Once It Left Off-Black, I Never Went Back: Loving My Gray Hair

by M. Lavora Perry

On a recent sunny day, as I walked down the street with my gorgeous 17 year-old daughter, a man in a car called out "Hey!" twice. I kept walking, assuming he was checking my daughter out, which would have been icky because he was old enough to be her father. But, of course, I know it happens. In fact, on more than one occasion, my daughter and I have discussed the sociodynamics and evolutionary reasons why older men hound after teenage girls.

But I digress.

The man called out "Hey, you!" the third time and I looked at him, still walking. He was talking to me. "Is that your natural hair color?" he said. I can't count the times people have asked me this. Like who DYES their hair GRAY?

I told him that I was indeed rocking my natural hair color. "Wow," he said (or something like that). "How old are you?" I told him--51. "I thought you were a young woman with gray hair," he said (it was a compliment).

Once he took the friendly banter past the line by asking my name, I pulled out my "MRS. Perry" card, even though I really go by “Ms.” So he left me alone.

But I was glad my daughter witnessed all this, for two reasons. First off, she saw that there are men out there who prefer women of their own generation. She might appreciate knowing this when she's older.

Second, I explained to her that the only reason that man thought I was older was because he probably never sees 51 year old women with gray hair, and that’s because, while most 51 year olds HAVE gray hair, most also dye it.

So everybody is confused about what women really look like at my age. It may not be that I look so young for 51, although I’d like to think I do and it’s a compliment I hear a lot. Instead, it may be that it's unclear just what the average 51 year old woman's hair looks like because, although most women begin to gray in their 30's, most also hide this fact under hair color.

I started graying in my 20’s. It’s a genetic thing on my father’s side. Several of my cousins have been gray foxes for years—while their friends religiously hit the Clairol bottle.

Since the 80’s, I have never colored my hair or used heat or chemicals to straighten it. Instead, I’ve quietly waged my own personal campaign against the notion that, in order to be beautiful, a black woman's hair must be assaulted, beaten into submission, and totally alienated from its original state.

Now this latest incident has really got me thinking. Perhaps my daughter being with me that day stirred up one of my deepest hopes. That is that young black women like her will do what my generation has yet to do fully do en mass: shake off the centuries-old insidious lie that rests deep within our souls and blinds us from this truth—we are naturally fine and fierce. Just. As. We. are.

So I've been kicking around the idea of starting some sort of community that celebrates black women over 40 who wear their hair gray, natural and proud—not sure I will do it, but maybe.

If you are a gray and natural black woman, are thinking about becoming one, or just appreciate women like us, holla back.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Cleveland Ohio native and freelance writer M. LaVora Perry covers grassroots for Cleveland’s Greater University Circle Neighborhood Voice newspaper. She is the author of the children’s books Taneesha Never Disparaging, a novel, and A History of the Civil Rights Movement. She blogs about living with bipolar disorder on mlavoraperry.com.

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