Before there was gray, I colored my hair to match the roots. Deep brunette painted golden highlights, bringing warmth to summer kissed skin. Transitioning to fall, a blank canvas disguised the need for a practical solution to the “what ifs” that laid ahead. Looking at myself in the mirror that day brought memories of carefree days when my dark brown hair matched deep brown eyes.
The summer of ’96 brought newfound freedom to an unseasoned eighteen-year-old primed to explore independence, especially in the realm of her hair. My hair had been a source of contention throughout my childhood and an area where I longed to have autonomy. Perms, bangs, and bows prompted heated arguments as I pleaded for long, straight, “bangless” hair that flowed freely to my butt. By my senior year in high school, I had hair so long that it often got stuck in the guys’ armpits when we side-hugged, the approved hug of a Christian school.
Experimenting with Sun-In lightener or lemon juice, I decided that summer to assist the sun in creating highlights to disguise my drab brown hair. By fall, my mother and I made an agreement that allowed me to seek an actual professional to highlight my hair; I couldn’t have been more ecstatic.
When a friend in high school cut her shoulder-length hair to a beautiful pixie cut just before graduation, I remember being in awe of her bravery. I asked her about cutting it, and she laughed and said, “I just knew it was what I wanted to do. After all, hair is just protein. It will grow back!” Her freedom was foreign to me.
My identity was intricately tied to my hair. Over the years, I realized that I, like many other women, had a complicated relationship with my hair. Despite being the ultimate authority on it, I would consult magazines, Pinterest boards, and other’s opinions to inform me of the best style, color, and length.
Eventually, when experiencing changes in life, changing my hair often seemed like a logical course of action. Changing my hair felt like a drastic, non-permanent change that made me feel like I had the slightest bit of control.
How many times have you changed your hair when you could control absolutely nothing else in your life?
Memories of carefree days ultimately became a mirage the day I colored my delightfully dimensioned hair to match my roots. In the place of a relaxed teenager stood a responsible mother of one with another child on the way. A highly anticipated cross-country move coupled with a career change for my never-been-a-salesman husband to a commission-only job served as the springboard for change. In my attempt to control what was controllable, I asked my hair stylist to dye my hair so that I could grow it out easily.
Looking back, coloring my hair was about more than just practical responsibility or a blank canvas for a new season. It reflected my personal uprooting. What once was would be no more. Moving forward, I was exposed and untethered. Roots exposed, on my head and in my life, I wandered forward to discover who I was when everything around me was unfamiliar and new.
The tension I was experiencing felt exposed: I was from rules and discipline, yet I was gentle and compassionate. I was from perfection and plastic; however, I was messy and authentic. I was from privilege and shame, but I was inclusive and gracious. I was from look your best and do what’s best, yet I was all about love and be yourself.
It’s now been nearly ten years, and I have gray in my hair. I imagine the gray along my left temple is from my left-brained child; the gray along my right temple is from my right-brained child; and the gray along the crown is from my husband. Every ten weeks I choose to color my roots, hiding the gray, and every eight weeks it peeks back out, reminding me of the change that is coming.
My roots will always tell the truth of who I am and who I am becoming. There is beauty there. Our roots reflect where we’ve been and where we are going. Whether hidden, camouflaged, or in full glory, may we always tell the stories that make known the emergence of our roots.
Bethany Cabell, a lover of simplicity, is often inspired to write by the relationships she holds as a wife, mom, and a physical therapist. Bethany, her husband and their boys returned to life in Texas after wandering off to the Midwest for a season. What she once pictured her life to look like has forever been changed by her two sons. Navigating this messy and beautiful path of parenting two children each with their own unique challenges, she finds grace and beauty in the gift of each moment.
This paragraph was especially interesting to me and I could relate so well…”The tension I was experiencing felt exposed: I was from rules and discipline, yet I was gentle and compassionate. I was from perfection and plastic; however, I was messy and authentic. I was from privilege and shame, but I was inclusive and gracious. I was from look your best and do what’s best, yet I was all about love and be yourself.” Your writing is captivating Bethany. Keep on!
Sweet Bethany – This was such a beautiful piece of writing! I loved how you talked about your hair and yet it incapsulated so, so, so much more than hair. The line that struck me was the one where your wrote, “My roots will always tell the truth of who I am and who I am becoming. There is beauty there.” There is tension in the “roots” but there is also beauty that you accept and even embrace. Thank you for sharing a part of your heart and a part of your story so vulnerably and honestly. You are like a breath of fresh air.
I am in tears after reading this and pondering why. I think it is this line, “The summer of ’96 brought newfound freedom to an unseasoned eighteen-year-old primed to explore independence.” It might also be the fact that I got my semi-annual or so hair trim this week and noticed even more clearly the gray around the temples and mixed in with the waves. Every time I lose a handful of dark hair, I think, “Goodbye, Dear Friends,” because I am pretty sure they won’t grow back in that way. As one who chooses to embrace the gray for both practical and financial reasons, I, too, am faced with a visible change that feels more rapid by the day. Thank you for the reminder to lean into our roots with kindness. Blessings and love to you!
Dear Bethany, your words invite me to remember, ponder and embrace the out-of-control feelings that weave their way into my life like gray strands of hair. I love these sentences (only two of many in this piece), “Looking back, coloring my hair was about more than just practical responsibility or a blank canvas for a new season. It reflected my personal uprooting.” Yes! I have often said, if you want to know how I’m doing, look at my hair! In recent years I have fully embraced my gray head but it has been a difficult process. Thank you for the beauty of writing from your life and heart. Much love to you! Christine
Bethany, YES!!! We are from such similar places, I had to smile, and hurt a little bit. It is so interesting we even have hair, like what is the point? But it changes so much about how we feel. Really short hair makes me feel confident and youthful. Long hair makes me feel more vulnerable, but also mystical. And everything in between. “The ministry of a good hair cut” as Jen Hatmaker would put it. Thank you for writing and sharing this piece. On the precipice of some big changes, your words are a comfort.