Splitting (Grey) Hairs by Karen Leslie Hernandez


We’ve all seen it on Social Media – the hair. Wild hair. Unkempt hair. Grey hair. #Quarantinehairdontcare. Covid19 has changed it all up. No more regular hair appointments and in turn, hair around the world is out of control.

I’ve been fighting my grey hair for a long time. For about 15 years, in fact. I wish I could stick a rolling eye emoji right there, because, how ridiculous is it that I have put, what some say, cancer causing agents on my scalp for 15 years now. The reality is, I am in ministry. As a public facing person, a public theologian, and job(s) where I am continually standing up in front of, many times, men from several different faith and cultural traditions from around the world, I feel that I need to look good. Does that mean grey hair doesn’t look good? I guess it depends on who you ask. Yet, as I am certain we all are, I am always asking myself – Who sets the standards on if a woman looks good or not? Who says grey hair means “old?” If you said, “Men say that!” of course, you are right. But, the reality is, women descend upon each other all the time too. Whether we like to admit it or not, we compete with each other, especially when it comes to how we look.

Ever notice there’s an adoring or sexy name for every hair color and a good looking woman? She’s a hot blond. She’s a stunning brunette. She’s a sexy ginger. Have you once, ever heard, She’s a stunning grey haired lady! Or, Damn, she looks good with that grey hair! Or, Wow, that grey hair makes her look hot! No.

Double standard time. Good looking men who have grey hair, as most of us know, are labeled a “Silver Fox.” The same does not apply to women, obviously.  We do hear, though? She looks so sophisticated with her grey hair. Different meaning, folks.

I admit it – I am vain. I can live with that. I also keep asking myself, Do I want to graduate as Dr. Hernandez next year with grey hair, or, brown hair? How pathetic, right? I am really good at splitting (grey) hairs. Hair salons are still not open in San Francisco (thankfully), so as I look in the mirror at my ever fierce grey hair, I have a box of Madison Reed brown hair color on stand-by – just in case I give up on growing my grey hair out. I am continually in conversation with myself – Should I keep it? Should I dye it? Over, and over, and over again. My mom, of course, says, With your skin tone and green eyes, the grey hair will look so good! Of course, my mom needs to say that. For motivation, some of my friends pointed out that there’s a whole movement of women who document their grey hair growth on Instagram (IG), with hashtags like, #grey #greyandsexy #letitgrey, #Silverdisobedience and so many more.

I have to be honest – as I view these IG accounts and the pictures, there’s so much work that goes into touting that beautiful, transitioning grey hair, it feels less than authentic. But, really, is anything on IG authentic? These accounts aren’t just about the grey hair either. There’s full on make up, with bright lipstick, and don’t forget the sexy clothing, and perfect lighting, while standing on a rock in the desert, at sunset. My first thought after perusing these accounts is how exhausting it must be for these women to have to prove they exist and are worthy, even with grey hair.

Yet, as perfectly contradictory as I can be, regardless of how young my face and body still look, I look in the mirror and can understand this desire to remain “youthful,” even through my hair. Because, again, grey hair isn’t sexy – unless you braid it, wear red lipstick, a ton of eye make-up (don’t forget the smokey eye shadow), and a tank top that’s too small. Now, before you get mad at me because I am making fun of other women, I have a point. The reality is, women make it harder for women to just be who we are. We all know this. When it comes to grey hair, I can’t compete with these IG accounts that must tout how they are still relevant and must spend hours to get one good photo, that a bunch of gross men can comment on, saying things such as, “Oh, so hot.” “You’re gorgeous.” “I’d like to come home to that every night.” Ew. Why would I want to do that? Why would any woman subject herself to that? I am always perplexed when a woman objectifies herself. Which is exactly what this grey-haired movement does. This movement doesn’t prove that grey is sexy. It only proves that we can’t just be grey, without making it a big f-ing deal.

Famous women don’t help in making grey hair a norm either. Think of all those beautiful, leading ladies over 60 years old, who light up the silver screen – with brown, red and blonde hair. Hollywood certainly won’t allow them to be real. Otherwise, they don’t work.

I just want this to be simple. Yet, it is, right? I am doing this to myself. Yet, when I ask women in my field about going grey, each and every one says I should not let my hair go. Each. And. Every. One. In fact, one told me that she went grey and then wrote a book. Her editor told her she couldn’t be in a photo on the back cover of her book with grey hair, because then she wouldn’t be as relevant. So, she dyed her hair back to brown. I have other friends who serve in churches, who have literally been hounded by men in their congregations to look “younger,” and dye their hair so they are more “attractive,” in the pulpit. This has a lot of other ramifications when a man wants a female pastor to look good in the pulpit, but that’s a whole other written piece, at another time.

This may all be so trivial in the bigger picture, but, again, the reality is, grey haired women are put into an arena all their own. And it’s not the sexy arena, either.

Wouldn’t it be nice if a woman could just age gracefully. Without creams for wrinkles, or dye for her hair, or shopping at Forever 21 for Polka Dot Daisy Duke Shorts? What it we just aged as we are supposed to? As all humans do. As we are meant to. What if we could find a grey haired salute that stands in line with the hot blond, the stunning brunette, the beautiful ginger? Yet, do we need to? Is that necessary? Society and our conscience argue over this all the time. And clearly, Society wins.

I could continue to split these (grey) hairs all day. There’s no winning here. In life, on social media, with our jobs and our work, when it comes to our looks – there is not winning. The reality is, we get old. We die. And women are expected to do this a certain way. How we get there, really is up to us as individuals. We just need to keep reminding ourselves of our innate worth and to practice self-love and self-compassion first. Because the reality is, I can be a hot brunette and then a beautiful grey haired woman – but in the end, that all means absolutely nothing.

 

Karen Leslie Hernandez is a theologian and interfaith activist. She has published with several media outlets including the Women’s United Nations Report Network, The Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue/Studies, the Interfaith Observer, and she is the only Christian to have published an ongoing Op-Ed Column with OnIslam out of Cairo, Egypt. Some of her past gigs include designing and teaching an Interfaith Dialogue workshop with Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago, as well as spending four years working with United Religions Initiative, in several different positions. An Over-Achiever, Karen has not one, but two theological master’s degrees – one from Andover Newton Theological School, the other from Boston University School of Theology. She did her BA at Wellesley College, graduating with honors in her major, Peace and Justice Studies, where she wrote her thesis on Al Qaeda and their misuse religion for political gain. Karen currently lives in California, works at three faith based non-profits, teaches and lectures, is pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree at Claremont School of Theology, and she is also a certified domestic violence advocate.



Categories: Embodiment, Women and Work, Women in the Church, Women's Voices

Tags: , , ,

18 replies

  1. I hear you sister. The struggle is real. Our cultural norms are demanding, unfair, and difficult. And, while my opinion doesn’t help you combat any of that, here’s what I think: I love that your white hair (not grey, grey is dull, yours is beautifully white) is coming in solid and thick. Not random, mixed in with color. Own it, if you can. I believe the world is changing. Women are stepping into their power in a new way. Society is begging us to step up and use our inherent wisdom to create a more equitable and loving world. Especially in your role as a minister, this seems incredibly important. Find a cute cut that accentuates your features and feels fun, and embrace this powerful hair color change. You’ve worked your entire life to get to this point: Dr Hernandez. Your hair might as well reflect this journey. And I promise you, whatever you do, you will always be beautiful. 🔆 I fully support you, whatever your decision. I also believe as more of us do this, we pave the way for other women. We change the world. 🧡🤍🤎💛 love you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The first thing I did was my hair! There is so much packed into hair color besides aging, but I think it does come down to how we want to attractively present ourselves & how we feel about ourselves. Now there is a lot to unpack.

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  3. Good morning. I agree with all your points, but the fact remains that ultimately, you have to like who you see in the mirror. I colored my hair when it started going grey because the grey was a muddy, icky color. As I got greyer, the color shifted from muddy to silvery and I was thrilled to quit coloring it. Now, 30 years after that first grey hair in the mirror, I love my hair color, wear it short (think Dame Judi Dench), and am surrounded by friends who “went natural”, or who still spend time and money coloring their grey. Fine. Hairdressers gotta make a living, too. You do you! If your natural hair color is a blazing silver/white, I agree with your mom. If it’s a depressing muddy shade of blah, make an appointment. BTW, have you seen a recent photo of Nichelle Nichols? That white hair of hers could light up a galaxy!

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  4. Oh gosh… here comes that hair thing again… I personally like gray hair – wonder if its because all my older female relatives had it and I loved them – new thought – I guess I just don’t get it – but I surely have had other issues – “feeling too fat” as a young woman -obsessed with weight – or clothing or something – so we are all in this together – the underlying message is that we aren’t good enough – UGH. And yes, it is not only men who objectify us, we do it too…. I think it’s a natural extension of living in a woman hating culture.

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  5. Oh, women who have hairs to split, hair to dye or let go grey! My question is which kerchief or hat to wear today? I tried leaving my just-washed, scanty-you-can-see-my-scalp hair bare at a zoom birthday party last night. Not enough hair to frame my face or do anything for my eyes. Then I went to get a jaunty green cap that matched my green tank top, and I felt happy–with myself.

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  6. You should do what makes you feel good about yourself. But my personal opinion I like your colored hair!

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  7. I don’t even know what color my hair really is. During the 1980s and later, I wore it red and permed. In 1992, I started bleaching it. Well, I learned before the hair salon I go to reopened earlier this month that I do have dark roots, but Angelo, who’s been doing my hair forever, says dark roots are normal. Before the salon reopened, my hair was an icky kind of grayish, but that was mostly left-over bleach.

    Good for women who make their own decisions and choices about their hair, including being proud of gray hair. I agree that there’s a major double standard and that it’s OK for men to have gray hair. We don’t need to be shopping at Forever 21. Let’s banish that double standard that “makes” us dye our hair and wear children’s clothing, so to speak. I also agree with Carol that we should do what makes us feel good. I vote that you go ahead and graduate with brown hair if you want to. Bright blessings to hair colors. All colors!

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  8. I decided not to color my hair years ago, long after I stopped wearing makeup. I try to live my the adage, if I”m not part of the solution I’m part of the problem. Contributing to marketing and societal standards that try to shame me into looking other than myself is being part of the problem, not part of the solution. I also hope it models to other women (particularly younger) that they can simply be themselves. How much money have I saved over the years not wearing makeup or dyeing my hair? Surely thousands, and I’m not supporting corporations I would love to see go out of business. At the same time, of course, I support a woman’s choice in this regard, but I also wonder if she thinks about how much marketing has influenced her perceptions and choices.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Karen, Dr. Hernandez, with your skin tone and green eyes, the grey hair will look so good! – I’m not your mom so I don’t have to say it but I just did.

    As to the “no win” paradigm, I believe we all win when we are truly and genuinely ourselves in whatever form that means for ourselves, dyed hair or not. Enjoy whatever choice you make if its really and truly you!

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  10. I just went and got my hair cut and colored. Salons are open in Michigan, but we’re wearing masks. I too thought a lot about whether or not to color my hair. The cut was long overdue. I wear my hair in a pixie/boy cut and love the freedom of short hair so I was contemplating the freedom of non-colored hair too. In the end, I decided to color because I like how it looks. And I love my hairdresser and want to support her small business. The pandemic hasn’t been kind to our small businesses. Someday I will embrace the grey/white hair, but not just yet!

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  11. KLH, This is so not a trivial issue. Thank you for delving into it. I feel that it is so huge and just under the surface for so many women, that at some point soon someone’s grey will be the straw that bursts the dam and we’ll all feel free to choose and support each other.

    Being grey or not grey, labeled “sexy” or not labeled because one has become invisible, is really about being breedable, which is the biological imperative of all male animals. Can we just remove ourselves from paradigm, at least once we’re past prime reproductive years? Being rated on the sexiness scale is super annoying and burdensome and I’m so glad that biological thing has moved on from my life.

    My personal hair choice: As an artist I am super sensitive to aesthetics and did spend the past 7 years or so putting a wide streak of henna-indigo in while it still played off the original color. That dingy fading color that’s nowhere near silver is just a depressing color to wear in clothes too. But as my natural color is really fading and I’ve been wrestling with the same issue you named, being relevant when representing my work, and was recently struck by a thought that is a resolution I can live with:

    Posture — standing straight and tall — communicates far more power in any color than does slumping while brightly colored. Plus, it wears so well in extreme old age. So I’m committed to practicing great posture now. And I am wearing eyeliner to underscore that my soul is looking straight into yours, so you best pay attention. ;-)

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    • I wonder if we are subliminally directed to think of this as a trivial issue, and not to demean ourselves by wasting time on it — in order to deflect our attention from the real gist of the issue, and to keep us unwittingly in that box where our only power is our attractiveness to fertilizing males, who happen to have been controlling all the strings and doors for millennia.

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  12. I’m with Laurie. And maybe it’s my age. I’m a second-wave feminist, and our first strategy concerning women’s objectification was to cover our bodies, so the male gaze couldn’t touch us. We did this in many ways. Some of us wore suits to look like men. Some of us avoided revealing clothes. Some of us quit wearing make-up. But, of course, this didn’t change the cultural understanding that women were by definition the sexy humans and should be sexy.

    Third-wave feminists took a different tack. Essentially they said, “It’s men’s problem. I can wear ‘sexy’ clothes if I want, and they should just deal with it.” This didn’t work either. The male gaze figured it now had permission to ogle and continue to define us as the sexy humans.

    This is not a trivial issue. It touches on the very foundation of our second-class status as women. We are second-class in patriarchal society, stereotypically because we’re the ones with the bodies, and men are supposedly the ones with the minds. We need to love our bodies (and our minds) no matter what they project on us. And for me that means during this transitional period — where feminism exists, but is still not the norm — we need to allow each woman what she needs to stand tall in her womanliness, as she defines it. “I am woman, hear me roar!”

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  13. I lightened my hair for 40+ years. I was SO happy when the tonal value of my grey matched the bleached version of my hair. At that moment, I decided to let it all grow out! I am delighted with my silver locks and wear my hair long and loose!
    I am a writer on shamanic themes and do trainings in person and online and have to appear “good” on camera. A little foundation, mascara and lipstick and I’m ready to go! In many ways, I feel as though I have been preparing for this phase my entire life. Yes, I’m creaky with arthritis, but I am a much fuller and richer version of myself – delighted to be expressing my creativity and sharing the wisdom I’ve accrued over my life!

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  14. Karen, I love the fact that you raised the issue – it is very multi-dimensional. My gray started coming in gradually in my 30’s and I colored it over until a year or so ago. I’ve watched friends leave their gray streaks as they come in and wished I’d done the same – embrace instead of hide. I’m now on the cusp of 50, and I’m growing the gray out, which is a loooong transition.

    For me personally, I know that I look and feel my best when I am active, healthy, and taking care of myself. More so than any hair color, outfit, or makeup; when I feel healthy, I carry myself more confidently and care less about what others think of the external package. I like Laurie’s comment about posture – so true! – and I believe that when women really own their space, that translates into strength and appeal. Not sex appeal, per se, but a commanding presence and confidence that underscores the fact that we deserve to be there. I also love her thoughts about wearing eyeliner: “to underscore that my soul is looking straight into yours, so you best pay attention!” I’m going to go find my eyeliner right now. Something that works with my silver . . . :)

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  15. When I reached my final resting place in the company for which I worked, I decided to stop dyeing my hair red. In those days it cost $50+ per month to get it dyed. I worked out that if I put that $600 a year into a stock mutual fund year after year I could retire early.

    I did, and that’s exactly what I did–retired early. I no longer give a tinker’s damn about whether the human male finds me attractive or not. Actually, after my hair finally transitioned to all-gray, I was amused by my newly acquired invisibility. People, especially men, especially young men, don’t “see” older women. It’s like wearing Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. One sees and hears things that are probably not intended for one’s eyes and ears.

    In fact, I wrote a short story, “The Invisibility Factor,” about the daring deeds of three “invisible” women. It will form part of the short story collection I’m putting together for publication later this year.

    My advice to Karen is to do what YOU want, and never mind what anyone else says or thinks about it. It’s your life, not theirs!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Karen, you have been so honest in this post and I appreciate it very much. I think you’re right about those IG women who are working very hard to still be ‘worthy’.

    I think a lot of this is about perceived ‘f**kability’ and fertility. If a woman looks subliminally still fertile (coloured hair) and is therefore still ‘f**kable’ in the eyes of many men, all is well and society approves…

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