text graphic year of the quitter

This is the third post in The Year of the Quitter, a five-part series on how quitting paved the way to better living for me in 2018. Previously, I’ve covered quitting self-sabotage and quitting comparison.  

I suffer the curse of vanity. Growing up in agricultural environment, my childhood was surrounded by women who looked decades older than their years. The memory of my thirty-something mother being offered the senior discount in stores still flames my cheeks. Imagine the horror when I discovered my first gray hair at 16.

Creative hairstyles helped me to hide it for a few years (thank you, zig-zag part fad) but by the time I was 21, I had a choice: Allow people to assume I was a decade older or color my hair. I chose the latter and I never looked back – until last year.

Somewhere along the way, with two kids, career, ministry, grad school and everything else vying for the limited resource of time, my monthly salon appointments went from luxury to burden. I used to look forward to my hair appointments. They were “me” time. But spending four hours tied to a salon chair every month quickly became hours of my life I felt like I would never get back.

This year, I had to take a hard look at my hair color habit. What was driving me to do something I had come to dread month in and month out? The answer is so basic that it hurts: FEAR. I wasn’t vain. I was scared. Hiding the signs of age is almost a national pastime. We spend millions on efforts to turn back the clock. It’s not just hair color. It’s pills, tonics, creams, scrubs, lasers, scalpels and suction tubes. We all know that aging is inevitable, but we’re determined to fight it.

I didn’t realize my habit of coloring my hair was rooted in fear until I considered quitting. Personally, my fear was being a source of shame for my children. I know some level of embarrassment is normal, but I didn’t want them feeling like they had to defend me or themselves for having a mom who looked old – even though I’m a good decade older than most of their friends already.

What was most surprising, though, was how others reacted when I shared my desire to quit coloring my hair. I was told such a decision would effectively kill my career. That I’d be discounted professionally. I was told I’d look frumpy, as if I had “stopped trying.” I was told my husband would lose his attraction to me. Translation: An aging woman lacks value personally, professionally and romantically.

I did it anyway, knowing that I could change my mind at any point. I had a plan: I would grow out my hair for a few months and then get a cute, sassy short haircut to reveal my new natural look. The process was long but thanks to touch-up spray, it was relatively painless.

Short-haired brunette with black framed glasses outdoors

Gray hair was nothing to fear. I feel younger and freer than I have in a decade.

When I went in for the big cut, I was giddy. I had made it months without coloring my hair and I survived. I had yet to be demoted and my husband had yet to leave me. So far, so good. Now was time to fully embrace my decision.

Afterward, my daughters were impressed by the “sparkles” in my hair, though the older one said she was confused. “I don’t understand how you can have gray hair when you’re not old yet, Mom.” I take my compliments where I can get them. My husband’s reaction? “I don’t know how, but you look trendier now than before.” I smiled, because I knew how.

I walked out of the salon that day feeling like me for the first time in ages. It didn’t feel like my mask fell off, more like I threw it away. The cut was “me,” the color was “me.” I was “me” – all me – for the first time in ages.

Fighting the gray for all those years, I had fought my own evolution. I’d look at magazines or at other women and wonder if my hair should be blonder or redder. Could I pull off the color currently trending? Would it require more trips to the salon? What would that cost? Now, I’m living life without distraction – without feeling that there is a gap between who I am and who the world thinks I am. I don’t sit in meetings worried about my roots, and I’m not panicked about coordinating salon appointments with my professional and social calendar. I’m living life and enjoying it more than I ever have before.

I’m not saying hair color is bad. If you enjoy coloring your hair, go for it. But if you have come to dread it like I did, I’m here to tell you it’s OK to quit. I’ve survived – even thrived – gray hair and all.

Tonya Kubo is co-director of the Clutter Free Academy Facebook group, founded by author/speaker Kathi Lipp and based on her best-selling book, Clutter Free. Tonya and her husband, Brian, are raising two spirited girls in the agricultural heart of California. By day, she cultivates community in digital spaces for a public university. At night, you can find her either cooking, cuddling or helping others to fight the demons of comparison, clutter and compulsion.

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