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Going Gray in the Pandemic Made Me Feel Younger Than Ever

4 minute read
Susman is the Chief Corporate Affairs Officer at Pfizer and the author of Breaking Through: Communicating to Open Minds, Move Hearts, and Change the World

In the spring of 2020, I wrote an essay for TIME, My Hair is Going Gray During the Pandemic. Here’s Why I May Never Color It Again.” Publicly, I contemplated making the break from decades of dying my hair. I acknowledged that my exploration might have seemed trivial at a time when life and death decisions were being made. Still for me, it was a pivotal decision tied up in my professional identity and society’s expectations. I ended the essay with a series of questions including, “Will I see this change through or run back to the beauty shop the minute this virus is in the rearview mirror?”

I found an answer, but one that is right only for me. “To dye or not to dye” is ultimately a personal question, surrounded by double standards. We’re considered vain if we do and lazy if we don’t.

The growing-out phase was painful. I looked like a lost tabby cat, my fur mottled and streaked with many colored stripes. Several trusted girlfriends tried to convince me to give up my quest. More than once, I was ready to take the shears to my own hair thinking bald might be better. I wore a lot of hats. Nonetheless, I persisted—working hard to stay patient.

Periodically, I gave myself a trim so I could see my progress. Then one day, nearly two years into this experiment, I gleefully lopped off the remaining tired, bleached out, bottle-blond ends. There on my bathroom floor laid the last gasp of my need to conform to corporate stereotypes and fight off the telltale signs of age.

Now, I have a full head of gray hair. Letting go of my commitment to my honey-wheat base with ribbons of “natural” highlights was liberating. The benefits have exceeded my imagination. Here are the things I’ve learned.

First, I’ve saved time and money. I no longer remain on guard for that skunk-like strip of white that would, with ever greater frequency, emerge at my roots and send me running to the salon. While I miss my colorist’s witty banter, I don’t miss the hours spent on the multiple processes, my head in the sink, my hair wrapped in tin foil and damaged by chemicals. Saying good-bye to all of that was beneficial to my calendar and my budget. It also resulted in healthier hair.

Second, I belong to a new sisterhood of gray-haired women. When we pass on the street, we nod or smile at one another as if we are members in a private club. I don’t know their names, but I imagine that they, too, used the strange period of working from home and social distancing as the moment to let their gray have its way. They look sexy and confident.

Next, I feel younger. The courage to be myself has been energizing and empowering. In a world dominated by unattainable standards of youth and beauty, I’m amazed at how good it feels to drop my time-honored and stylist-approved hair routine. Last year I turned 60 and I have an extra pound or five around my middle. My neck is sagging, and I’m constantly correcting my posture. I’m handling it. Authenticity is a sign of self-love. My gray hair, a badge of honor.

Finally, and without question, the pandemic set us back. The death toll continues to climb, and innumerable smaller, subtler losses have accumulated. But in other profound ways, we’ve moved forward. We entered an age of scientific renaissance and witnessed heroic acts of resilience by healthcare workers and caregivers. My act of resistance must appear frivolous in comparison.

Still, as I hoped, those gray wisps that first feathered out from my temples were, in fact, wings. Now, I look in the mirror and see a wild swan.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary on events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of TIME editors.