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.