To Dye Or Not To Dye

When I wrote a small post on Facebook on my thoughts on “Going Grey”, it immediately resonated with many of my friends. A senior editor of “Women’s Web” portal came across my post and asked me to write an article on this and that’s how this post came to be.

To dye or not to dye… now that I am greying, this is a big question, says the author. But she is keen on embracing her grey hair, and looks for support to her ‘silver sisters’.

In my twenties, I had always thought very fondly about aging together as a couple. There was something very romantic about it.

That was then…Now that I have started greying, though it feels nice, it’s also a little overwhelming. It isn’t helping to not have anyone around me sporting grey (women in general). I see that it’s easier for men to sport salt and pepper hair as they get called silver foxes (hint George Clooney) but for women, well, we just get called “old hags”. Quite a double standard, isn’t it?

Why am I doing this, anyway?

There is a culture/stigma around grey hair for women that has creeped in quietly in the last two decades or so. There is tremendous invisible pressure for women to look young and stay young.

In addition to all of the daily stresses in our busy lives between work and family, we now have to add in the stress of having to look younger as we get older. When women throughout the world are breaking barriers in every field imaginable, why is ageing still made to look terrifying, especially for women?

Indulekha Pramodea teacher by profession says, “I too have coloured my hair under pressure from others but not anymore. Now, I flaunt my greys very proudly.”

We need to stop and ask ourselves, “Who am I doing this for, anyway?” If my grey hair is a sore-sight for someone else then I guess that’s their problem and probably they are not worth my time. We might also need to ask ourselves, where the pressure is coming from? Is it our friends, partner, media or probably from ourselves?

Seema Taneja, a blogger, writer and a poet says, “I have been coloring my greys for some years now but I do it only when I have to attend some function or wedding otherwise I wouldn’t even touch it for months. And now I am often tempted to give it up entirely.” Besides being a major chemical hazard she finds it a big chore to go through the rigmarole of applying colour. She hopes she can get over the burden of social perceptions and acceptability soon.

Hair shaming?

Somewhere along the way the natural process of greying has been made to look down upon. It has been used by the giants in the cosmetic industries to monetize their businesses and the media has pushed that image to further their cause. The earliest advertisements I remember watching were where a women with grey hair is called aunty by some college students and immediately she is shown cowering down, ashamed to look up. Later she is shown to stride in confidently after she dyes her hair and the same people look at her in admiration. Such are the menacing, manipulative ads we grew up seeing on our screen time and again till it became second nature to reach for a hair dye the minute you see a grey hair pop up. Over a period , it’s been completely normalised and slowly not dyeing has become alien to us.

Senior Editor at Women’s Web, Sandhya Renukamba, who is in her early 50s says she had her kid in her mid-30’s and many of her daughter’s peers had moms 10 years younger than her. So when she began greying she was told by quite a few people to dye her hair “so that her kid doesn’t feel that she has a grandmother for a mom.” Just imagine this kind of silent bullying women have to go through.

She says, “I did fall for it for a couple of years, but then rebelled against the whole thing, because it just wasn’t me. Since then I’m gloriously grey and greying further… and the kid has had no issues” This is the kind of societal pressure that many women face but Sandhya is determined to bring up her daughter to have no body image issues and to have belief in her own worth.

There are many such instances of malicious force that leads even the most confident woman wanting to go ‘au naturale’ to resign herself to dyeing her hair against her own wishes; and the root cause always seems to be such unfavourable comments or pressure from people around them.

Feel good, or look good?

I am all for feel good activities like going for new hair-cut or trying new outfits, take off on a vacation, have a massage or treat yourself to anything you love. These are things we could choose to do without worrying about any damaging effects to our health while staying true to ourselves.

Corinne Rodrigues, a writer, editor and a publisher says she started greying in her early forties and decided on no henna, no dye, no hair colour. Corinne shares a very recent incident saying, “I’m 53 now and quite grey, and during the recent elections I was told not once but twice that I should go to the Senior citizens line – both times by older women whose jet black (dyed) hair didn’t match their sagging jowls (yes, I’m being mean). I told both of them that I had chosen not to dye my hair! I must say that I marched home and declared that I was going to colour my hair electric blue!!” She adds rather indignantly. I liked her spunk and her kick-ass attitude.

Being youthful is not only in how you look or how many greys you have but also in how you carry yourself.  All said and done, women should do what makes them happy, regardless of society’s pressures.

If women stop allowing society to pressure them into looking a certain way, then these standards of preserving youthful look by any means possible and through things that might prove to be very harmful to us, will slowly fade away. And being your age and embracing the natural progressions that come with age will seem good enough!

Growing old is a privilege not many get to experience. It’s time we practice gratitude and feel deeply grateful for the fullness of life we get to experience and be happy the way we look. Appreciate every stage of life as it comes and look forward to new dreams and goals and actually live life without worrying about what people think or say about us.

I love my greys!

Sunita Rajwade , a 61 year old self-taught computer geek who is enjoying life as a granny to three grandkids under 6 says her many passions and interests keep her very busy. She loves her super busy life in Mumbai and doesn’t have time to worry about silly matters like her grey hair.

At 61, she says, “The greys are slowly outnumbering the black hairs but I don’t care. I love my greys!” She is busy living and loving a full life and so should we.

We definitely need to put our energy into better things like living the best possible life, ticking off that bucket list of ours and spending time with people we love.

A blogger by profession and an ardent reader, writer and a nature enthusiast, Ila Varma says she not only embraced her greys with open arms but loves to flaunt her greys. She says, “If you feel good with greys then nothing can stop you from flaunting them. It is a natural process and I don’t like to use chemicals on my hair. I like using only natural things for my hair.”

It’s wonderful to see a change slowly happening in this direction. There are many young people who are embracing their greys even as it occurs quite early in their life. They are taking it in their stride and are happy not covering it up.

Vinitha Dileep , a young IT professional turned stay at home mom who loves to write, says, “Grey hairs have exponentially increased on my head. But colouring them isn’t for me” She says she does face constant problems from those who relentlessly advise her to dye her hair. But she proudly says, “Its #myhairmychoice.” What a wonderful way to put it! Though she wonders whether she might feel differently in her forties or fifties, right now she seems absolutely content with her choice not to dye her hair. I applaud her for standing up for her choice, and not get bogged down by the constant pressure she is subjected to.

Calling my silver sisters

When I decided to embrace my greys, I have to admit it was a bit scary but I wanted to do it. All these wonderful women are here to show their solidarity to go grey and choose the natural way of life. This definitely gives me immense strength and conviction to go through any self-doubts and unnecessary comments that might try to shake my resolve.

While this post is all about choosing to go grey, I definitely don’t want it to be misconstrued. The post is absolutely not against opting to dye your hair, rather it is about driving home the point that “to dye or not to dye” must be one’s personal choice and not something done out of pressure of any kind.

I have tried dyeing my hair too just to see how I felt about it. I found that, for me, it was definitely a Look Good but not necessarily a Feel Good factor. “Look good, feel good” tag didn’t apply here for me, not at the cost of putting toxic chemicals to hide the greys. It was as if I am covering up a part of who I really am. And for what?

This is my way of finding the courage and support in trying to be my most authentic self. It’s nothing more than that. My silvers to me are a means of embracing my aging process. It may not be for everyone and that’s totally fine.

As clichéd as it may sound, age is something that should be celebrated and is not meant to be hidden. Every year added on to your life is a testimony of a life well-lived; you have lived those years and you have definitely loved and enjoyed the ups and downs those years showed you. They are yours to own up. They are part of who we have become by living, loving, learning and having a gift of experiencing the wonderful world around us. Why try to disown or hide them?

I am hoping to find more Silver Sisters along the way. I am hoping to find support. I am hoping I can stay strong in the face of adverse comments on my looks. I am hoping this post gives someone out there a little hand to hold and that little something to make them take the step to go natural.

Let’s normalise greying again. Let’s bring back the greys.


You can read the article here too –

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4 thoughts on “To Dye Or Not To Dye”

  1. Its so well written Kalpana but I wish you had found someone among the many you quote who mention the horrendous testing by dye brands on animals as well as thectoxic effects on the earth when we wash it off. A bit disappointed.

    1. Hey Indu. I completely understand your point. But that’s a topic that requires a whole new post dedicated to it…from environment point of view. This post was more on how hair shaming makes many women reach for the dye and the invisible pressure to look young. Hoping I can write about this issue soon. Thanks for stopping by and adding your valuable input.

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