Jessica Berger Gross | Longreads | July 2018 | 21 minutes (5,335 words)

We’re in London, somewhere between the British Museum and Piccadilly Circus. It’s Thanksgiving week, and my then 9-year-old and I have been winding our way through the late November afternoon on a marathon walking tour of the city. But now we’re lost. I stop a woman who looks to be in her mid-40s, about my age, to ask for directions, and I quickly realize that she’s one of them: attractive, fashionable in an appealingly unconventional way — and with completely, unabashedly gray hair. Forget the directions. I peel off my hat to show her what’s doing underneath, where I have three months’ worth of roots. “Brilliant. Keep going,” she says. “You won’t regret it.”

For years, and more and more in the past year or two, I’d see them on the street — the striking silver hair on an artist type in her 40s on the sidewalk in Brooklyn or the Lower East Side; the shock of a long gray braid down the back of a fiftysomething woman at a thermal spa in Iceland; the short, gray bangs and bob on my sixtysomething neighbors at the farmers market in rural Maine. The surprising beauty of a woman in her 30s with unexpected, natural gray. Not to mention all the millennials — and Kim Kardashian — dying their hair bottle gray.

Throughout my 30s I’d been a vigilant hair colorer, doing whatever it took to remedy and right the gray roots growing out from my middle part. I can’t remember exactly how old I was when coloring my hair went from an occasional, even enjoyable, splurge — an optional luxury — to a required part of regular beauty maintenance and of my looking professional and pretty. But as I entered my 40s, I found my feminist and aesthetic selves at war each month when I sat in the salon chair.

Then the world changed. The New York Times needle impossibly tipped the wrong way: Trump was elected. During that bleak late autumn and winter, after the fall foliage–filled weekends of knocking on doors for Hillary, I cried myself to sleep and woke up to the steady drum of anger and disbelief. Then, almost a year later, the Harvey Weinstein story broke, and I spent my evenings half ignoring laundry and bath time and bedtime, so that I could keep up with the #MeToo news cycle. Twitter went from a procrastination time suck to a daily engagement in feminist dialogue, with a fervor the likes of which I hadn’t felt since Women Studies 101. We’d entered a time of resistance against our abuser and pussy-grabber in chief and his cronies, and like so many women, I’d absolutely had it with the constraints of patriarchy.

Now more than ever, I resented — even hated — the dye. Having to dye my hair was one more patriarchal rule I didn’t have time or patience for. And Trump’s ridiculous orange dye job made me see the deceptive element in hair color and want to run even farther from the bottle. It’s not just that I didn’t want to keep up with the hassle and expense of coloring my roots a dark brown every four weeks and highlighting the rest of my hair every few months. I wanted to become the kind of woman who could give myself permission to go gray, who’d embrace authenticity and realness, and stop running from the reality of aging and mortality. But could I do it?

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Listen to an interview with Jessica Berger Gross on the Longreads Podcast here:

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I’ve always looked younger than my age. As a girl, this meant a late period (15) and an even later first kiss (16). My mother said I’d appreciate my youthful looks when I was older and didn’t have wrinkles. And she was right. My unlined, dewy skin was my best feature, and my habit of dressing like I lived in Bushwick, Brooklyn, rather than Brunswick, Maine, meant that people thought I was 25 when I was 32, 30 when I was 40, 37 when I was 43. But at 45 the age lines started appearing and settling in despite my many-layered moisturizing routine, and I knew that going from brown hair to gray would probably mean finally looking my age, if not older.

I grew up on the South Shore of Long Island in the 1980s. There, in those days, dying your hair and wearing pantyhose and getting a nose job seemed requirements of being a woman. My mother dyed her hair, at first in the sink, then when she could afford to at a salon in town called Leonardo’s. As far as I can remember, so did everyone else’s mom in town. And even though I refused the surgery and ditched the stockings and wore all black and Dr. Martens, I internalized the basic message: Keeping up your looks in accordance with these unspoken rules was considered part of being a “good” girl, a highly questionable goal that stayed with me.

After college and 20 years spent moving from city to city — New York to Madison, Wisconsin, to New York to Los Angeles to Boston to New York to Vancouver to New York again for the last time — I settled with my family in small-town Maine where we could afford to live as a college professor (my husband) and writer (me). But deep down maybe I was still and forever a suburban Long Island girl. While I spent most days in overalls or sweatpants and fisherman sweaters, every so often, when I had a big workday back in the city — lunch with my agent, a meeting with my editor — I made sure to time my hair-coloring appointment, and maybe even a blowout, so that I’d look (what felt like) my most presentable, saleable self.

Otherwise, I went once a month, every month.

Somewhere along the line, my gray got more resistant, and the once occasional highlights gave way to single-process all-over color, which looked dull and fake but was more affordable and offered more coverage. Eventually I succumbed to the more expensive combination of the two. When we moved to Maine, every four weeks — through intense winters and book deadlines — I made the three-hour round-trip pilgrimage from my small town down to Portland for my color, spending precious work hours and money to have my roots shellacked with toxic goo, then paying extra every few months to have strategically placed highlights painted on so that my color — so that I — could look “natural.”

I can’t remember exactly how old I was when coloring my hair went from an occasional, even enjoyable, splurge — an optional luxury — to a required part of regular beauty maintenance and of my looking professional and pretty. But as I entered my 40s, I found my feminist and aesthetic selves at war each month when I sat in the salon chair.

But, eventually, even once a month wasn’t enough. My roots tormented me. They were relentless. As diligently as I’d work the dates on my Moleskine calendar, scheduling my life around my hair appointments, sometimes I felt I needed to look my rootless best at both the start and the end of the month, which meant returning to the salon a week or two early. Or else I’d resort to one of those temporary wash-out root-touch-up wands and hope nobody looked too hard at my scalp.

Early February, 2018: five months of roots.

As tedious and increasingly futile as my maintenance efforts became, I wasn’t quite ready to let it all go and embrace my gray. There was always a reason to wait. Maybe I’d color until I was 50. Or 60. And so, I kept putting it off. Another year. Two. I bargained with myself.

The first thing in my way: in July 2017, my memoir, Estranged, was coming out. I wanted to do everything in my power to support my book. Write the essays, utter the insightful, extemporaneous pull quotes during press interviews, ask for the favors from writers I only sort of vaguely knew. Also: Lose five pounds. Take the perfect not-trying-too-hard-but-still-looking-the-best-I-ever-had author photo. (This was decidedly not the time to let myself go.) Make sure my clothes were on point. And, of course, keep up my hair color. Because it felt like, in order to be promising and relevant, to sparkle as a creative person, to show that I meant business and was ready for my Sunday Styles profile — or at least byline — I needed to be pretty, which meant I had to color my hair.

Like so many women, I was plagued by a vain and longstanding paranoia about what people might think of me. And by me, I mean my looks. And by people, I mostly mean people in New York. Like my agent, who in his 30s has gray hair himself. But that didn’t stop me from worrying what he might think, even though he looks completely dashing in his, and I knew intellectually he couldn’t care less about the state of mine. Or my stylish women friends, who already knew all about the gray beneath my hair color anyway. Still, I worried. Would I be discounted or ignored by a book or magazine editor down the line because my hair and the age it indicated made me seem irrelevant? What if going gray made me look as if I’d given up, and people started giving up on me? Back at home, would my husband mind that I suddenly looked older? Bottom line: Would I still be pretty? Which really meant: Would I still be good?

Obviously, there’s a double standard when it comes to gender and gray hair. Men with gray hair are viewed as weathered and sexy and distinguished. The husband of one of my best friends is a German-born, brownstone-Brooklyn-dwelling painter-turned-high-end-contractor who is all gray hair and beard and distinguished hipster-gentleman. In his early 50s, he has developed a side gig as a model for a cool-kid, workwear-inspired fashion brand. Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen, both handsomely gray, cohosted CNN’s New Year’s Eve coverage. And yet it’s almost impossible to imagine a doubly gray Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie greeting us each morning on the Today show. Or a graying Mika Brzezinski seated beside her graying on-screen and off-screen partner Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe. Busy Phillips, my personal Instagram Stories obsession (and yours), switches between blond and pink long hair, while her screenwriter husband, Marc Silverstein, sports a well-groomed gray lumberjack-in-Hollywood beard. What if we lived in a world where she could be the gray one? On Facebook, a woman I went to college with, a gray-haired sex educator, writes about being mistaken for her child’s grandmother at the playground. Barack Obama can go gray and joke about it. Michelle keeps up her color. And when she doesn’t, the press turn her stray grays into a news story.

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Also complicating my decision was the practical question of how exactly to transition from brown to gray, if I did decide to ditch the color. If I couldn’t tolerate five or six weeks of gray roots, how was I going to deal with five months or a year of them? Daphne Merkin writes in her memoir This Close to Happy that visible gray roots are a sign of depression. As many problems as I have with her dated and decidedly privileged old-school brand of feminism, I knew what Merkin meant. Depressed or not, I’d always kept up my color. Now, I wondered whether people around me would worry I’d fallen back into the depression of my adolescence and 20s if they saw my untended roots.

Would I need to shave my head, so I could start my gray period with a clean slate? In my 30s, I’d pictured shearing myself and disappearing into a year of yoga study in India from which I’d return skinny and wise and at one with my gray, but before I could go through with that, I became a mother, and the realities of motherhood and a mortgage rendered that plan impossible. I started obsessively watching YouTube videos of women documenting how they went gray. Some shaved their heads completely — on camera! — and I wasn’t sure I could go that far. I worried about looking severe, or even sick. My other option was the gradual growing-it-in skunk look, like I’d seen on a couple of the mothers at my son’s old elementary school in the East Village. They had simply let the gray take over. Each month another inch. In Maine, it seemed you either were gray or you weren’t, and I’d missed the chance to grow gray gradually and gracefully.

There was no easy way. But I knew that on the other side of whichever awkward (and possibly embarrassing) transition I chose would be the promise of a new kind of hair freedom.

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I went down other internet rabbit holes — Pinterest and Instagram. Once I started looking for it, gray hair — what my son calls on-purpose gray hair — was suddenly everywhere. I collected images and pinned them to my office corkboard.

In the September 2017 issue of Vogue, I saw a photo of Nadine Levy Redzepi, 32, the Danish cookbook author (and wife of René Redzepi of Copenhagen’s Noma restaurant). She was promoting her book Downtime: Deliciousness at Home in a blood red dress with her silver hair loosely tied behind her ears. Vogue calls her a “platinum-haired mother of three.” (Is gray the new platinum?) In The New York Times, I came across a photo of Helene Verin, age 62, at a sample sale in the Hamptons, looking simple, chic, and decidedly not depressed in her short gray pixie. Verin, a designer and FIT professor who says she never spends more than $5 on any article of clothing and wears orthopedic sandals — “what they call old lady shoes” — is in a summer dress snapped up at an end of season sample sale bin. A model in the J. Crew catalog on my kitchen counter wears admiringly stringy gray hair past her shoulders, a black suit and white T-shirt, a strong lip, and a knowing look. There was the Rachel Comey “real” model with her slightly frizzed out gray on my Instagram feed. On the lifestyle blog Cup of Jo, the stylist Linda Rodin was all gray hair and red lip in and around her New York apartment. (Note to self: If I do this, I must buy new lipstick.) Sick in bed one afternoon, I watched the documentary Absolutely Fashion: Inside British Vogue to catch glimpses of Sarah Harris, the fashion editor who wears her never-dyed gray hair long down her back. Fashion personality Stacy London has worn a flash of gray since she was 11. Sophie Fontanel, the Parisian writer and author of The Art of Sleeping Alone: Why One French Woman Gave Up Sex, documented her inch-by-gray-inch transition on Instagram with the hashtag #uneapparitionsofiefontanel. Her memoir, Une Apparition, is named after the intriguingly silver-haired women who, one after another, appeared to her like a sign, coaxing her to go natural.

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In real life, I took inspiration from my new friend, the writer and editor Sari Botton (who edited this piece). Long before we’d met, I’d admired Sari’s hair. Her platinum blond–streaked mane seemed an essential part of her personal style and writerly aesthetic. It was all part of that East Village–to–upstate New York Goodbye To All That look. Then Sari stopped coloring her hair, cut it super short, and grew out her gray, eventually arriving at the desired bangs and hair past her shoulder. And she looked even more #cloglife/literary chic/feminist rocker. I think, too, of Rebecca Walker, the Los Angeles–based writer and longtime feminist activist and educator, who came out with her hair newly short and graying hair on social media a couple of years ago. With every photo posted she looked more herself, an embodiment of her book Black Cool: One Million Streams of Blackness.

Then I hit pay dirt: a photo gallery on Man Repeller of the French-born, German Glamour magazine fashion director and stylist Véronique Tristram. Her hair is an unapologetic and decidedly hard-core peppery gray-black, which she wears with oversize black glasses and a starkly cool, deeply covetable style.

I had the old-school gray icons to look up to, as well: Toni Morrison’s dreadlocks, Jamie Lee Curtis’s short and pert hairdo, like a high school principal; Susan Sontag’s legendary white stripe. Back in 2007, journalist Anne Kreamer (literally) wrote the book on this — Going Gray: What I Learned about Beauty, Sex, Work, Motherhood, Authenticity, and Everything Else That Really Matters. On film this year, Angela Bassett’s Queen Ramonda in Black Panther is regally silver-haired.

Late February 2018: two-tone granny bun.

Helping me be a little less hard on myself for my ambivalence are the high-profile women who seem like they want to, but can’t quite commit. In a New Yorker profile by Emily Nussbaum, Orange Is the New Black’s Jenji Kohan sits by her backyard fire pit, confessing that she “was thinking of quitting TV. She might let her hair go gray; she wanted to travel.” Diane Keaton mixes layered highlights with her gray. Meryl Streep is gray here and blond there. Joan Didion was photographed gray for her famous 2015 Celine campaign, but switches between silver and brown bobs in the recent Netflix documentary The Center Will Not Hold. Frances McDormand appears makeup-free and with gloriously messy gray hair on the cover of the New York Times Magazine, but is back to highlights at the Golden Globes months later, and back to gray again in New York magazine a few months after that. This summer, The Real Housewives of New York City’s Dorinda Medley appears blonde in the show, but (is it just me?) a Miranda Priestly silver in interviews. Helen Mirren seem to straddle the fine line between silver and lighter shades of blonde, like a forest chameleon in the woods.

After my book launch, I began spending a disproportionate chunk of each day considering my roots and what to do about them. The urge to go natural grew.

Keeping me from pulling the trigger are the famous women who color and talk openly about the work of avoiding gray. Jessica Seinfeld tells an interviewer she went from brunette to blond in order to spend less time constantly dealing with gray roots. Naomi Watts posts a salon selfie on Instagram about tending to hers. Oprah declares hair color the best cosmetic invention of the last century.

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After my book launch, I began spending a disproportionate chunk of each day considering my roots and what to do about them. The urge to go natural grew. My therapist wondered, why now? Was I somehow punishing myself, post publication, for writing the hard truth about my parents? Creating a problem that didn’t exist? My women friends were intrigued, nervous, excited. They thought about no longer coloring their hair, and they wanted me to go first.

Each time I saw my hairstylist, Marie, we debated my going natural. Even though she’d be losing steady money if I quit the color, she agreed it was time. The gray was taking over and proving more and more stubbornly resistant to absorbing color. For the past several months she’d tried everything she could think of — using heat to make the color stronger, putting me under a retro hair-dryer chair, leaving the color on for 45 minutes instead of 20. A few times I drove back home and washed my hair out days later, only to see the newly colored sections had withered to a dull shade of lackluster grayish brown, and I either had to deal with it for the rest of the month, or drive back to Portland for an on-the-house do-over. We resorted to a flat, dead, shoe polish base color, a harsh and artificial result that managed to provide the necessary coverage, but went against the whole idea of trying to approximate a sun-kissed version of the once-auburn-girl me. We discussed my going short and platinum blond, as the gray would blend in better when it grew back in. Or using some sort of blond highlight to make the transition to gray less severe. But I wasn’t sure I wanted to prolong the process.

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One September Saturday morning, I walk around the Common Ground Fair, a statewide festival of organic growers and “celebration of rural living” — a day we mark on our calendars in Maine — wondering (OK, neurotically discussing with my husband while texting friends) whether to go pixie and platinum, or just stop coloring my hair altogether and let it grow. (Or should I keep on keeping on and coloring the gray?) All around us were the sort of earthy women who wore their hair gray and, I’m sure, didn’t put their loved ones through this never-ending debate. I imagined them at work on their homesteads, too busy with chicken coops and log-chopping and tomato-canning and almond nut milk bag squeezing to have time for such superficial concerns.

On the hour drive home, I pause the Hamilton soundtrack and attempt to engage my husband Neil, a sociologist, and our son Lucien on the topic. What did they think?

“Don’t do it,” Lucien says from the backseat. “You’ll look old. You won’t be beautiful anymore. You’ll look like a grandmother.” He wanted me to wait five more years, or better yet, another 10. He wants his mommy to stay beautiful. Where did he get these ideas? From Disney movies? Or, worse, I worried, from watching me (despite my daily feminist lectures at the kitchen table). Is this what I’ve been teaching him by coloring my hair since he was a baby? Doesn’t he know I can be gray and beautiful? Don’t I?

After 20 minutes, Neil says he’s bored by the topic and really doesn’t care either way. He just wants me to be happy. “Can we talk about something more interesting?” he asks. But this subject is still fascinating to me. Endlessly so. Neil never once had to think about whether to color or conceal the gray sprouting out of his beard. Shouldn’t a sociologist be interested in these questions? Especially when they concern his wife? Neil understood my point, and for a few weeks we debated the pros and cons ad nauseam. He thought I should go for it, hoping, I suppose, that this was the proper feminist and supportive husband response.

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Back on YouTube, I stumble across a series of videos by Lulah Ellender, a woman with a British accent and an intellectual sensibility, who wore striped shirts and talks about the feminist and aesthetic motivations underpinning her decision to go gray after years of dying her hair every three weeks. “I have gray hair. And that should be OK. And why do I have to cover it up? I think women can look beautiful whatever their age. We shouldn’t have to hide things. This is one thing I can do to embrace who I really am.”

The videos are a revelation. It felt like Lulah could be my friend, and after typing her name into my browser I learn she’s a memoir writer, too, who lives in the countryside of East Sussex, a train ride from London. She’s posted a series of videos spanning the two years from her decision to go gray, cutting the color off into a pixie, and letting her hair grow out to her shoulders. In her videos, Lulah addresses the thicket of issues she encountered along the way: losing her mother and feeling haunted by the eerily familiar reflection in the mirror when she catches herself newly gray, as her mother was at her age; running into a male friend from university who she imagines will be weirded out by her new look; dealing with looking older from a distance. When she wavered, she’d remind herself, “This is who I am and I’m not hiding.” “Develop a core strength,” she counseled women watching. “Tell yourself you’re doing the right thing. It’s worth it. … One day women won’t need to watch videos about growing out their gray.” What I notice as I watch her transformation: the grayer she becomes, the more beautiful she is.

Lulah and I became pen pals, emailing back and forth a dozen or so times about books and hair. By kismet or coincidence, I was heading to London over Thanksgiving, my first time back in a dozen years, and we decided to meet for lunch at a suitably “twee” restaurant tucked behind a courtyard gate in Arnold Circus. I’d lost my old ski hat in the Boston airport, and made up for it at the Liberty holiday sale, where I bought two wool hats, one gray and one pink, both topped with oversized pom-poms, to get me and my currently crazy looking hair through the long Maine winter. Three months into foregoing hair color, the line of demarcation had become abundantly obvious. But we were staying in the Brooklyn-esque Shoreditch neighborhood, and I spotted cool women with gray hair almost on the hour. London women seemed more open to eccentricity than New Yorkers; less uniformly polished. I suddenly felt like my gray roots give me a scrappy, undone charm. I mustered the nerve wear my hair up in a bun atop my head, like a hipster granny. Still, I was self-conscious and determined not to be caught with my hair down.

As I waited for Lulah to come from the countryside to see me, I had time to think: Do I mind looking older? And if I “read” older, will I still come off as feminine? Would I render myself invisible to men? Did I care?

When Lulah arrived she was rosy-cheeked and gray-haired and perfectly, quirkily stylish in chunky, heeled sandals and socks. We hugged, and she offered to let me touch her hair. It was soft like a child’s, and had grown back to her chin. Lulah told me she has four children, plus dogs and chickens and a husband who has just turned 50. She likes to swim in the wild. Her first book, Elisabeth’s Lists, is coming out in March, and she has plans for two more in quick succession. We’re the same age, 45.

Lulah is brainy and sexy, and nowhere near done. We discussed Linda Rodin and Sarah Harris; I showed her my secret Pinterest board. Together we debated whether or not I should chop off my hair, or keep rocking my granny bun. We talked about why we write, how bad the money is, how emotionally challenging the ups and downs of publication can be, and why we won’t stop. She said lots of women in her town are going gray, and told me about the shampoo that will keep my hair from turning blue.

I returned to Maine feeling more certain and emboldened: If Lulah can do this, so can I.

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Before giving up hair color, I’d dreaded feeling embarrassed, self-conscious, and depressed about my roots. But now that I’d gotten going, I didn’t feel any of those things. Instead, I felt liberated. It was like jumping into a cold lake on an early June day. The hardest part was deciding to jump. I was still in an awkward in-between state, with roots a mess, but I was fine. And I was free from the dye.

All winter long, I gathered my hair in a messy topknot or hid it under one of the two pom-pom hats, waiting for the courage to cut off the remaining dyed part of my hair. Some days, looking in the mirror, I missed my familiar brown-haired self, the one who could still sometimes be mistaken for 35. Then I came down with the flu plus a side of bronchitis, and for a few weeks my face lost all hint of color and my skin went dermatitis dry. I was winded going up and down the stairs. I started feeling vulnerable and not just older, but old. I stopped bothering with shampoo. My hair suddenly looked nuts; the line of demarcation had moved further down my scalp, becoming longer and harder to camouflage, and hat season would eventually end.

Not every reaction has been positive. Some middle-aged men of my acquaintance don’t recognize me and look horrified once they do. But, I’ve discovered, I really don’t care.

The old hair, I knew, had to go. Which meant going short. Very short. I fretted: Would I feel feminine without my long hair? Would I still look pretty? First, I needed to fortify the rest of me. Once I recovered from the flu, I started working out — not my regular yoga but jumping on a trampoline and lifting weights under the tutelage of Busy Phillip’s L.A. trainer for $20 a month, thanks to online sessions. And after almost two decades of being off and on with meditation, I began practicing for 10 or 15 minutes in the morning, no excuses. On Sundays we went cross-country skiing as a family. I got stronger. I figured if my hair looked bad, at least my body would look good.

Spring came. I drove down to Portland to see my hairstylist, Marie, with a ream of old-school magazine clippings. While I took deep cleansing breaths and tried not to panic, Marie started in on a Michelle Williams–inspired pixie. An hour later, I emerged from her chair looking like a different person, but feeling more like me. Older? Yes, I think. Or, at least, of a now-indeterminate age. Somewhere between 39 and 52. But also: better.

Marie confessed she’d have walked right by me before — just another brunette in glasses. But now, she said, I’d be the first person in the room she’d want to get to know. I drove home, and Lucien ran to meet me in the driveway, overcome with relief when he saw me. “Mommy! You look amazing.” My husband says he loves it too, and that I’ve never looked sexier. When we visit New York the following week, my friend Cassandra tells me I look gamine, like a Jean Seberg for the over-40 set, and suggests I always wear stripes. Above all, though, she says I must never go back to brown.

Not every reaction has been positive. Some middle-aged men of my acquaintance don’t recognize me and look horrified once they do. But, I’ve discovered, I really don’t care.

July 2018: preparing for pixie cut grow-out after a haircut in NYC.

It’s July 2018, and I haven’t colored my hair since the end of August 2017. Eleven months in, I realize this is a small matter — an admittedly superficial thing. While activists have been calling out racists and taking down sexual predators, I’ve been growing out my roots. But it’s not nothing. There are aspects of my going gray that are political. Giving myself permission to break unspoken rules has been liberating and life-changing. I declare this my very personal middle finger to Trump — and all things patriarchy.

It’s also my way of accepting who I am now. It’s time to say goodbye to the younger me with everything ahead of her. The one who didn’t know what would happen with her book, or how many children she might have, or where she’d end up living. I’m trading in the angst-ridden striver for a more settled, contented, sturdier version of me.

The thing is, after my year of hedging and doubts and texts to friends for reassurance, all in all I love my gray hair, and if you’re on the fence, I think you would love yours, too. Now that I’ve gone natural, I’ve gained perspective on all of it. Turns out, I’ve been overthinking my hair for decades. I don’t need highlights, or even particularly styled hair, to look good. All those blowouts seem a regrettable youthful excess, like cigarettes. I welcome texture. My short hair is flattering and easy to deal with, and it allows me to feel feminine — or not — depending on my mood. And I’m ready to find out what my hair looks like long, too.

The gray itself is a shock of silvery white interspersed with some brown strands on the nape of my neck and along my cheeks. All of which feels hard-earned and therefore more special than a salon-bought highlight and color job. (I’m saving so much money, too!) The gray really does seem purposeful. I am properly granola and badass. I’m embracing my age. I don’t give a fuck. My new hair makes sense whether I’m in overalls at the farmers market in Maine or rocking a Rachel Comey jumpsuit at a bookstore reading in Brooklyn. More than ever before, I feel beautiful.

My son says I look like Elsa from Frozen. I’ll take it.

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Jessica Berger Gross‘s memoir, Estranged: Leaving Family and Finding Home (Scribner), is now out in paperback.

Editor: Sari Botton