I welcome my gray, as it begins to travel through the roots of this storied hair on my head… It is a crest of our culture.
What if we sensed our beauty all along?
Arturo Holmes/Bettmann/Timothy Fadek/Getty Images
The other day I was sitting on the stoop with my downstairs neighbor, a 70-something Black man with a lot of opinions, when he suddenly looked at my hair and said, “You got a lot of gray hair! How come you got so much gray hair?” I said, “Listen, I am 52 years old.” And he said, “And you’ve got THAT much gray hair?”
What’s funny is that I actually don’t have that much gray hair. It has only just started to come in around my face over the past year or two, and I love it. I was struck, though, that he managed to both insult me (in a good humored way) and compliment me in one fell swoop — I have too much gray hair, but am not old enough to have it? It made me think, too, about the way aging changes the way we think about beauty.
We simultaneously ache for the validation, and feel ashamed for wanting it.
It seems like kind of a dumb time to be writing about beauty. Such a shallow subject to ponder as we continue to (just barely) manage the pandemic, the delta variant, our kids being in school with the children of anti-vaxxers, Texas, climate change, and the list really does go on. And yet, after the recent loss of actor Michael K. Williams, I found myself deeply moved by a quote of his that resurfaced amid the myriad messages of appreciation and mourning that circulated on social media after his death. In an interview for Men’s Health, he said: “I spent a lot of my younger years not feeling beautiful. When I look back at my pictures now as a kid, I’m like, ‘Damn, you were actually beautiful.’ I couldn’t see it back then.”
I already knew I was going to write this piece before Williams died, but this quote reminded me of my context. Because there’s beauty, and then there’s us. By us, I mean Black folks — we who have never been factored into the “real” standard of beauty in America, the white standard of beauty. Many of us search for any reflection of ourselves in our surroundings, particularly during our youths, much less a reflection or representation of ourselves that is deemed beautiful. And for a lot of Black girls and gay Black boys (Williams was gay) this lack of reflection hits in an especially poignant way. In America, Black girls are too often hyper-sexualized, while gay Black boys are de-sexualized or erased altogether, when often all we want is to see ourselves presented as beautiful. We simultaneously ache for the validation, and feel ashamed for wanting it.
In this way, though, there is a majesty, a gift, in getting older. I actually really like getting older. Although, doing so while also navigating the current generation’s insistence on one’s own hotness, in every way, on every possible media platform, is an increasingly ambitious endeavor. Still, along with the profound solace of mercifully depleted f*cks to give, comes a deeply intimate, unrestrained sense of beauty — your own, and all that is in and around you. It’s less a feeling of who or what is beautiful, and more of a revelation. Indeed, as the late Toni Morrison once said, “At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.”
Source: Boston Review