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I found my first grey hair when I was 23. I say grey, but it was actually white. It was also very thick, and curly, and a completely different texture to the rest of my hair. I had been so unprepared and so ignorant of the fact that hair can and might change in such a way at such an age that I genuinely had no idea what it was. I thought it was a piece of nylon or fishing line that had somehow become entangled in my hair, a loose thread off a jumper. I threw it away and forgot about it.

I was 24 and in New York when I found the second grey hair. This one was actually still attached to my head. I was really confused – I thought it was a dead hair, a delusional or drunk hair perhaps, giddy with illness, it’s structure morphing into something new and foreign. Maybe I had hit my head and it died at the root? Maybe it had always been a fucked up strand of hair and I’d never noticed? Maybe it was some long-dormant X-Men mutant gene? It was attached to my head, but I did not recognise it as myself. I pulled it out for a closer look- it was springy, coiled, plasticky. I was confused and bewildered. The whole episode just seemed bizarre and surreal.

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It was at Pete’s funeral where I finally realised as his mother spoke about her own grey hairs. “It’s funny, it’s almost like they’re a different texture”, she said, and with that one sentence she gave me the relief of understanding. The strange fishing wire! The weird encounter in front of the mirror in New York! I should probably have felt panic – why grey so early? – but instead, I felt grateful; almost joyful. It was laughable that it had taken me so long to realise. Duh! How obvious! It’s just a grey hair! Relief is a brief, futile thing, but overall I remember feeling grateful that she had parented me into the knowledge of what was happening. Until then, I had not known I still needed parenting.

After the short lived futility of relief, I started panicking. 24? Twenty-fucking-four? What kind of age was that to go grey? My best days were behind me. Frantic internet searches were confusing and pointless; I needed to eat more avocado, massage my head every evening, use special shampoo. People go on about the signs of aging as though it’s one of the seven deadly sins. Grey hair is embarrassing, awkward, something to be covered up and disguised and never again mentioned. If you google “grey hair” the results tell you all about the causes, the problems, the preventative measures, the cure. The shame, the stigma, the horror. We live in a society where tabloids routinely shame those who dare to display their grey hair: those who dare to age.

These days I have a whole flock of grey hairs. They are shy, hiding under the top layer of har and gathering at the sides, but when I scrape my hair back for beehives and ribbons they make an appearance. They’re easier to spot if you look at the top of my head dead-on, but I’m 5ft8, and not many people are tall enough to have a direct, face-on view of the top of my head. Those that are don’t seem to care.

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You could say I’m going grey from the stress. The stress of living in London, or the stress of being freelance, or the stress of losing a friend. If it were due to stress then I would not mind a bit. The causes of stress are causes for which I am proud to wear a scar, proud to display my battle wounds, proud to have dealt with and survived. If my grey hair is due to stress then that’s just fine.

But it is not due to stress. It is not nearly as romantic as that. It is due to genetics, plain and simple. The same reason for all of my best flaws. I think of the grey-haired family around me: my cousins; my mother and my auntie, who have been dyeing their hair for years; second cousins, women with thick dark grey braids under brightly coloured saris. My Dad, who started going grey aged 18. At least I’ve had better innings than him. Genetics can be cruel but they can also be kind; I’m so very far away from most of my family but at least I go grey in the knowledge that so did everyone else who lived before me. I have a strange affection for my grey hair, for what it represents. Having a connection to a family. History. Growing up, growing older. Progress.

Besides, when I do go grey and my fringe no longer matches my eyes, I will buy a large black velvet bow, and it will be suddenly, wonderfully visible on my crown.

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14 thoughts on “Grey

  1. Marneymae says:

    I don’t remember my age when I found my first silver/white/grey hair, no doubt in my twenties, and now it’s nothing I can notice day by day at 44. But it still takes me by surprise, maybe because in part I have very dark hair & to find a loose one on a shirt or jacket there’s a pause, like: whose IS this?
    I feel fortunate to live in an area where most women rock their grey/silver/white heads with no hesitation, no shame.
    And I really want to see what this thing called Marney will look like through time. I’m curious. Like a tree wearing it’s bark just-so, having made its way through whatever life challenges & offerings were presented.


  2. Denise says:

    As usual, a lovely post! Well, I wanted to be like my father, who was 60 and still nearly no grey hair. But my mum had at an early age. So I guess being in the middle will be fine. But so you are tall, but I am short :) I’m 5ft2 and a half :) (I demand that half to be acknowledged :) and my hair being dark red may hide grey hair a bit. But still, when they come, as you said, so what? That is not what makes us – Ok Ok, I don’t want either :) But grey hair proves that we are living :) Hope you have a nice weekend!


  3. Jane says:

    I’ve been finding random grey and white hairs for a few years now, mine are like totally different hairs too haha! I have no idea how they get so long before i notice them…


  4. lastyearsgirl says:

    Fifteen here, my lovely. They say early grey is a sign of intelligence. It doesn’t seem to be genetics in my case – although I’m naturally darker than most of my family, so perhaps it just shows up more clearly – so I’ll take it.

    I’m not ashamed of it as such, but with two-thirds of my hair really dark now and the other third white, I just don’t like the look of it right now, which is why I’m still a dye-er… I love your attitude though, and also Denise’s, it DOES prove that we are living, doesn’t it? x


  5. Laura says:

    haha, i was definitely under 20 when i got my first grey/white hair! now i have a wee stripe on my right temple and it’s never bothered me and i’m waiting to see if it grows into a full-on x-men rogue thing, haha! but everyone in my family seems to go grey fairly young so it was no surprise to me; i never knew my dad to have anything but grey hair, my mum started going grey when i was born (haha!) and had completely grey hair before 40 and my sister found her first greys at 16. i’d hoped i’d go white like my grandpa, but don’t mind gray either. and i find that grey’s become more ‘trendy’ now, at least among older people, which is nice since most of my mum’s friends’ve stopped dying their hair and are now complimenting her hair! it’s such a normal part of ageing that it shouldn’t be seen as something shameful at all:-) xx


  6. Pretty Red Glasses says:

    I was gonna say it was about genetics but you found out. My dad side all have white hair now and my mother says that my brother was born with some white hairs. I have a place on my head where they all come together in the same spot… annoying but now it has spread around the head more.
    Once, a friend taller than me (male friend) said “gosh you are getting old” lol…. hated him so much for his non manners!

    I liked the way you express your feelings and thoughts ….Maybe it was some long-dormant X-Men mutant gene? rofl


  7. Jaina says:

    In that very same boat as you. My first grey hairs started popping up in my early/mid twenties and gradually they’re definitely beginning to colonise my head. The hilarious thing is, whenever I bring this up to my BF he rolls his eyes and snorts. He started going grey at the age of 14 and is a whole lot more salt and pepper than George Clooney is. Or was. Or whatever.

    Here’s to genetics. Bring on the grey hair, I’ll wear you like a crown.


  8. Kim says:

    lol you’re hilarious :)
    I love hearing your perspective on different things. I probably got my first gray hair when I was in my early twenties, and I was freaked out. Now I have so many, my hair looks better when I part it on the side but when I do all my grays stick out >_<
    they stick out a lot being a different texture but I try not to care that much anymore ;)


  9. spicepicable me says:

    Grey is okay! I have a flock of whites since I was 12 and I never paid it much attention, just the way it is. I think you’re beautiful the way you are, so raw and original. Screw the greys bring on the happy days! :D I’m an awful poet.


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