The Gray-Haired Atheist

"I really admire you," someone told me recently. It was quite out of the blue, but a nice thing to hear. Why was I being admired? For my convictions, my command of the English language, my knowledge of all things Whedon, my sense of humor? Nope. It turns out that the admiration was because I don't dye the gray out of my hair. What?!? Um, yeah. I was flummoxed too.

It's not the first time someone has commented on my gray streaks. Or the second, third, or 47th. A lot of people seem to enjoy complimenting me on not dying my hair. It always has the same message of support. A sort of power-to-the-people against the media message that women shouldn't have gray hair until they are 80 or 90 or whatever age they are finally allowed to start looking "older."

The thing is, my gray streaks are not an intentional stand against the media-driven image of female beauty. (Though I suppose I don't mind if I appear to be taking that stand.) In reality, I don't dye my hair simply because the hassle of doing it outweighs the benefits.

My hair turning gray is something that just happens. I found my first gray hairs in high school and didn't think too much of it. When I was younger I tried dying my hair. Not to cover the gray, but to add highlights and some shine. I've dyed my hair at home with temporary washes and I've had it professionally dyed at the salon. Either way had too many drawbacks for me to continue.

Temporary dyes were a frivolous thing to do with my friends back when I had free time. Professional dying was a little something to try for me-me (as opposed to mom-me or wife-me). But it was (very) expensive and time consuming. Plus, I'd look in the mirror and think that it didn't look like the real me, which defeated the purpose of doing something for myself.

There is also a little bit of a health aspect to it. I have a lot of allergies and tend to be sensitive to chemicals (natural and man-made, if you think there's a distinction). Why add hair dye chemicals, which might cause an adverse reaction, if I don't really care about the cosmetic results in the first place?

But my personal decision not to dye my hair doesn't mean that other people shouldn't dye their own. I can understand why hair dye makes some people feel better about themselves. Whether they dye their hair to cover gray or just to give themselves a fun new look, it's a cosmetic change that makes them happy.

Full disclosure: I would like to live in a society where women do not feel pressured to dye their hair, wear make-up or otherwise change their appearance to feel better about themselves. I would like women to see their own unique beauty, and not compare themselves to the airbrushed images in magazines. But on the flip side, I don't see a problem with women using cosmetics to enhance their own beauty for fun--as long as it's just for fun and not linked to their actual self-worth or confidence.

When thinking about all this, I can't help but see a few links to my atheistic outlook. I do not dye my hair in the same way that I do not believe in a supernatural god. It isn't because I have some secret knowledge that hair dying is absolutely wrong. I checked it out for myself and it didn't work for me.

Similarly, I do not "know" that there are no supernatural gods; I lack a belief in them. I can see that there are some benefits to joining a religion, but there are also definite downsides to replacing logic with magical thinking. I've looked into the claims, tried a few religions out for myself, and none of them worked for me.

I'm comfortable with being a gray-haired atheist. I just wish other people wouldn't see it as such a cultural abnormality or act of social disobedience. I'm just being me.


  1. Love this! At 40, my gray hairs are multiplying rapidly. Until last year, I dyed my hair for fun and to stop people from assuming my 11 year younger husband (who looks even younger) was my son. I quit dying because it just seemed too toxic, inconvenient and silly. I'm amazed how many people point out my "need to touch up those roots". My "roots" are over 6 inches; I obviously notice. Just as religious is the default position, so too is dyed hair.

  2. Cheryl, oh yes, I've been there! Growing out the dye brought a few of those "helpful" hints about touch-ups. What are people thinking?!?

    Thanks for commenting. :-)