Yesterday, royal watchers celebrated the 63rd anniversary of the Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. 63 years ago, HMQ first took her oath to uphold the laws of England and of God and to profess the true gospel. Then a crown was placed on her head, symbolising the honour and authority bestowed upon her.
Today, there’s another, less famous celebration of a crown of another sort, the second anniversary of growing out my grey hair. It all started with a tenacious little Bible verse that I couldn’t get out of my head.
Grey hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained in the way of righteousness.
Proverbs 16:31 (NIV)
I wondered what I was missing by covering a physical trait that the Bible deemed honourable. I decided to carry out a two-year experiment to understand better both our cultural views and Biblical truth about grey hair by growing out mine.
Of course I’m not the first person to do this. There are millions in the world who have simply accepted the grey as it comes or have grown theirs out without pomp and circumstance or posting on Instagram.
I can’t say the same. Because what’s the point of an experiment without observations, amiright? Yes, the two-year experiment ends today and I’m happy to say there have been findings and conclusions! Let me first provide some of the snapshots along the way.
The vision was strong as it always is in the honeymoon period. For the first time ever, I was rooting for my grey roots to come in. It took three weeks, which would have been too soon when colouring my hair. That first glint and shimmer I spied in the mirror, previously alarming, I now welcomed wholeheartedly.
I was obnoxiously delighted with my roots. Showed them off to everyone. It was selfie city on Instagram and Facebook. Interestingly, my anticipation and then acceptance of my roots changed my perspective about grey hair in general. I didn’t know I had a prejudice against it until I started growing mine in and my eyes were opened and my heart expanded toward grey haired people. Take note: they are EVERYWHERE.
The third month in, I discovered the opinions of others. My enthusiasm didn’t always produce the support I’d hoped for. Here’s my guesstimate of percentages from the unsolicited survey:
50% (at least) were totally against my going grey, they couldn’t comprehend any good reason for me to do this,
25% were indifferent in a “that’s nice dear” kind of way,
20% called me brave because they were trying to be good friends, and
5% supported me wholeheartedly, most often when they were grey themselves or considering going grey.
One opinion among the 50% was that I might not get hired if I grew out my grey due to ageism; which I think is a weirdly ageist thing to say, to get someone to give up before they try. We moved to Toronto around this time and I was relieved that I got a job with roots like mine. The 50% had me spooked.
This is when I put an emphasis on the fact that this was an experiment, as a defence to the 50%, and maybe to myself that I had an out if it shouldn’t go well.
In the fourth month, I started developing a feeling of kinship toward others with grey hair, the ones I knew and the ones I’d been noticing out in public. I was fascinated by those whose hair was grey. What made them do it? What are they thinking about? How was the process for them? How is living with it now? Would they let me join their grey club?
All the while, the family was adjusting to me and my roots, just as I was. I gained some, disappointingly unoriginal nicknames such as Cute Little Grandma and The Grey Ghost. J-M also sang this theme song on repeat, “I can see your grey-lo, grey-lo, grey-lo…”
I was concerned that J-M would find me less attractive when he saw the whiteness of my hair. But the love light in my husband’s eyes adjusted well to my new shade given the boost to our budget line. I thought out loud how much we’d saved so far by skipping my hair appointments. J-M answered “$750,” without skipping a beat.
This is when the culture shock set it and I had a falling out with author and speaker, Jen Hatmaker, when she posted this obnoxious picture. Doesn’t matter that she has no idea who I am, I was prepared to start a Twitter battle over this:
I was resenting those who coloured their hair and looked glorious, like Jen. In hindsight, it was the pangs of jealousy brought on by a homesickness for youth and beauty. [Click here to read more about how much six months bit.]
P.S. We’ve made up, obvs. (Despite photographic evidence to the contrary, she still has no idea who I am or how much she hurt my feelings.)
This was an exciting month, actually. You might say I turned a corner here. It’s when I discovered how my grey was growing in. Your roots don’t always give you an accurate picture. It takes a good 3-4 inches to reveal that you’re not as grey or the kind of grey you thought you were. The roots at my temples were loud mouths, speaking on behalf of my whole head.
It was cool to see how I was greying similarly to the men in my family. But what about the women in my family? There is no way to know – that information is well-hidden.
At this time, I was also hearing from friends, “You don’t look that grey.”
I would respond, “It depends on the lighting.”
Around this time, there was #thedress debate that occupied water cooler talk the continent over. A certain dress was shown online and some people thought it was blue and black and others thought it was gold and white, but what was it REALLY. The key to understanding was all about the lighting.
In the same way, people were taking up #thehair debate, which didn’t have the same viral audience, but it did preoccupy a couple of friends for a couple of minutes. What colour was my hair REALLY?
Grey hair became a trend for the first time in history, and my more naive and ridiculously faithful friends thought that perhaps I’d started it. I was surprised that I didn’t welcome the trend. My initial reaction was that grey hair was the one thing we get as we age – let the old(er) have it! It belongs to those who’ve earned it!
Then I was all, did you just hear yourself? Did you notice that turn-around? I defended grey hair by seeing it for the treasure it was when someone produced a counterfeit. And just like that, I was over Hatmaker.
Eventually, I acknowledged that the youthful were generous to let us borrow their hair colour, why couldn’t we also lend out ours.
My roots were five inches long, but I was determined not to go the route of cutting it all off, having had an unfortunate few short haircuts in my day. That “half-and-half” hair is where the real work of faith began, where I would trade up my coloured hair for something greater, although I knew not yet what that would be. I clung to the advice of my white-haired friend Marguerite, that “it gets uglier before it gets better.”
Days after my one-year anniversagrey, I visited my home away from home, Ghana, West Africa. I was excited to display my grey to my Ghana friends, but no one noticed and I chose not to point it out. Truly, there were better things on all our minds, like showing these gorgeous working women how to take a selfie.
I had a fascinating conversation with a group of Ghanaian women of various ages about beauty during that trip. It confirmed my suspicion that no woman is unscathed; there is a self-consciousness and concern about appearance, fleeting youth and beauty that has a hold on women in every culture.
1 year, 3 months
I began confronting the question that kept coming up as a result of this experiment, how do we age? It seems we have an incapability here; we see ageing as the enemy to fear, instead of experience to be gained.
When you look at your greying hair at least once a day, I saw it less like resignation and more like acquiring a loyalty to my age and all it entails. I started to accept the mantle of maturity this crown represented. I began to change my posture toward other women of all the generations (which I didn’t realize needed changing), ranging from a high respect for the elderly and sense of duty and compassion for the young. I’m less inclined towards competitiveness. And it is so wonderful to let the young be young and cheer them on to live life to the full. Perhaps not all need to go grey to experience this chrysalis, but I did.
I started to consider that I can give a stepping stone here to my own girls and others with regard to what middle age looks like and acts like. It is not giving up, but instead paying attention to health, acknowledging and marvelling at the physical change of ageing, and capitalizing on the advantages of life experience, all with the care of one who remembers their days are numbered and wants to make the most of them.
Having said all that, I noticed I hadn’t had a compliment in a long time when a co-worker said my hair looked different, but in a good way, and I was thrilled. An ageing woman still enjoys a little flattery now and then.
1 year, 6 months
In this second year of the experiment, I was taking on the soul-level effect of the surface-level change. One large realization was the “Invisibility Factor.” I wasn’t as noticeable to others. More like filler in the crowd. It took me back to when I first “noticed” others with grey hair in the initial stages of the experiment on account of my own interests and now I was on the other end; I wasn’t noticeable to many.
This Invisibility Factor made me consider three things: how and why humans search one another out in crowds; that it takes intention to notice the invisible; and what I would do with my new super power…
At the same time, I believe that a crown needs a royal setting. I have put more thought and time into my appearance than ever. To go grey is not to give up, it is to try harder. [Click here to read more about the Invisibility Factor.]
1 year, 9 months
I had the opportunity to be interviewed by Cheryl Weber at 100 Huntley Street about my beauty research. Pre-interview Cheryl and I chatted about how TV is an image-centred industry. Your appearance is part of what you’re extending to the audience. I’m not the pro Cheryl is, so she gave me good advice to put me at ease about being immortalized on camera, by being causal in your focus when going on air. You can put on the right outfit, get the makeup done, it’s all part of the message, but in the end, it’s about the content you will give, it is the reason why you’re there, and your main focus. With her good advice, I reminded myself that this was for the renown of God, not to put attention on myself, and the self-consciousness evaporated.
Isn’t this the case whether a camera is in front of us or not? We should be so sure of our message, our identity and purpose, that it flows out of us. Our outward appearance is part of that, yes, but not the focus. When we live to give God the glory, we are free to move and speak and go on camera without a worry about what we look like.
Just two days ago my friend, Lisa, took me out for a picnic lunch. It occurred to me that it was the two-year anniversary not only of my going grey, but our initial conversation. She was the first one I broke the news to, that I was going to go grey. It seemed a little unbelievable to us both at the time. “You’re just going to let it roll on down?” she’d asked.
I didn’t know any other way to carry out this experiment. And here I am two years later, with the meagre beginnings of a crown of splendour (it’s not grey, it’s not brown, it’s both), which has rolled all the way down to the ends and into some of that deeper understanding I’d hoped for.
A crown is history’s most recognized symbol of honour and it holds great responsibility. In a world where crowns are given and taken away, as empires and honour rise and fall, this makes HMQ’s longevity a very big deal.
Crowns are also featured heavily in Biblical history, metaphorically in the prophecies, wisdom books, epistles and Revelation. (In the gospels, a crown of thorns was used to mock Jesus and reject his message.)
The figurative crowns in scripture include having grandchildren, the gift of eternal life, and the blessing of Christian community. And yes, the distinguished honour of grey hair.
Getting back to that initial verse, we learn that grey hair itself is “attained in the way of righteousness.” The first truth to note is that grey hair is not undesirable, but by its very nature is honourable. The second is that grey hair is also gained through responsibility, just like the crown of a monarch. With the work of right and wise living, it is a double honour because the life you have lived is a spiritually profitable one.
Both God and man look to those with grey hair to live honourably. As Matthew Henry puts it, “Let old people be old disciples,” meaning, may those of us who possess the crown live up to it. May grey hair continue to be a refuge and a guide for those who look for wisdom because the aged can say, we know the Lord intimately for a long time and we’ve been through this before. And I have concluded that for the spiritually-minded, for those who seek after Godly wisdom, honour and a life well-lived, it gets better with age. There is no more need to grieve the days of our youth!
I have said from the beginning that in no way do I judge those who colour their hair. I love your colour probably. I’ll admit that for the most part, I think people look younger and more vibrant with coloured hair, so if you value that, stick with it.
But I would add this for others who are considering the transition or just letting it come as it may, that perhaps going grey is accepting the mantle of maturity and gladly taking on the responsibility of ageing and its crown. Consider whether you want to be one whom others can count on as guide or companion in the pursuit of wisdom.
I wonder what an oath of responsibility might look like, the weighty acceptance of a grey-haired coronation: I solemnly accept the crown of splendour bestowed upon me. I will do my utmost to uphold the ways of wisdom and to point others in the same manner, to true righteousness by God’s grace.
Conclusion: I accept this crown, so help me God.