Gray hair has made a splash in fashion magazines in recent months, and “Gray Is the New Blonde” debuted this week in L.A. as a documentary telling stories of women who ditched the dye.
Six years ago at age 44, Spokane speech pathologist Susan Esco quit coloring her hair and cut it short to grow back naturally. She’d chosen to avoid chemicals, so it wasn’t for style at first. That’s changed.
Recently, Esco signed as a model and also launched support for women choosing “authentic hair” with the tags #DYEFree2BME and Silver Sisters. Other ventures are Shine on Silver Sisters on Facebook, Instagram posts, sloganed T-shirts and a Spokane Meetup group.
Esco’s work to send positive messages about natural beauty and aging took time. “I cut all my hair off to a pixie and remember it was Thanksgiving 2013,” said Escno, now 50.
“It took me three years to get back the length. I went through a lot of trauma with this hair, so I thought, ‘I’m just going to release it all. Let’s chop it all off.’ ”
Esco first noticed gray strands by age 30, and she’s kept a photograph of her long, auburn locks from summer 2013. She had gone to using natural products, then put a halt to having dye chemicals applied to her scalp regularly.
The transformation was humbling and empowering, she said, as reactions at first weren’t enthusiastic.
“To go from all this beautiful hair to looking like I was a post-cancer patient, I got a lot of looks,” Esco said. “People give you a lot of crap when you go against the grain of what society thinks you should be.”
Even now, she said other women share similar experiences on social media sites where they exchange ideas such as whether to go all gray one time with dye or let it grow in gradually. One post described a woman at a chiropractor who suggested she touch up her roots.
“I read all kinds of atrocious things,” Esco said. “Husbands who are mad at wives. Women who re-dye hair just to save their marriages. It’s just really sad that society is so much about the outside, and conversely we need to be about the inside, because that’s what matters.
“Women will say ‘my 70-year-old grandma said she won’t ever stop dyeing her hair’ and ‘she won’t walk with me in public anymore because I’m growing out my hair.’ ”
Previously to keep her brown-auburn hues, Esco went for years to a hairdresser to get highlights. The process required several hours at a salon every six weeks, consuming most of a Saturday and about $160 with tip.
“For what?” she said. “Because in a week, I could see my bright white roots, and I’d just be angry every time I looked in the mirror with all this negative self-talk.”
Today, she said some women in their 30s are embracing gray hair, as are older women. Support groups are growing. She and others are promoting the trend at a July 17 conference in Costa Mesa, California, titled #SILVERCON.
And this last week, Esco planned to attend the premiere of “Gray Is the New Blonde.” Although she wasn’t interviewed for the film, Esco said she’s talked to its director, Victoria Marie.
“Now we’re all awake, enlightened, empowered,” Esco said. “This movement starts with hair but trickles over into life. You become confident about letting your hair grow natural, then you’re confident about wearing an outfit you might not have worn in the past. Now I could care less what people are thinking.
“I’m not afraid of being judged, so I feel free in all areas of my life to try new things, to go places, to do things that people consider younger-folk activities like rock climbing, snowboarding. I love playing table tennis and modeling. I’m going to go for it, whatever I dream I want to be.”
About a year and a half ago, she started dating Spokane guitarist and songwriter Echo Elysium, who wrote a song about her titled “Silver Lining.” Esco, who grew up in L.A., has lived in Spokane for 10 years. She has two children, daughter Savannah, 20, and son Luke, 17.
For speech pathology, she offers in-home therapy that specializes in helping people with severe impairments such as autism and cerebral palsy to have more ways to communicate, mainly through use of a tablet device. She’s phasing that into part-time work.
“I’m dedicating more time to this #DYEFree2BME movement,” Esco said. “I’m using modeling as a way to get the message out because I want to inspire people. I created the T-shirts with slogans.”
The shirts carry different messages, such as silver goddess, silverlicious, openly gray and transformation in progress with a caterpillar and butterfly. Her #DYEFree2BME logo is on each shirt, sold on her website under that same name and also through zazzle.com.
She plans to do affiliate marketing and recommend products, including a cosmetic line. Esco wants to do YouTube interviews with women she describes as “movers and shakers in the movement.”
Her overall goal is “just being a beacon of it’s OK, ladies. You’re not going to shrivel up and be invisible. In fact, you’re going to be so visible that you’re not going to know what to do with yourself.
“I love being the only one in the room with gray hair. I go to conferences where I know for a fact people are older than me. I walk in, and I’m the only one in the room with gray hair, and that’s OK.”
Esco added that women transitioning to “authentic hair” have differing experiences and comfort levels. She felt better at first with short hair, while she sees that other women stay with longer hair.
“I say growing out your hair is like a box of chocolates, stealing that line, because you never know what you’re going to find,” Esco added. “Even at this length, I thought all my hair was going to be white, but it ends up my natural auburn color is still in the back. It’s still kind of wrapped in there. I’m super happy with it.”
People still turn heads, but in a positive way, she said. Esco hopes her new Meetup.com group, #DYEFree2BME-Silver Sisters of Spokane, will result in groups of women going together to social events while supporting one another. In fact, Esco said she often spreads that support around to other women in Spokane now.
“I’m like that crazy, gray-haired lady. I run up to ladies and say, ‘Your hair is so beautiful. Have you heard of the #DYEFree2BME movement? Here’s my card. Email me.’
“There are a lot of beautiful, silver-haired women in Spokane. I just want to get us all together and paint the town in silver. Wouldn’t that be cool to see 20 women walking into a bar with their authentic hair color? It would be a head-turner.”
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