Please stop asking me about my grey hair
What happens when our crowning glory starts to fade?
The year is 2021. It seemed like any other regular day when you woke up. The morning cup of chai was fighting away the sleepiness from your eyes as you put together an outfit for the workday ahead. A part of you grumbled that the company had decided to go hybrid. You were torn between wanting to catch up with your work bestie in person rather than over Slack and staying in comfy pyjamas all day while working from home. Just as you were finishing packing dabbas for everyone in the house, your phone started to ping. Would it be another good morning message on your family group chat, or perhaps a notification to fill up on water from the building association since the overheard tanks were getting cleaned out in the afternoon? But the trending news shared on WhatsApp was unlike anything you’d been used to. Every page on social media was sharing the same ‘brave’ news.
Actor Dilip Joshi’s daughter had just tied the knot. The photographs from the celebration were being shared. The bride, Niyati, looked stunning in a beautiful red saree. A rose tucked behind her ear, warm smiles on every face on this joyous occasion. But people’s eyes were on something else entirely. Some version of ‘Niyati embraces grey hair at wedding’ was splashed everywhere.
Niyati Joshi’s decision not to dye her hair for her wedding was celebrated by fans in the comments section. She was defying beauty standards, ignoring societal pressures, they said. At first, you wondered, why is this news? But with a hair salon appointment coming up on your own calendar for a root touch-up, you realised the gravity of the situation. What shouldn’t be a headline, indeed, was a big deal.
My mother started colouring her hair in her mid-20s to hide her greys. I was visibly greying in my 20s, but the silver strands popped up in my late teens. My grandmother hit her 80s before finally deciding to break up with bow dye. It comes as a surprise to 8/10 hair stylists when I go for a haircut that I have no interest in covering up the silver streaks that have started to frame my face like Rogue from X-Men. Anwesha*, a 28-year-old Mumbai-based model, says I’m lucky because my workspace doesn’t judge me based on my appearance. “I was greying in my 20s and started colouring my hair after a photographer zoomed into my scalp after a photoshoot to point them out. He said it would be a ‘detriment’ for my career.”
The more women I spoke to, the more I realised that Anwesha was right. I was lucky. I get to be okay with my grey hair and embrace it because my daily environment allows me. Sure, there are still comments and jokes from relatives, strangers even, about my ‘Indira Gandhi look’. Why couldn’t I just dye it? I had already passed the desirable age bracket. Did I want to lose more points on the marriage market?
Hair colouring and the fear that someone would spot a grey isn’t new. People have been dyeing their hair since ancient times. Eugene Schueller, the founder of L’Oréal, produced the first synthetic hair colourant in 1907. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry based on one thing: fear.
Fear of ageing, being considered ‘old’ by others or unattractive, and not ‘presentable’ in a professional setting. “I’ve been asked to step aside on cases. My old boss said point blank that I should perhaps go to the salon and ‘freshen up’ my look. I started greying in my 20s and never bothered with it. This comment came when I was 34 and had a lot of visible greys,” said Jazz K, an Amritsar-based lawyer.
“A man will be called ‘distinguished’ or ‘silver fox’ with a salt and pepper look. Pop culture has even made it desirable. Women have it tougher,” she adds. She’s dyed her hair once. It was a tough moment for her. “I’m not religious, but my family is, and for them, dyeing your hair is a no-no. But I did it for my career and then instantly regretted it. Never did it again.”
Premature greying isn’t entirely in our control. It can be genetic, environmental, stress-induced, or nutritional deficiencies. I’m not the only one who was greying in my 20s. Of 994 Tweak readers, 78% (774) said they started greying when they were in their 20s-30s. Only 39% (377) of 970 were comfortable with it.
“I have people starting from the age of 14 to 35 asking me how they can fix premature greying,” Dr Kavita Rohilla, senior consultant trichologist at Trica Hair Clinic, told Tweak India. “There are no definite causes but trigger factors that help us understand what’s causing it.”
There have been days when I’ve tried to camouflage my grey hair under the rest strategically, too. You can’t blame any of us. It’s easy to expect body positivity from others, including our hair. But we’re shaped by a combination of societal pressures, cultural and professional expectations, and even personal preference to preserve a youthful image for as long as our bank account allows.
For some, grey hair marks a passage of time that we’re not ready to accept. The times I spotted grey streaks taking over mom’s bun filled me with unexpected panic. Watching your parents get older makes you grapple with mortality, impending loss, and grief.
There’s no right or wrong way to deal with grey hair. Whether you embrace your greying hair, wear it like a badge of honour, or explore methods of reversal – it’s your call. My decision should be entirely mine, without judgment or society’s pressures dictating what’s right. Rather than commenting on someone’s appearance, maybe we can find another way to show concern for each other’s health and wellness. For now, please stop asking me about my grey hair.
*Name changed upon contributor’s request for anonymity.