Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gray Does Not Equal Old

It's happened.

I just discovered my first pigmentally-challenged (yes, I just made that up) hair.

It's gray, people. There I was, sitting in my car, looking into the mirror attached to the sun visor, when it popped out at me from behind my ear.

I thought it may have been a reflection of the light. Even though my hair is naturally pretty dark, I get some strands of lighter brown and even a few blondes mixed in, which can be seen more easily in direct light.

But, nope... this one was definitely gray. Maybe even silver... white, almost.

Most people would begin the freak-out process and have a mild panic attack. Some people pluck them out, some begin to dye their hair when more grays appear. But not me.

Okay, I just lied to you. I did pluck it out. But it was to get a closer look to confirm if it was actually gray or not because of the lighting situation I just described. I promise.

Anyway... there was no mental breakdown or ballistic-like behaviors being exhibited. There was no shortness of breath, or eye-widening, or sobbing. My composure was nowhere near being lost. I felt more surprised than anything, though I'm not sure why. I suppose I simply wasn't expecting to see it. Do we ever anticipate it? Probably not.

Here's the thing. Gray hair is hair that has lost its pigmentation because the follicle from which it has grown has stopped producing melanin. That's it. If you don't believe me, look it up. Go ahead... I'll wait.

Everyone sees the results of this lack of pigmentation at different ages, and it's just because of genetics. If I ask my mother, I'm sure she would tell me it was around the same age I am now that she noticed her first gray hairs as well. In fact, I distinctly recall her favorite story to tell: that she had only three gray hairs for the longest time. One for my brother, one for me, and one for my dad. My parents separated when I was two, which would make her 28 at the time. Right on the money. Everyone also sees the results of this lack of pigmentation in different stages. After seeing the first few, that same person could take decades for their hair to turn fully gray, silver, or white. My mom dyes her hair now, as quite a few more than the first three have emerged. However, if she didn't (read: when her roots grow out), it could be seen that she is far from total grayscale, 25 years later.

Science aside, I understand the emotions behind the freak outs. Gray hair is a symbol of aging. I'm old! Only old people have gray hair! And aging, unfortunately, is looked down upon in our society. Youth is idolized, glorified, something to maintain as long as our pockets are big enough to support it with cosmetic procedures galore: Botox, face lifts, nose jobs, eyelid lifts, teeth whitening, etc., etc., etc. People buy their way to youth, even long past its expiration date.

Aging is natural. We all do it. We're all doing it right now, this very second. And it's okay. The number of years that have accumulated since you've been born is irrelevant. The old cliche comes into play here: Age is just a number. It's all about how you feel. And I feel that this gray hair symbolizes nothing more than the very real science behind why it's gray in the first place.

I'm sure someone reading this is thinking, Well, if you don't care about it at all why are you writing an entire blog post about it? Because there's more to it than just, "It's how you feel on the inside that counts!"

We, as a society, revere youth and reject senescence. But why? Why do we care so much about how we look rather than about what we do? Perhaps it's because we fear death, and aging means we're closer to it. Perhaps we're really all just vain, superficial beings. Whatever the reason, I choose not to live that way.

I like who I am. Loving myself as I am allows me to be happier with who I am, with the people around me, and in general. It also allows me to change for the better more easily. I believe in personal development and improvement of self, and, for me, that improvement doesn't include drinking from the Fountain of Youth. This isn't Tuck Everlasting.

The first gray... it's okay. I don't suddenly feel ancient. The world didn't end. I don't feel any older than I was five seconds before I saw it. I plan to embrace the next one, as it just means I'm even more badass than I was before.

Besides, it could be worse. At least I'm not balding, right? 

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