell us a little about the short gray wig you recently purchased.

I saw that Sherry Shepard had a wig line, (LUXHAIR NOW) and they were really cute. I decided to try the short cut because I feel like I look better with short hair. Also, I wanted to get a gray wig because I wanted to continue to get used to my hair in that color. And since I am graying I wanted it to look natural around my edges where the gray can peek through the wig!

I’ve gotten several compliments on this wig and I really like it. What’s funny is that everyone says that it actually makes me look younger when I was thinking the opposite would be the case, especially because it's a little grayer than my own natural hair. I think because the cut is more youthful it has the affect of making me look younger. This is why I say a cute cut is so important, not so much the color, as the cut. A cut that is really complimentary to your face shape that’s going to make you feel good about yourself.

Are there certain things you do to keep the appearance of your wig looking nice?

Yes, I purchased some wig care products. You also do have to spend some money on wigs that have a nice quality to them. Cheaper wigs will look “wiggy". You have to be willing to get off the dime to get a well-made wig. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars, but you should spend a little extra money. 

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I would like to encourage women that are aging to really embrace the aging process. There are things you can do as you’re aging to avoid falling into the “I’m getting old" trap or “I feel old.”  All this old old old stuff.  Instead, you can really look great and feel great even though you are aging. Find clothes that are youthful that complement your shape. Stay young mentally, move your body with some consistent exercise, eat well. All these things will help you look and feel better about aging. 

Also, back to the wearing wigs, when I was looking for wigs I really had to hunt for a youthful style that was gray because all of the gray wigs were these terrible looking styles, which I thought was awful. Again, another negative message. That's the way society thinks that older women should look. But my generation [baby boomers] has a different mentality. We don’t want to look old, we don’t think old, we want to keep our youthfulness as long as possible. So, companies really have to change the way they’re thinking when it comes to baby boomers, they have to start thinking the way we think. We don’t want to look like we have one foot in the grave.

So, you have to look for those things yourself. Try to keep a positive attitude and do what you can do to make yourself look the way you want to look at this age and stage in your life.

When you say look youthful what do you mean? Because some people may take that to mean looking they way you did when you were in high school or how you looked at a certain point in your life.

Staying youthful still means staying age appropriate. You’re not a teenager anymore, so you shouldn’t still be dressing like one. You don’t have the shape you had as a young woman, your body has changed with age so you have to buy clothes that complement your body and age. This actually even goes for younger women—all women. We all should be wearing clothes that complement our age and body shape.

Also, I just want to say that I’m very glad that my daughter talked me in to going natural and going gray. She’s been great at encouraging me to embrace aging and has helped me quite a bit. Being able to accept yourself is important. I’m really glad that she’s able to embrace herself and I appreciate her helping me embrace myself.  (Aww, thanks mama!)