Aging Gracefully: One Woman’s Story

When I was a teenager, I enjoyed expressing myself through my hair. Every week or so, I would drastically change up my color, cut, or style to express whatever I was feeling at the moment. The wilder and more shocking, the better. At that time in my life, it felt fun, creative, and immensely freeing to see what I could come up with next to express all the complexities of being me.

When I started going grey in my early 20s, I still dyed my hair as a way to express myself, but it also became a necessity. Eventually, it became an obligatory chore that I needed to do every two to three weeks, and to properly time with significant events. Self-expression was no longer the priority; the priority was maintenance.

Fast-forward many, many years and many phases of hair expression: I had just turned 40, and I was going through some health issues. My doctor recommended a detox. As part of the detox, I could not dye my hair for a period of time. This wasn’t really a big deal to me, as my health was the priority. I proceeded to go through the detox and let my greys grow out. This was the most I had ever allowed my true hair color to show itself. Come to think of it, my hair wasn’t really grey. It was more a mix of white and silver. I could only see about a half-inch of growth in certain places, but it intrigued me. It was as if the color was calling out to me, asking me to see it.

I began inspecting the greys, moving closer to the mirror and running my fingers through my hair to get a better look and investigate just how many there were, and where. In that moment, I saw their beauty. I saw their wisdom. I fell in love with them. And that’s when I decided not to dye my hair again. I felt a desire to express myself by revealing the rawest and most natural version of myself that I could. Looking back on that day, it was a simple and natural decision. I did not know all that would unfold as I moved forward with my plan.

Over the next few weeks, I began to tell people about my decision. I was not seeking approval or opinions. Mostly, I was just warning them that I would probably look like a crazy person for a few weeks or months, as I was in the growing-out stage. I was completely taken aback when I was confronted over and over again with what felt like a mix of panic, disgust, concern, resistance, and disapproval from most of the people I told. I never knew that my hair would be so important to so many!

They couldn’t understand why I wasn’t concerned with looking young and beautiful. They couldn’t understand why I wasn’t interested in making sure that I was attractive to men, especially since I was still single. They couldn’t understand why I wasn’t worried about what people would think and how they would react.

What struck me the most was that 100 percent of these comments came from women. Several men, on the other hand, began to actually notice me more and remark on how great my hair looked. I had expected women to be the ones cheering me on for feeling free enough to do what I felt was right for me. Likewise, I’d thought men would be the ones to disagree with my decision.

This shocked me and made me feel sad—not because I believed that the naysayers were right, but because it made me realize how, as a society, we have forgotten what true aging looks like and how beautiful it is. The more negative comments I received, the more certain I was that I just needed to go for it.

I became resistant to other people’s resistance. I knew that I was not going to look like an old woman with grey hair. I was going to look how I actually look at 40 years old. There was no chance of grey looking “bad” on me. I would be beautiful in my natural state, no matter what.

All of this launched me on a journey to be a demonstration of what aging naturally, gracefully, and beautifully can look like—and hopefully, encourage others to experiment with what it might look like for them, as well. This has also led me to explore how I might be unknowingly abiding by social expectations that are not my own, and how I can free myself from those restrictions.

I want to live my life true to who I am and always offer the most authentic expression of myself that I can. What that looks like has definitely changed throughout the years, and I suspect it will continue to change throughout the rest of my life. But whatever changes occur, and whatever choices arise from that, I want to always make sure that I am truly expressing myself.

I am not suggesting that not dyeing your hair is the only way to be natural and authentic, or to age gracefully. There are many ways to do this. I am simply inviting you to consider why you make the choices you make, and how society and others are impacting those choices. I encourage you to make choices that empower you so that you are free to be authentically and unapologetically you. After all, that is what will truly keep you youthful and beautiful, no matter what you do!

Vanessa Benavides

About the Author | Vanessa Benavides

Vanessa Benavides is a nonprofit professional who has focused her 20+ year career on addressing issues related to poverty. In her personal life, she is a seeker of justice and an ecstasy hunter, not just for herself but for everyone around her. Above all else, she values truth, love, and freedom. She is also the mother of a beautiful daughter who has a passion for dancing, acting, and singing.

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