Why it’s time to stop concealing your age and start embracing it.
I’m 55. My hair is grey. My skin shows my hard-earned miles on the clock.
And I love it.
I didn’t always feel like this. I’m a reformed age concealer.
Grey hairs made their first appearance in my late 20s. I didn’t think anything of them at first. But when there were so many that removing them by hand would have left a bald patch, I decided to do something about it.
My first foray into the world of hair dyeing involved henna. I mixed up what looked and smelled like a cow pat, and spooned it all over my head. Some time later, when the henna had worked its magic, I surveyed my handiwork and was happy with what I saw. A mop of shiny hair with no grey ones jumping out at me. Result!
It’s fair to say that henna was a gateway product for me. I used it until I stopped getting what I wanted from it. I then turned to the hard stuff. Chemical hair dye. Every four weeks for the next 15 years.
Once you start dyeing your hair — especially if it’s dark — it’s hard to stop. You become a grey-root-a-phobe. All you notice about yourself when your hair needs dyeing are your roots. And everyone else is staring at them, too… you believe. You get used to seeing yourself with hair the same colour as it was when you were in your early 20s. You get used to other people seeing you that way, too.
You get used to looking younger than you are.
You also get used to shelling out a lot of money to keep your habit going. And you get used to chemical warfare being waged on your scalp every month.
One day, after allowing the fountain of eternal youth to seduce me for 23 years, I stopped. I stopped concealing the truth — that I was grey-haired and older than I looked.
It had been brewing for a while. Not on its own, but as part of a much larger issue I’d been encountering.
Ageism entered my life when I was about 45. And has never left. Ageism has many faces. Medical conditions being attributed to age instead of being investigated. Not getting interviews for jobs you’re 100% qualified for. (And finding out later they hired someone with half your experience.) Being given no voice in workplaces espousing equality.
A couple of incidents stand out for me.
When I was in my late 40s, a recruitment consultant told me to “dumb down” my résumé to take 10 years off my age. “Marketing is a young person’s game. Besides, you look much younger than you are so it’ll work”, he told me.
A few years later, I read an article by a millennial career and workplace expert. An advocate for authenticity at work, he discusses how important it is for his generation. Yet, when asked to provide advice for people in their 40s/50s looking for work, he said something like this. Older workers need to cut jobs and accomplishments from their résumés so they appear younger. And must never put their photos on anything! So, authenticity is important for millennials, but not for 50-somethings?
Then there was the sexism that accompanied this. From other women.
When I stopped dyeing my hair, the only negative feedback I got was from women. “Oh my god, why are you doing that! You look so young for your age right now!” “You won’t be hired looking like that!” This ageism/sexism mix shocked me. Let’s be honest, no man would ever get comments like this. Especially not from his own gender.
Even worse was the sense I got from other women that I was ‘letting the side down’. As in letting other women down. It’s so hard to put my finger on why I sensed this, but I did. As did a friend of mine when she stopped dyeing her hair after 30 years. Women would stare at my hair, talk amongst themselves, then stare again.
How dare I do this? How dare I suggest, via my grey hair, that other women my age might also be… my age?
I was gobsmacked, to say the least.
Today, my grey hair is still an issue. I continue to get feedback that more employment doors would open for me if I went back to being a brunette. But I also get comments from young women about how much they love my hair colour. It’s the colour many of them are dyeing their hair to be ‘on trend’. So what’s fashionable for younger women isn’t acceptable for older women?
The lack of acceptance of natural grey hair speaks to a much deeper, more significant issue.
That older people have little value in modern society.
Only women can change this. Not because we’re better than men. But because we’re contributing to this perception more than men. We’re doing so by agreeing to do what society demands of us. By dyeing our hair to conceal the grey. By spending a fortune on anti-aging products. By having cosmetic surgery to tighten up our skin. By not supporting women who stop playing this damaging game.
We have to change this. Fast. Because ever-increasing numbers of older women and men feel like they don’t matter. They worry about their future — their social and financial future. They feel like they’re on the scrap-heap — with nothing of value to contribute.
And they’re wrong.
The wisdom that comes with age is of immense value. The younger generations need this wisdom to help them recalibrate society’s values. They need this life experience to help them navigate the hard times that lie ahead. They need to learn from this expertise gained over decades.
Fellow older women: It’s time to accept your age. It’s time to let go of society’s false notions of age. It’s time to stop devaluing yourself by pretending to be someone you’re not.
It’s time to embrace yourself. As you are.
You are perfect, as you are. Your grey hair is perfect. Your loosening skin is perfect. Your wrinkles are perfect. How you look today is a reflection of everything you’ve accomplished in your life.
You’ve accomplished so much already. And have so much more left to offer.
Be bold. Be an older woman.