Stop Telling Me What To Do With My Gray Hair

In a culture that pressures people to cover their grays, four women explain why they're ditching the dye and embracing life's silver lining.

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When Lashawnda Becoats turned 40, she went on a two-week trip to Europe. At the time, she typically frequented the salon once a week to get her gray roots touched up, so she knew that by the end of the vacation, her silvery hairs would be more visible than ever.
She was terrified at the thought, but after two weeks gallivanting across Spain and Portugal, something changed. "I was starting to feel differently when I looked in the mirror," Becoats tells Refinery29. "I had never seen my gray hair, because I was always at my hairdresser, and I thought it looked cool." When she headed back home to North Carolina, Becoats instinctively went back to her colorist, who was less than pleased. "She was like, 'Oh my gosh, you’ve got to cover this up. It is horrible,'" Becoats says. "I said, 'No, this is not ugly. This is who I am.'"
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Seven years later, Becoats now sports gray and white locs that twist like coral down the middle of her back. To her, they represent strength and freedom, and she’s not alone. In a time when women are still expected to cover up their grays, there are many who are happily ditching the dye and accepting their hair exactly as it grows out of their head. To them, it’s more than just hair, but a testament to self-love and a celebration of getting older.
Photographed by Lee O’Connor
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Jacky Lee, 61, artist
When I was younger, I was so concerned about my looks. When people would say I was beautiful, I thought, Well, if they look too long, they’ll see all my faults. I was insecure, but at my age now, I just feel cool. I’m more at peace with myself and I don’t care as much about what people think of me.
Before I went gray, I always dyed my hair. I went blonde, but then that was too high-maintenance. So I went red, like primary-color red. For years I thought, When I get older I'll stay a redhead. I didn’t want to be called “grandma” once I had a grandchild. But when he was born and he first called me grandma, it was music to my ears.
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After that, I started to really love the color of my gray. I still have a friend who, every chance she gets, tells me that I should dye my hair. She says, “You look too young to have that gray hair.” And it’s like, Go away. I love my gray hair. It’s freeing. It represents to me that I lived.
Who I Am: I am a survivor. I am a creative. I am an adoptee. Oh, and I’m a grandma.
Photographed by Lee O’Connor
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Lashawnda Becoats, 47, editor and life coach
I grew up thinking that growing older was bad. But now that I’m here, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world because it represents wisdom.
I started going gray when I was 18 years old and colored my hair immediately. When I turned 40, I decided to let go of the hair dye and I was terrified. I was afraid of how people would view me and how I would see myself. We’re taught that gray is bad and signifies getting older. And so, for me, overcoming that and deciding to let go of the hair dye and go gray is the most powerful thing I’ve done.
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I want people to step out of the idea that society gets to define what beautiful is. Wearing my hair in its natural state is freedom. When I see other women with gray hair, I celebrate and salute them because it goes against what we’ve all been taught is beautiful. I hope women feel empowered when they see my hair and if they’re struggling with going gray, it encourages them to do the same.
Who I Am: I am a woman who is a warrior. I’ve been through so much in my life to get to where I am today. I feel strong. I feel confident.
Photographed by Lee O’Connor
Left: Mara Hoffman jacket; Hellessy pants; Celine glasses; Liz's own shirt and bracelet. Right: Milly hoodie; Boss dress; Valen & Jette earrings.
Liz Friedman, 80, jewelry designer
Most of my life, I’ve been an outsider. I didn’t look the part. In financial development, you have to look very conservative and when I retired from that industry, my boss said to me, “What are you most looking forward to?” I said, “Dressing the way I want to.”
I’ve always been out there and in your face. I stopped dying my hair when I was 60, and I love the freedom it signifies. It represents someone who accepts herself, and it saves me money so I can spend more on clothes. People see the gray, and immediately all these assumptions follow. She doesn’t do this, she can't drive. I hate the idea that I'm suddenly unable to do something because of my age and the color of my hair. I can’t think of anything that I once did that I can’t still do.
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It saddens me to see that, even with women’s liberation and Me Too, every part of a woman’s body is still scrutinized. Every pore and every cell and every hair. It’s worse than it has ever been. What kind of liberation is this? If I would tell young women anything it’s “Have your own, be your own, do your own.” Don’t depend on anyone for anything. Don’t wait for approval from anybody.
Who I Am: I am a New York woman.
Photographed by Lee O’Connor
Left: Kenzo top; Valen & Jette Rena Earrings, $128, available at Valen & Jette. Right: Cynthia Rowley Harper Stretch Plaid Dress, $425, available at Cynthia Rowley; Hats By Kat hat.
Kathy Anderson, 63, milliner
My mom was really special in helping me accept this aging process. I never remember her dyeing her hair and she used to dress well, too. I’ve seen how vibrant you can be as you age; you can keep on being yourself. People say all the time, “Oh, she won’t tell you her age, you can’t ask that.” On my birthday, I was telling everybody. I was happy to be turning 63.
I got my first gray hair when I was 11 years old. It was odd because a guy was sitting behind me in class and he was like, “Oh, you got a gray hair,” and he pulled it out. Then, over time, it just started being a little bit more gray. I started locking my hair in the '80s. I’ve had three different loc sets that I've cut off.
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I’m learning to embrace being older. A girlfriend recently said to me that she was going to the beach and the subject of cellulite came up. She said, “Well, I earned my cellulite.” And I thought, You know what? She’s right. I earned these wrinkles and gray hair. I am who I am. God created all of us to be different.
Who I Am: I am a woman who is beginning to love who she is. I’m not there yet, but I’m beginning to accept who I am.
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Welcome to Life Begins At. Refinery29 is proud to team up with AARP to bring you honest, intimate stories that aim to uncover all the unique experiences that come along with living — no matter your age. It’s time we shed the negative stereotypes, unconscious cultural bias, and misconceptions associated with age and get real about what aging really looks like for us. Because it’s not about how old you are; life begins when you decide to start living it. Have your own story to share about aging? Fill out this form or email us at lifebeginsat@refinery29.com

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