Should you still wash the gray out of your hair?
By LEANNE ITALIE July 17, 2012 9:46AM
In this 2011 photo released by KPIX-TV, San Francisco's KPIX news anchor Dana King is shown. King, 53, started going gray in her 20s, then dyed her hair in her 30s, and stopped a few years ago. She is among a new type of gray panther, a woman who aspires to do well and get ahead on the job while happily maintaining a full head of gray. (AP Photo/KPIX-TV)
Updated: July 17, 2012 12:07PM
Jeanne Thompson began going gray at 23. She colored her hair for years as she worked her way into management at a large financial services company, then gave up the dye for good about a year ago.
The earth didn’t shake, and the 44-year-old Thompson was promoted to top management the following year.
She is among a growing number of women who aspires to do well and get ahead on the job while happily maintaining a full head of gray.
“Women put pressure on themselves to color,” she said. “It’s a bold statement to be gray because it’s saying, ‘You know what? I did let my hair go, but I’m not letting myself go.’ People take me more seriously now.”
But not everyone finds it so easy.
Laws, of course, exist to ward off discrimination in the workplace, yet legions of men and women have no interest in letting their gray fly. Not now, when the struggling economy has produced a stampede of hungry young job-seekers.
But gray heads have been popping up on runways and red carpets, on models and young celebrities for months. There’s Lady Gaga and Kelly Osbourne — via dye — and Hollywood royalty like Helen Mirren, the Oscar-winning British actress.
Christine Lagarde, the International Monetary Fund chief, is one of the most powerful women in the world, and she keeps her hair gray. So does Essie Weingarten, founder and now creative director of the nail polish company Essie Cosmetics.
For regular working women, it’s a trickier issue.
“I don’t think a woman in the workplace is going to follow that trend,” civil rights attorney David Scher said. “I think women in the workplace are highly pressured to look young. If I were an older working person, the last thing I would do is go gray.”
He wasn’t alone in issuing a warning against workplace gray for women.
“The long-standing perception that men with gray hair are experienced and women with gray hair are simply old may still be an issue that affects employees in workplaces across the U.S.,” said Stephanie Martinez Kluga, a manager for Insperity, a company that provides human resources services to small and medium-size businesses.
Anne Kreamer is gray and proud, but she didn’t unleash the color until she left her day job to become self-employed. She dedicates an entire chapter of her book Going Gray to workplace issues.
When it comes to gray on the job, Kreamer said, context counts. The color might be easier in academia over high-tech, for instance, and in Minneapolis over Los Angeles. Job description and your rung on the ladder might also be in play. Kreamer dubbed the largely unspoken phenomenon “hair-colorism.”
In 1950, 7 percent of women dyed their hair, she said. Today, it’s closer to 95 percent or more, depending on geographic location. In the ’60s, easy, affordable hair dye in a box hit store shelves, changing the follicle landscape for good.
The reason we know about Lagarde and Weingarten and Mirren is that their gray strands stand out against a sea of, well, not gray.
Weingarten, 62, began going gray at 18 and said she colored for years. She gave it up about 20 years ago.
“People would say, ‘Are you crazy? You have to color your hair,’” she said. “I had my own business. I could do whatever I wanted, but the truth is I know a lot of women who are petrified to show gray hair because it means they’re maturing.”
The new “gray movement” doesn’t keep tabs on membership, but blogs like Terri Holley’s Going Gray are proliferating, along with pro-gray Facebook fan pages and Twitter feeds.
Dana King, 53, started going gray in her 20s, began dyeing in her 30s and went to work for San Francisco’s KPIX TV station in 1997, rising to news anchor. In 2010, she first approached her general manager about her giving up the dye.
“He didn’t like the idea at all and he asked me not to do it,” King said. Soon after, she did it anyway.
After sharing her hair story on-air, King was deluged with emails from viewers, including many women who colored and some who worried she had fallen ill. “The response was overwhelmingly positive,” King said. “They said it was a relief for them, that they could see someone that made it OK to be gray.”