How Premature Gray Hair Is Teaching Me To Age Well
This essay speaks to the natural graying and aging process. Premature gray hair (PGH) may be the sign of a medical condition, and anyone concerned should consult their doctor.
I turn another year older tomorrow, and I’ve been wondering what it means to age well.
I’ve never really thought about it, about how aging is a process and an evolution, not an event. I always assumed I’d wake up one morning and be 75 with gray hair and wrinkles. I never wondered about the in-between—about how aging starts with a strand.
I was in my twenties when I discovered my first gray hair, or rather, my younger sister (the family hairstylist) found it. At first, I was shocked. How could I be going gray so soon? Was it stress related to grad school? The repercussions of all that drugstore box dye I used as a teenager? I told myself yes, it was those things and plucked the two gray hairs. When I found others a few months later, I plucked those too, hoping that with a few shifts in my diet or better sleep, they would eventually turn brown again.
But then I noticed my smile lines began lingering a few seconds longer, then shadows tattooed themselves underneath tired eyes. My summer tan stopped vanishing into milky skin and instead painted freckles and splotchy sunspots on my arms.
Then, one winter, my feet were throbbing from wearing narrow heels to a family holiday dinner. When I took my shoes off later that night, I saw the slightest curvature in my toes. “Bunions are hereditary, Honey,” my grandma said as I stared at my feet in horror.
When I’ve thought about aging in the past, I’ve dreaded the process. All I’ve seen is how my body and skin will no longer reflect the same innocence. Glowing skin, bright eyes, glossy hair. These, I’ve been told, are the signs of youth—ones that, if achieved, make me appear healthy and beautiful. With so many products and procedures devoted to removing grays and reversing fine lines, it’s hard not to buy into the hype.
This isn’t to say that I won’t dye my grays or that I’ll forgo products to nourish my skin. I don’t think these things are inherently wrong for those of us who choose. But it’s that I’ve never thought about aging as anything other than something to be feared, and even halted.
In preparing to celebrate another birthday, I’m finding I am suspended in a moment of pause, contemplating these thoughts. Perhaps it’s cliché but also necessary. As I find myself wondering what it means to age well, I have to wonder why I only think about my appearance. I haven’t looked at my skin as a container of internal growth, nor my body as a home for a heart that’s longed and loved for decades. Is not every gray strand and smile line a privilege? Are these not physical souvenirs from a life being lived?
Of course, I’m still relatively young—my grandparents would say my life is just getting started—but maybe this is even more of a reason to be thinking about how I wish to engage with the process. Aging might be an invitation—not to look into the physical mirror but to gaze inward. Could it be that aging is an opportunity to expand upon the lives we’ve built? What does it look like to deepen what we already have and who we already are, rather than to curse or try to erase any physical evidence of years?
So much of my life has felt like building, like laying bricks and resting my head in different places. For years I did not have a home base as I lived in faraway cities, studying, traveling, trying to figure out where it was that I belonged. I never stayed in one place long enough to experience noticeable growth or see how the face of a city changes with time.
That too was a physical journey, one that I see reflected in my body—my bones still hurt from backpacks and airport floors. But there was an internal journey happening too. Just like with aging, so much can go unseen if we don’t purposefully look for it. It’s not that there isn’t room for change or surprise across more decades, but that perhaps there is something rich about roots spreading themselves into the deepest layers of soil.
Aging is slowing me down—physically, emotionally, purposefully. It’s a reminder that growing up is not so much about how our bodies are changing as it is about the evolution of our hearts and spirits.
Each new gray hair teaches me that there’s beauty in staying still and memorizing a landscape, whether it’s the lines of a smile or the curves of a well-worn heart.
Kayti Christian (she/her) is a Senior Editor at The Good Trade. She has a Master’s in Nonfiction Writing from the University of London and is the creator of Feelings Not Aside, a newsletter for sensitive people.