Full disclosure: I am not a brunette. The primary virtue of the mousy brown hair I was born with is that it’s easily colored. I started using Sun-In spray in high school and never looked back, highlighting my hair for decades and spending some time as a redhead before turning to this auburn shade of brown. I like variety.
But I’m less sure about my next transition. Underneath this beautiful Aveda color I have applied in the salon every 5 weeks is a head of — gasp — silvery white hair. Half grudgingly and half excitedly, I’m considering letting my natural hair grow a few inches and then chopping off the rest. A full-on Jamie Lee Curtis.
You can understand my trepidation. My hair not only makes me feel attractive, but I equate the length and rich color with youth — and I’m not anxious to let either go. I’ve always admired women who forgo makeup and hair styling. But it’s never been my style. I’ve always appreciated the boost I get from enhancing what God gave me — and I’m not alone. The US beauty and personal care market generates about $84 billion in annual revenue.
Working in PR and marketing, I’ve always believed a polished personal appearance was a definite advantage, if not a unstated job requirement. You have to be able to master your own personal brand before you can credibly advise a business on managing theirs. Fair or not, I’ve accepted this reality which also happens to comport with my personal philosophy.
Dressing well and ‘putting my face on’ are two ways I put my best foot forward each day. It’s also a type of armor for what can be a brutal and competitive marketplace. Feeling good about how I look and what I’m wearing is a great confidence booster.
But at this point in my life, coloring my hair has become a less-than-satisfying beauty routine that also feels like a bit of a charade. Just two weeks after my salon visit, my white roots re-emerge, reminding me that not only am I aging, I’m also pretending to be someone I’m not. As liberating as it may be to unshackle myself from the time and expense of coloring my hair, going gray still feels like a risk. If I look more like the Baby Boomer I am, will I find myself marginalized in the marketplace?
The fear is real. The WSJ reported that women over 50 often find doors closed to them. They face potential gender and age discrimination, along with the stigma of having spent time out of the workforce for caregiving. Researcherswho created 40,000 job applications for fictitious male and female candidates in three age ranges and analyzed employer callback rates found ‘robust evidence’ of age discrimination against older female workers were more likely to be judged negatively for their appearance than men.
And yet women over 55 and older are reportedly the fastest growing age-gender segment in the workforce. We will account for more than a third — nearly 3.6 million — of additional workers entering the labor force through 2026. I don’t have to look far to find fierce women in my age group and older doing amazing work: from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the notorious US Supreme Court Justice RBG and GM CEO Mary Barra to Meryl Streep, Glenn Close and Frances McDormand and others, all of whom are slaying it in Hollywood, which is known to be notoriously unwelcoming to women over 40. Closer to home, the city of Chicago will choose a woman over the age of 55 as mayor next month.
As I slog through the coming months looking like Cruella DeVil, I hope I have the patience and tenacity to follow through with my plan. It’s human nature, and certainly my own person inclination, to ‘hold on to the good’ and fear change. But I recognize that there are opportunity costs to staying with the status quo. What would happen if instead of grudgingly resisting the future, I whole-heartedly embraced it instead? What if what’s waiting for me on the other side is actually better?
Stay tuned. I’ll let you know.