My back rests against the sofa cushions as I sit cross-legged on the living room floor. The plastic gloves rustle close to my ears. The dye reaches my scalp, cool against my skin. Mute anger courses through my veins with nowhere to go. Okay Society, you win, I think, as my mother gently parts my hair, carefully applies the dye and massages the colour through to the ends. Defeated, I lay down my weapons and submit to being ‘beautiful’.

I first took up arms six months previously, somewhere among the general overhaul of turning thirty, and the realisation that I wasn’t quite any of the people I’d been pretending to be throughout my twenties. I began to wonder about my natural hair, hidden under years of alternative identities; the red, the blond and most commonly, the dark almost black, brown. Every couple of months, as my colour appointment approached, the twinkly silvers at my roots would sparkle, inviting me to discover what lay beneath and every couple of months I paid someone to stifle them.

It was an angry and rebellious act, choosing to grow out my grey. A decision to be me in a world that told me I was free to be me – just a bit different. A bit younger, a bit thinner, a bit better. Determined to show up in all my colours, with all my inconvenient signs of ageing, I welcomed the sneers and sideways glances. This was my battlefield. Woe to anyone who chose to stand in my way.

But nobody really did. Busy living their own lives it seemed no-one was too concerned with my hair choices. In fact, some were incredibly supportive. Martin in the office, for example. “Are you growing out your grey?” he asked. “I didn’t want to say anything until I was pretty sure it was deliberate” he said hesitantly, “but I think it looks cool.”

In the end, the only one standing in my way was me.

Growing out your lengths is a lengthy business. It varies from person to person and for me, natural shoulder length hair takes about two years from root to tip. I hadn’t considered how much life could take place in two years.

In December 2016, my brother’s wedding came around. He was the first of us five siblings to get married and the event was a big deal. It was there, at the six-month mark, that my hair began to pose a problem. I tried up dos, I tried down dos. I tried different partings too. There was just no way to make six months of grey roots look glamorous and celebratory and, shoot me, I wanted to look glamorous and celebratory.

My mother, a die-hard home dyer, was there the second I displayed doubt. She was ready in minutes with her mixer bottle and gloves. The narrative of self-maintenance was shaming, powerful and appealed to my vanity. The self-care angle was beguiling and inviting. I couldn’t fight it anymore. My true essence, or whatever was under there, would have to wait.

I continued dying after that. I realised too how I’d missed my trips to the salon. Those two luxurious hours that were mine and mine alone. Hours when I didn’t have to be anywhere or do anything. I’d missed the feeling of passive transformation and the feeling of walking out of the salon all glossy and new.


But my curiosity never went away.


Three years later, newly married and living in Italy, I found myself in a sunny square in the centre of Mantua with my husband, sipping a cappuccino and complaining.

“It’s hard enough to find a hairdresser to do what you want when you speak the same language. How am I going to find somebody here?” I despaired.

“What if you just let it grow?” he said tentatively. “It might look better like that.”

Rays of light streamed down from the heavens and a golden halo appeared above his head as angelic choral voices filled the air.

“Keepeth him, spendeth your life with him” they sang.

“You’re right,” I smiled, “it might.”


I seized this chance. His curiosity amplified mine and I recommitted to Operation Grey Growout with newfound zeal.

Angel husband, concerned only with my inner beauty and true essence, changed his mind after about six weeks. Unfortunately for him it was too late. I was already thoroughly committed. “It will look gorgeous in two years” I promised, “you’ll just have to be patient.”

The truth is, despite my conviction, it might not look gorgeous. I might not like it at all. There’s only one way to find out. It’s an experiment, a game, a creative endeavour. In fact, it’s not all that different to the writing process. My hair, like my words, needs time to emerge from my head. When there’s too much of it, or when what is there is irrelevant and outdated, I may need chop some bits off the end and prune it a little. It’s difficult to know what the finished work will look like until it’s complete and when it’s done it may appeal to some and not to others.

Right now, I don’t know that it would appeal to anyone. My hair is currently a first draft. Rough, unpolished and incomplete. The roots are a silvery cool, offering a hint of what’s to come while the warm orangey ends reveal the remnants of an ombre job from last summer. I’m in the middle of a transition process. While it’s not the most comfortable place to be, it’s valuable to practice being with what is.

I guess the transition is not so comfortable to witness either. I’ve heard countless times that I’m “too young to go grey.” Though these proclamations may stem from a sincere belief that God made a mistake with my hair, I sometime wonder if they owe more to the fact that I’m younger than those doing the proclaiming.


I’m at the six-month mark again but it’s not a war this time. There’s no fight or struggle. The beautiful thing about growing out my hair is that it doesn’t require much effort at all. It grows miraculously, all on its own. All I really have to do is keep breathing. The progress isn’t noticeable day to day, but when I look at my roots after these months they’ve come a long way. So I keep breathing, with patience, and let the growth happen.