- Nancy Mendelson
This is my 59th column for hertelier which, ironically, is the age when I first decided to let my hair go gray. It was an easy decision, given that I had been blessed with a great head of thick and shiny, nearly jet-black hair which, save for a fleeting moment of henna magenta madness in my 20s (yes, there was alcohol involved) I had never colored.
As the first silver strands began to appear, I thought I’d wait and see how it grew in before I decided whether to go natural and figured if it looked nasty, I’d color it. Thankfully, it grew in so beautifully, that women would stop me in the street and ask, “Who does your color?” “Stress & Genetics,” was and still is my reply.
What did turn nasty, however, was the blatant ageism I began to experience because of my hair color.
“On the bright side, more people are speaking out about how harmful (and bogus!) ageism is, which might be why the recent ousting of Lisa LaFlamme, a renowned Canadian news anchor who decided to go gray, has sparked such an outcry” reads this excerpt from a recent article on Katie Couric Media. “The gray hair controversy has become so massive that it has bled over into American media, too. In fact, our very own Katie was so upset by the situation that she weighed in on the controversy on Instagram. “The way this was handled was really boneheaded,” Katie wrote. “We need to see women aging in every arena.”
“My kooky silver curls stand for a more inclusive society where gray is an asset, not a shame,” writes Sasha Aslanian, an award-winning journalist who stopped coloring her hair, opting to remain true to who she is. "I covered stories that exposed wrongdoing and won awards named after famous men. I began thinking about courage in the workplace. Some of my stories hinged on whistleblowers who risked everything to speak the truth. If someone with my tenure and awards shelf couldn't risk being themselves, who could? I didn't want to be complicit in erasing older women from journalism. I'm here.”
“When I made the decision to let my hair go grey/silver—or gunmetal, as my genius haircutter calls it, which makes me feel like a badass—I knew I was risking being perceived as older, and I wasn’t wrong, writes, me actually, in my 13th Unpack It,” What’s age Got to Do with It? "I could read the thought bubbles in a room full of strangers when I went to pitch business. So why is it when the likes of George Clooney, Idris Elba, Pierce Brosnan, or even Matt freakin’ Le Blanc transition into grey they are Silver Foxes????"
Perhaps the answer lies in a recent article on The Conversation, Grey hair: Fine for George Clooney but not Lisa LaFlamme?, that suggests, “This is because aging men are seen as suave, distinguished, and sophisticated. Women are just seen as old. Whatever a woman does or does not do with her hair will affect how others respond to her and thus her 'social power', meaning that women have a choice: let the natural process of aging take over and go grey (and be socially dismissed), or dye their hair to look younger and be more 'socially accepted'.”
ENOUGH OF THIS BULLSHIT! #KeepTheGrey
With more women (and aging women) in the workforce, companies need to learn how to retain, respect and develop older employees. Responding to the mistreatment of LaFlamme and making her an inspiring role model is the beginning of a positive change.