The latest in health: Embracing un-dyed life, how nature affects your body image

May 20, 2018

Today in our latest in health segment: the ways in which we see ourselves.

Going gray is a natural part of most people's lives. There comes a time, often earlier in life than you'd think, where the pigment of your hair begins to change. So why all the fuss over covering it up? Some think that gray hair make them look older than they are. Some think that the color makes their complexion drab. But does it? We'll explore the idea of letting nature take its course when it comes to your hair.

Then, a study out of Europe that shows nature can impact your perception of your own body image.

Let it go: Saying goodbye to the dye

For many years, women have dyed their hair soon after starting to go gray, but a book published in February encourages women to embrace the silver rather than dye it away.

Lorraine Massey is the co-author of “Silver Hair: A Handbook,” a guide helping women to make a transition to naturally gray hair.

Massey said many of the people she and her co-author Michele Bender interviewed for the book started going gray at 16, much younger than what is often thought of as "old."

Because society doesn't expect a teen to have gray hair, women will sometimes pick up the practice of monthly dyes that they carry on well into adulthood. That adds up to a lot of time, money and exhaustion, Massey said.

“A lot of their life, after a while, starts to revolve around their color,” Massey said.

After seeing this process play out over and over, Massey wanted to show women that there's another way. Though she said she is not advocating for everybody to leave the dye behind, Massey does want to dispel the misconception of going gray as a sign of getting old.

"I think it's a privilege to be here long enough to able to be silver."

“A lot of people just associate silver with age…which is totally untrue because most of the ladies in the book say that they felt and feel younger once their silver is out,” Massey said.

Massey said the trends have taken an ironic turn in the past few years to promote white and gray hair color, to the point that women in their 20s who never had gray hair are bleaching it and dying it silver.

Though it is hard to pin down an exact reason for this trend, Massey said Daenerys Targaryen from HBO's “Game of Thrones” and Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen,” two strong, white-haired princesses, are possible contributors to the rebranding of silver as a powerful color in popular culture.

Credit Tai / Flickr

“[Frozen] was so unbelievably successful,” Massey said. “Everybody for Halloween was playing this beautiful, silver-haired young lady, [and] I think everyone loved these wigs so much that they decided to actually dye their hair that color.”

Because of this, women with naturally gray hair can feel empowered to let their hair grow out and embrace the trend, Massey said.

“All these ladies that have [gray] naturally underneath, they have what most of the younger generation want,” Massey said. “Not only that; it’s for free.”

The process can be long and awkward, but Massey said a lot of women are ultimately happy they stuck through the entire process of growing out their dyed hair in favor of their natural color.

“Being comfortable is overrated anyway, so sometimes by you being uncomfortable…I think it just brings out the best in you,” Massey said.

Ultimately, Massey said women should not be afraid to show off gray hair, no matter their age.

“No matter what, this is not a disability,” Massey said. “I think it’s a privilege to be here long enough to able to be silver.”

Green space and body image

A recent study published in the journal "Body Image" showed the potential effects of green space. In the study, students were exposed to nature -- either with pictures of natural environments or by actually being placed in green spaces. Either way, the results found that the majority of participants came out with a better perception of their own body image. Viewing images of natural environments resulted in a more positive body image, as did walking in a natural environment and spending time in a designed green space.

Credit The Jimkuroy / Flickr

The lead author of the study, Viren Swami, of Anglia Ruskin University, has a couple of theories as to why this is the case. He said:

"There are several reasons why exposure to nature could be having this effect on positive body image. It might be that it distances people, physically and mentally, from appearance-focused situations that are one of the causes of negative body image.

It is also possible that exposure to environments with depth and complexity restricts negative appearance-related thoughts. More specifically, natural environments effortlessly hold your attention – a process known as ‘soft fascination.’ This is often accompanied by feelings of pleasure, such as when you are drawn to the sight of a setting sun.

An environment that does not require undivided attention may provide people with cognitive quiet, which in turn may foster self-compassion such as respecting your body and appreciating it is part of a wider ecosystem requiring protection and care.

Access to nature may also mean that individuals spend more time outdoors engaging in activities that focus attention on the body’s functionality rather than aesthetics.