Roots Part II: To grey, or not to grey

If you were to walk up to a group of women in their forties and fifties and say “Roots” out of context, the first thought of many, if not all, would be hair.

They wouldn’t think about tree roots snaking out through soil in search of nourishment, and they wouldn’t start pondering family ancestry. They’d wonder if they left it too long between dye jobs.

For the past year I have been transitioning from dyed hair to natural, and it has been an en-lightening (pun intended) process. For women, there is little middle ground on this topic. Most fall at one of two extreme opposite ends of a spectrum.

  • Abject Horror: “What? You’re going natural? (They step back as if it’s contagious.) Don’t do that! It will age you horribly. I am never going grey.”
  • Militant Support: “Good for you! (They thrust a victorious arm in the air.) I don’t understand why women ever colour their hair. Natural hair colour is an act of resistance against societal beauty norms for women. You will never regret this.”

Considering there are such extreme opinions on this, I myself was quite ambivalent. In the end though, I made my final decision instantaneously as a result of one story told to me by a friend.

She told me about a woman she knew who, on her deathbed, reached out to family to implore that they make sure she had no roots showing when she was laid out in her coffin.

I thought, “God, when I’m on my deathbed, the very last thing I want to be thinking about is my roots.”

And, we never really know when that deathbed might arrive, right? It might come sooner than I expect. And, even if it doesn’t, I’m 57, so statistically I’ve got 25 or 30 more years left. How much of that time do I want to spend thinking about my roots? Surely, there are more important and interesting things for me to think about than that.

“Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”

from Desiderata

Don’t get me wrong. I grieve for my former dark hair. I have thick, wavy hair, and when it was my natural, lustrous dark brown, I loved it. I was vain about it, in fact. I have never wanted to be blonde, ever.

BUT, grief is no reason to avoid action. I decided to follow the advice of Desiderata and take kindly the counsel of the years and surrender gracefully the things of youth.

Arlene Somerton Smith
On my way to full silver and loving it

On my recent hiking trip I met many silver-haired women who were striding confidently on steep hiking paths, enjoying the spectacular views, and not spending one second of their time thinking about roots.

In the time I have left, however long that might be, I want to stride confidently on the steeps, enjoy the views, and let my mind whir and spin with how to make the world a better place.

This aging thing is a blessing, every day.

Arlene Somerton Smith silhouetted against glaciers and the sky on the Plain of Six Glaciers trail, Lake Louise, Alberta
Enjoying the view on the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail, Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

16 thoughts on “Roots Part II: To grey, or not to grey

  1. marianbeaman

    When I grow up I want to have hair like yours, thick and silvery. In the meantime, while I’m waiting for my head to turn completely white, I dye.

    (I’m also enjoying Henry Louis Gates’ Roots every Tuesday.)

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      We all have to go at this at our own pace. I’m ready for the transition now. I wasn’t ready before. I’m not entirely sure what colour my hair will be when it grows in entirely. There’s still a lot of dark at the back. But no matter what, it will be what it is. I’m committed!

  2. flirtiegirl

    Great cut – it has that nice blend of style and sporty-ness.
    As you know, my hair has been silver for decades. Hardly ever does a week go by that someone doesn’t compliment me on my hair. I doubt my hair would get that kind of attention if it was the original brown. And you are spot on in pointing out that silver hair has never stopped anyone from living a full and vibrant life. And as for what the word ‘roots” would evoke for me as a life-long non-hairdyer I would say it suggests family, something you do want present at your deathbed.

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      I thought of you yesterday when I was writing that line about family. I know it is particularly meaningful to you right now. I’m thinking of all of you . . . And roots in the sense of family is what I’ll be writing about next. It has to be – it has been mentioned already in previous comments!

      1. Malinda

        Thank you very much for your kind encouragement Arlene. I’m still in the process of building the site & figuring everything out, but it’s getting there. Thank you for spurring me on! May God richly bless your day☺️

  3. earthwalking13

    Since time is an artificial concept we created, it’s a little hard to grasp just what “age” is 🙂 I know when I worked in the hospital I had patients who were 50, but they looked to be 80, and visa versa. Some people lived harder lives than others and perhaps had a bit more mileage on them, but a big part of what I saw came down to attitude. If people thought they were old, they aged more rapidly – the power of the mind. My first wife went gray in her late 20s – genetic. Clearly not old. I have also found it weird when some of the women I know cut their hair short once they turned 40ish – like it was a mandatory requirement once they hit that mark in time. I’d say skip the conformity and live the way you wish. As you say, who wants to be worried about their roots when they’re on their death bed? 🙂

    1. Arlene Somerton Smith Post author

      Certainly the hair colour is not an indicator of vitality. Many silver-haired women went striding past me on my recent hiking trip. And the day that I got my hair cut most recently, a stooped older woman with a cane shuffled over to the sink and sank down into the chair with an ommpf. She was dyeing her hair brown . . . She reassured me that I had made the right decision.

  4. Catherine MacDonald

    Thanks for this! I have just started the transition back to whatever natural colour mine is now. Like you, I had curly dark brown hair and loved it. I started dying it about 10 years ago, for reasons that I won’t go into here, but I am looking forward to it being completely natural once more.


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