My dark hair and dark eyes have defined the vision of beauty I held for myself since adolescence. Never once in my younger days had I wanted to change that by experimenting with other hair colors. It was integral to my self-image.
For me, my natural coloring represented a direct connection to my ancestors, to my grandfather who immigrated to the United States from Spain, but who passed away when I was quite young. With him passed the stories and customs he had to share from his homeland. I grew up without any real sense of who he was, what shaped him, and those who came before him.
The first time I went to Spain, I felt the country come alive in my blood. I felt different there, more my true self. Extensive travel to each of the country’s regions, portions of several years spent living there, and mining my father for any old stories woke a deep connection to the land that logic and rational thought cannot explain. It is simply an indelible part of who I am.
On my first pilgrimage along El Camino de Santiago ten years ago, I experienced the first real moment of choice about the gray that was broadcasting its presence along the part in my hairline. Several weeks into the walk, my friend and travelling companion hid herself in the bathroom at a crowded pilgrim’s hostel and did one of those quick at-home root coverage kits. It made me realize that wearing a headscarf was not the only option I had to hide my own crowning stripe.
As we walked the miles the next several days, I found myself contemplating not my ancestral and spiritual roots, but the ones making their presence known on my head.
After conquering the challenge of climbing to O’Cebreiro, which brought me into my grandfather’s home region of Galicia, I decided to take action so that I could be fully present while literally walking in my ancestors’ footsteps.
On the way to our next night’s accommodations, we passed a tiny peluqueria (hair salon). We dumped our backpacks and went inside. The owner, who was preparing to close, graciously offered to help this needy pilgrim with a special request. She arranged for an extra hour of childcare and guided me into her chair to solve my superficial root issues so that I could focus on my deeper ones.
An hour later, I walked out with my self-image restored, and enormous gratitude for the ways she and so many others support pilgrims on their way to Santiago.
Years later, as the upkeep required to cover my roots became more frequent, it began to feel inauthentic to me. Every two-three weeks, I had to touch them up. I began to plan for eventually going gray. I saw beautiful examples all around me of powerful women who were embracing their natural hair color with grace and style.
Last Christmas, my male cousin – a talented musician who had recently transitioned to gray himself – inspired me to make the choice. He told me about his own process, and heartily approved of the photo I showed him of the transitional look I was considering. “She’s hot,” he exclaimed, and told me a story of a silver fox he had seen in a coffee shop recently. “She owned it, and that was what made her so sexy.”
In January, I began to let my roots grow. When I had a base of gray to build from, I went to the hair salon and showed them my transitional photo. They created a way to mimic my natural color pattern – silver on top, dark brown threaded with gray on the rest of my head. The pandemic provided me several months to allow the new growth to flourish.
Today, I am embracing my silvery/blackish-brown hair and can feel the wisdom of my ancestors flow through me each time I look in the mirror and see a wise woman looking back.
Being present with who I am now, instead of covering it up and worrying about what peeks through, enables me to ground more deeply into my roots. That gives me the power to release the fears and preoccupations of my youth, while developing the beauty, grace, and strength to live my purpose at this vital time in my life.
This week’s feature on Going Gray provides resources, information, and support as you consider your own options and choices. Buen Camino on your own journey!