“I happily consider myself a recovering perfectionist. I’m married to my junior high sweetheart, the mom to four precious children, an adoption supporter, a gray hair advocate, and a yoga instructor. Health, wellness, and happiness from the inside out have been the goals of my personal journey over the last few years and the root of my decision to stop dyeing my gray hair cold turkey in 2018 at the age of 44.
In my early 40s, I found myself at a very low point. I refer to it as a pit. I felt stuck and wasn’t sure how to get out. I was feeling like a failure and as if I had so much unused potential. I struggled for years yo-yo dieting and going further and further down a path of negative self-talk. I was very frustrated with my inability to create long-lasting healthy habits. I was having gut issues, skin issues, and was generally unhealthy in my mind, body, and spirit. I hadn’t exercised in about 7 years and was on the verge of giving up on the healthy lifestyle I longed for. I truly was beginning to believe my best days were behind me.
About this time, my brother was diagnosed with diabetes. It runs in our family, and his symptoms were pretty debilitating and hard to watch him endure. His diagnosis was a wake-up call for me because I knew I was on that same path if I didn’t make some changes to my lifestyle. I had tried before and never had been able to sustain any changes I made. I was telling myself things like, ‘You’re just going to quit and fail again, so why try?’
Ultimately, I realized the journey toward health and happiness had to start in my MIND and not in another quick-fix diet or fitness plan. I had to first evaluate what was going on inside of me and quickly realized how little I valued and believed in myself. I didn’t believe I was capable of change and spoke to myself in unimaginable ways. I had habits and mindsets that were not serving me well. I started to see the areas that needed pruning away so I could have a chance to thrive.
I made the decision to give this healthy lifestyle I longed for one more try. This time, I knew I couldn’t just repeat the same things I had tried before. I needed to go into it with a long view while turning upside down the approach I had taken many times before that clearly hadn’t worked and left me feeling more defeated with each attempt. I had believed myself to be a failure but began to have hope maybe I could use my ‘failures’ as teachers and stepping stones toward success.
I started by re-training my mind toward the positive by forcing myself to re-word things when my inner critic would take over. I surrounded myself with positive quotes and scripture — in my car, in my closet, on my bathroom mirror. I began reading about habit formation and learning how to incorporate new habits slowly and in a way that worked for my specific temperament. I began seeing healthy habits as a path to freedom rather than restricting. I started focusing on being healthy and how I felt rather than a number on the scale or size of my jeans. I stopped expecting perfection and quick results and opted for extending myself grace and being okay with slow but sustainable progress. Perfectionism had me paralyzed and was contributing greatly to my unhappiness. I learned to let go of short-term extremes and to embrace long-term consistency. I realized the value of self-care and filling my own cup with things I love in order to be better for everyone around me and to live more fully in my purpose.
For me, self-care involves spending time with people I love and making time for things that help me to recharge. I love good skincare and small daily rituals like my foamy morning coffee along with my daily walks, journaling, and different types of joyful movement that overall make my life better. I often think about how I want to feel and what kind of lifestyle I hope to have many years from now. I now know what I do today impacts whether I have that future or not. When I began to truly value myself just for being me, it became much easier to treat myself as if I loved myself.
None of this was a fast or overnight process. It was actually pretty slow, but I took my time learning from others and slowly incorporating new things into my life. I began to see how much happier and more fulfilled I was. I started dreaming again and got my yoga certification. I noticed how I could love those around me so much better and see my choice to take care of and value me was in no way a selfish choice. While change was hard, it was easier than staying stuck in the painful place I had been in. I had to learn what would work for me and what was sustainable long-term.
Over time, I began to feel healthy and fit not only in my body but in my mind and spirit! I started seeing the mental health benefits and energy that come from consciously choosing a healthy lifestyle and a growth mindset. I never wanted to go back to the painful pit I had been in.
My decision to stop dyeing my hair cold turkey in the fall of 2018 was just another extension of this journey toward health. I started graying in my early 20s and have some very strong white hair genes on my dad’s side of the family. I would pluck those ‘pesky grays’ when I saw them and immediately felt the compulsion to make them go away. As soon as my hairstylist told me I had a certain percentage of gray and it was time to start dyeing my hair, I just went along with it and never questioned her. I continued to color my hair for over two decades.
I had tried letting my silvers grow in back in 2015 for a few months kind of haphazardly but quickly went back to the dye at the first comment I received that I perceived as negative. Someone asked me, ‘WHY on earth would you want to do that?’ You know, that tone implied it was such a horrible thing to do. It turned out to be the best question I could’ve gotten because it is what truly gave me the tools I needed for my second try.
I went on to dye my hair for 3 more years, but I was getting healthy in the meantime and stronger mentally. I started to think about why I was dyeing my hair and why I wanted to stop.
I realized I was dyeing my hair for unhealthy reasons rooted in fear and shame. Dyeing my hair was never something I did as a creative expression or something I looked forward to. Its sole purpose was to hide the gray and keep me looking young. I came to realize I needed to align my outer choices with my inner values of health and wellness and what felt right for me. I needed to go into this journey with a strong WHY if I was going to be in it for the long haul.
I very much saw giving up the dye as an act of self-care and not of letting myself go as I had always been conditioned to believe. The consistent use of potentially dangerous chemicals every 3 weeks that were irritating my scalp and thinning my hair no longer aligned with my desire to be healthy inside and out. I had changed my nutrition and the skin and body care products I was using but was hanging onto hair dye out of fear. It was a huge step out of my comfort zone, but I felt ready at the age of 44.
Making the decision felt a little daunting. I knew it felt right for me, but it was hard to let go of what others thought. I worried about what those closest to me would say and think. People had always said my 22-year-old daughter and I looked like sisters, and I thought I was giving that up. I came to the decision I was grateful to be the age I was because aging is a privilege not everyone gets. I didn’t want to hold so tightly to this very narrow view of youth and beauty as if it was some type of virtue or character trait. I wanted to focus on things like being loving, kind, and letting my spirit shine through.
It was at the beach in the fall of 2018 I found perspective and strength to move forward with telling my family. My youngest son saw my roots shining in the Florida sun and said, ‘Mom! You have gray hair! You should keep it that way!’ That was my little sign I was on the right path. My children and husband all supported me and understood this choice was rooted in my desire to be healthy.
Not everyone understood right away, but that was okay. I realized what mattered was the story I told myself daily. It mattered what I thought and what kind of dialogue I was having internally about myself, my body, and my silver hair.
The mindset, health, and wellness journey I had been on in the previous years helped prepare me for the road ahead as I grew out my natural hair. I drew upon those growth mindset tools of speaking kindly to myself and not expecting perfection to get through the awkward months and strong demarcation line as my roots grew in. I knew it looked awkward, and I felt very exposed and vulnerable those first few months. As time went on, my confidence grew, and I began to feel proud of my crazy looking hair because it felt so good to be doing what I knew was right for me regardless of what culture had told me I should do. I knew I was the same person on the inside and my youthfulness and vitality didn’t come from the color of the hair on my head. I actually loved the silver color coming in with all of its dimensions. Perspective truly changes everything. What once had bothered me so much I had to conceal it was now something I welcomed and enjoying seeing grow in. Hair grows at an average of one-half inch per month, so this process took a lot of patience.
I have now been dye-free for almost 2 years and just had the last little bits of dye cut off of the ends of my hair, so I am fully transitioned. It has been one of the most liberating and confidence-building journeys. Doing what felt right for me instead of what beauty culture dictates and pushing through even when it was awkward grew me on the inside in so many ways. Letting go of that underlying shame and obsession with hiding what was natural for my body had such a huge impact on the liberating feeling this journey gave me. Learning to accept myself and own my natural beauty was about so much more than the hair.
It became a doable and fun journey because of the huge network of women online, of all ages, who are on this same path. The ‘silver sister’ community on Instagram is so supportive and encouraging. My journey was so much richer because of the relationships I developed there. I would never have thought I would meet others who I consider true friends on a social media platform. One of the things I love most is it brings together women of all nationalities. I have friends around the world who I have been on this adventure with! Early on, I met a friend who had dyed her hair for the last time on the same exact day as I did. We clicked right away and quickly became besties who don’t go a day without chatting. It’s funny because we look a lot alike, so people started calling us silver twins and getting us mixed up all the time. It was so fun to experience going silver with a friend who truly understood exactly where I was at any given time.
I want to say I am not ‘anti-dye.’ My hope is just I can show others who want to embrace their silver hair it is an acceptable and beautiful option like other women did for me. It meant a lot for me to see other women going first. It let me know I could do this in a graceful, joy-filled way. I hope by sharing my journey, it will help to normalize what is actually normal. Going gray in your early 20s (or even sooner for some) is quite normal. I want to inspire others to accept and love themselves and see gray hair isn’t all the bad things they’ve been taught.
Some things that helped me along the way were to consider the story I tell myself — what am I telling myself regularly about myself, my body, my gray hair? I needed to have a strong ‘why’ that was something really important to me. For me, when it became about my health and learning to love and accept myself, it became deeply personal and important.
My hope is whether someone wants to embrace their silver hair or not, something in my journey toward health and wellness will inspire them on whatever path is meant for them. If I can make changes in my life, then anyone can! My advice would be this: treat yourself like you would a friend. Treat your mind, body, and spirit with love and acceptance. Silence the inner critic and seek to align your outer choices with what is in your heart. Do things scared and venture outside your comfort zone. Don’t wait for the motivation to come, but just take one small step in the direction you want to go and be okay with slow and steady progress. For me, these things have made all the difference! Now, I know the best is yet to come!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Karen H. Phillips from Murfreesboro, TN. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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