Lee Foss dyed her hair for decades until the 75-year-old decided to let it go gray, concluding that the positives outweighed any vanity-related negatives. Credit: Courtesy of Lee Foss

My friend Lee Foss has been dyeing her hair for decades. After lots of encouragement (aka nagging) from friends, including me, a short while before COVID hit, she took a deep, deep breath and decided to let it grow out.

“I didn’t want to do the ritual of coloring it anymore, scheduling it and having to take a half a day out of my life every three weeks just to cover the gray,” she told me. “So, I started growing it out.”

When she decided she’d finally had enough, she bought a few hairpieces and a silvery wig to help with the transition. Once the gray started coming in it grew quickly and she said the hairpieces came in very handy.

“Because I had this halo of white and gray underneath, I was able to do things with the hairpieces that made it look better than it was,” she said. “It was work but it got me to the next step. Then COVID hit and I had to stay home, and it was like, wow, now I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”

Lee Foss dyed her hair for decades until the 75-year-old decided to let it go gray, concluding that the positives outweighed any vanity-related negatives. She’s pictured here before she let it go gray.

She still caught sight of herself in the mirror, though, and wasn’t always happy with what she saw. Going gray is a difficult transition for many people because it forces them to confront the reality of aging. Ultimately, however, Lee thought the positives outweighed the negatives.

One of the things that Lee, who is 75, noticed was that she generally feels much younger or did until she saw this older woman with silver hair staring back at her. Nothing had changed except how she looked on the outside. She still had a twinkle in her eyes, but her vision was clouded by silver.

“It’s human nature for us to go straight for the negative as Lee did with her hair color,” said Kate Fallon. “The negativity bias is really powerful. It’s a lot easier to look at our aging faces and bodies and say, ‘I hate that, it’s not what I want.’ It’s more work to say, ‘what can I appreciate about myself and this body?’”

Kate is a licensed counselor whose Portland practice is aptly named Ageless Journeys Counseling. Among other things, she helps people deal with life’s many transitions.

While vanity certainly plays a role when you see an unrecognizable older person in the mirror, you may also be confronted with the reality that you have more years behind you than before you. It can be a scary feeling.

“I’m 75,” Lee lamented. “I’m three quarters of 100 years old. Now when I look in the mirror, I see that, whereas when my hair was dark, I didn’t, and that means life is more finite. It’s just a visual thing, saying ‘wah-wah,’ you really are old!”

Lee happens to be quite good at finding the positives in her life. It’s one of the traits that makes her a delightful human being. As she got more used to her natural hair color, she realized she really liked what she saw.

“I was happy with the color of it,” she said. “My grandmothers both had beautiful white hair, so I was very happy that mine was, too. I was really pleased that it came in such a pretty white, a silvery white.”

Lee has turned out to be a role model in many ways.

I so appreciate that she was able to admit that it was hard — both getting there and dealing with the reality of her new image. It took a lot of patience and persistence. Whether you want to cover or flaunt your gray, it really doesn’t matter. Kate Fallon said that what’s important is to embrace who you are and what makes you feel good in the world.

“I think that the best medicine is authenticity,” she said. “Do whatever feels like your authentic self. Ask yourself what your age looks like for you. How can I feel as good as possible at whatever age? What does good look like for me, given my genetics and my lifestyle? Try to be more solution focused than problem focused.”

So, brava to you Lee Foss, for daring to let your hair grow out to its beautiful natural silver color. Your sparkle is even brighter than ever because you have become a shining example of the power of being your authentic self.

Her final words to anyone thinking about going gray are, “Just do it! Gather up your friends and rally them around you and have them cheer you on. Really, because that’s what it took for me. I’ll be your coach if you need it. The positives outweigh any vanity concerns.”

Diane Atwood has been sharing stories about health and wellness for more than 30 years, first as a reporter on WCSH6 and then as the marketing and public relations manager for Northern Light Mercy Hospital....