This January, a Harvard research team confirmed the long-standing belief that stress can indeed cause hair to turn gray.
With salons shuttered due to lockdowns and no shortage of stress due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, this could mean that many people are seeing a lot of gray hair.
This may sound like particularly bad news for women in the Middle East, who traditionally pride themselves on keeping up immaculate appearances, from the designer fashion they wear to their perfectly colored and styled hair. Many are thus sorely missing their regular trips to the salon.
Culturally, silver strands are not a welcome sight for Arab women, who are often pressured to start dying their roots as early as their 20s to cover up this much-dreaded sign of ageing.
Dubai-based fashion blogger Zahra Khalil started dying her grays at age 26. She told Arab News that it has been tough not being to visit the salon.
“It’s made me realize that my gray hair is more abundant than I thought! I’m sure the stress of what’s happening in the world has made it worse, but I would like to think I look wiser,” she says.
“Initially I thought maybe it would be an interesting look if I just let it grow out and go natural. But unfortunately, the patchiness of the growth isn’t very appealing, so once I get a chance, I’ll be dying my hair again.”
In the West, gray hair is traditionally seen as a sign of wisdom and even elegance. Ironically, even some millennials are dying their locks gray, championing the silver hair color and “grombre” (gray ombre) trends.
An August 2019 article in Cosmopolitan UK predicted that silver would be the hair color of 2020. Caroline Labouchere, the 55-year-old Dubai-based “gray ambassador,” is an excellent example of why going gray is nothing to be feared. Her confident, alternative attitude towards graceful ageing have earned her spots in numerous fashion and beauty campaigns.
But why wait until our 50s to celebrate gray hair?
In the past, Middle Eastern women would have been aghast at the thought of letting their grays grow during Ramadan, a time when glamour takes precedence. This year, however, Ramadan and social distancing have combined to give us ample opportunity for spirituality and introspection, so it is fitting to learn how gray hair has been perceived as a positive sign throughout religious history.
The Bible’s Old Testament for instance, states that “grey hair is a crown of glory, found on the path of righteousness.” (Proverbs 16:31) In Islam too, gray hair is looked upon favorably; a prophetic hadith advises Muslims to refrain from plucking grey hairs, as they will be Muslims’ light on the day of resurrection.
In Saudi Arabia, salons remain closed, but in the UAE, they have begun re-opening on the condition that they adhere to strict social distancing measures, such as offering limited occupancy and ensuring the use of masks and gloves. Clinical, desolate and borderline-apocalyptic, they no longer provide the serene, satisfactory ambiance they once did. Perhaps women will not be fervently flocking to hairdressers to touch up their roots after all.
We are working from home, prioritizing comfort over fashion and wearing minimal to no makeup; frivolity has no place in our current reality. The pandemic has taught us a lesson: Life is short. Perhaps instead of masking them to extend an illusion of youth, it is time we start embracing our gray hair.