Your Roots Are Showing: Going Grey In the Time of COVID.

January 26, 2022

Your Roots Are Showing: Going Grey In the Time of COVID.

May 29, 2023

CATALYST January 2020. I’m sitting in my stylist Danica’s sunny San Francisco salon, both of us gazing at my reflection in the mirror. My eyes zero in on the reason I’m there: The ¼ inch of grey that’s pushed out from my scalp.

It was a ritual most women I knew performed, as predictable and cyclical as the tide: See the grey seeping in. Color it over. Breathe easy for a few weeks; rinse and repeat.

“Your roots are showing!” Cover ‘em up, sweetheart. Don’t let yourself go.

The grey was like unsightly ivy I had to beat back every month. Unwanted, invasive, relentless in asserting its presence. There was always a feeling of “just in time” when I settled into the chair.

This time, I felt a nudge of something else.

“What would you think … about me going grey?”

Danica looked at me appraisingly. “I take my clients grey when I feel their soul is ready.” That’s what I love about her. It’s like getting your hair done by Buddha's super-tall, much cooler older sister.

Huh. Did my soul feel ready? Not quite yet.

Two months later, everything changed.

What we all thought was stable and constant just — stopped. Within weeks, seemingly immutable societal constructs fell away. No more “meeting up for drinks,” monthly mani-pedis, commuting to work.

It felt like a Bugs Bunny cartoon, where the planks of an Acme crate fell apart at once. We were left standing in this liminal space: Open and exposed, with new vulnerabilities – but also new “maneuverabilities.”

About a week into lockdown, a friend posted on Facebook: “I bet in about four weeks we’ll all know everyone’s real hair color.” It got a bunch of laughs.

But it got me thinking. What if I just … let it grow? Right now I can’t get it colored. Who says I must?

I was surprised that I felt relief. But I also had to face my fears.

What was I really afraid of? What had I been avoiding?

In my work, I help founders, executives, and influencers share their big ideas. I’m supposed to understand what’s next, plugged into the now. What if, by revealing my grey, I represent old news vs. what’s new?

I’d always felt a bit of vain pride when people were shocked at my age (I’m 55 now). “I thought you were in your late 30’s! You look great!” I was winning this game.

What’s the opposite of young and hip? Grizzled, spent, sidelined. Might as well be invisible.

Feeling all this, yet unfettered by this weirdly ironic lockdown liberation, I started letting it grow.

GESTATION

After two inches had grown out, it wasn’t the garden-variety grey I’d anticipated — it was full-on Witcher-style white. Blonde card revoked, replaced by something … much cooler?

One day, my husband’s eyes rose to my hairline. He smiled. “Your eyes look so much brighter with your hair this color. I can really see that clear, sea green.”

Another friend interrupted our Zoom to say: “You look … different. You have more gravitas. But you’re still foxy!”

I realized: Maybe I’ve been covering up my luminescence! Shellacking my glow. Damn.

My overbearing, internalized cultural headmistress leaned in and rasped in my ear: “You’ve let yourself go.” Hold up, missy. Isn't letting yourself go just another way of saying you’re setting yourself free?

What if I’m revealing who I’ve become?

After decades in my profession, I have a deep sense of pattern recognition – one that only comes from experience. Clients are held by my expertise. I’ve learned, and can apply, valuable lessons from success and failure alike. I’m able to listen deeply and ask “catalytically curious” questions.

Silver signifies I know some shit.

All this insight was great, but the real flex was going public with my grey — which meant flipping the switch on social media.

LinkedIn was first, and I felt surprisingly vulnerable. I avoided it for days. It felt like shutting the door on my “old” persona: the young, sassy, up-and-coming media chick. I still have no idea what all my colleagues think — but that’s the point. I had to take the leap and release control of the perception. (Special thanks to Chip, who sent me a sweet personal note when my new profile pic popped up!)

Facebook was easier, but still felt big. Love and fist bumps flowed into the comments section. One of my favorites: “mmm mmm mm. Soulfulness is where we’re from and where we shall always return. Thanks for expressing it.”

I began to notice a newfound sense of confidence, even playfulness. On Zoom catch-ups I’d say: “How have you been? Check out my grey!” and I started hearing, “I love it! I'm doing it too.”

EMERGENCE

January 2022. I’m now two years out from that moment in Danica’s chair, wondering what if.

Grey & silver blankets my whole head when I pull my hair back in a ponytail. Rather than anxiety, I’m now impatient for it all to turn.

I still care what people think — a little. “Will they notice my gray? Will they judge it?” But that anxious voice is muffled, like a dog barking from behind a double-paned window. I’m a little less bothered — and a little more feisty. Before, I tested myself against societal norms and expectations. Now I’m testing everyone else. Are we down with this new look? Because I definitely am.

Recently I posted a new picture on Facebook and called out my grey. “Looking gorgeous, girl,” commented one friend. “Silver sisters unite!”

Silver sisters unite. Oooh, I like that. This forced pandemic experiment has infiltrated our culture as a new allowance for women – an expanded range to name and claim.

Letting my hair “go” has prompted further questions. What else can I let go of? What more can I give life to with that extra space? How can I mentor, and inspire? What wisdom can I share?

My soul is ready.

Alison Macondray is co-founder and “midwife to genius” at Alimat. She specializes in thought-leader presentations (TED talks, keynotes, and B2B/VC pitches), helping founders, executives, and entrepreneurs give voice to their vision. She’s an alumni of MEA’s April 2018 beta group, the Sweet Corazones, which continues to circle four years later. She’s also a singer, dancer, artist and pianist -- all of which she plans to give more heart and soul to in this next season of life.

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