The Blog

Life After 50: Why Should Gray Hair Work Against Women?

If a woman is looking for a job -- or trying to keep one -- in this fragile economy, is she putting herself in an even more precarious situation if she chooses to rebel and "go gray"?
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As we celebrate Labor Day this weekend, it's hard not to be reminded of the high rate of unemployment in this country right now. President Obama will be addressing the nation on Thursday, September 8th, outlining his plans for creating jobs and stimulating the economy. We are all, of course, hopeful.

A few months ago, I wrote an article -- "Women's Worse Fear After 50? It's Not What You Think" -- that focused on how women after 50 are most concerned about having a job and money as they age. Given the fact that more jobs are now being offered to men, women still earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns (I fully expect to read comments refuting both of these statistics), and women's financial status diminishes considerably if she divorces, it is reasonable for women, especially those over 50, to be worried about their financial futures.

Which brings me to the question of gray hair. If a woman is looking for a job -- or trying to keep one -- in this fragile economy, is she putting herself in an even more precarious situation if she chooses to rebel and "go gray"? There are reports way too frequently about women who are penalized for having gray hair, making them feel that covering the gray to cover their age is a necessary prerequisite for employment.

There are options.

I remember the first time I ever "colored" my hair. It was 1969 -- a year when the world was filled with rebellion. I spritzed on a little Sun-In while soaking up the sun in my Brooklyn backyard listening to Credence Clearwater Revival. In a matter of hours, my dark blond hair with natural golden highlights turned a vibrant shade of orange to match the Bain de Soleil Gelee' everybody seemed to use back then (without SPF of course). My mother helped fix it with a little of her "only your hair dresser knows for sure" home coloring kit from Clairol, and it gradually grew out.

Despite the failed first attempt... I was hooked.

Highlighting has been a part of my life since my twenties. But when the grays started sneaking in -- just before hitting 50 -- I thought it might be time to rethink my routine, assuming I would switch over to single process to cover them, just like most other women I knew did. I was trying to figure out a newer, simpler paradigm for the other areas of my life since turning 50, and wanted to figure this one out, too. Was this the moment I was waiting for to proudly and publicly acknowledge my foray into my 50s? Should I now wear my graying hair like a badge of honor, courage, bravado and attitude?

Only one name came to my mind when I decided to check in with someone who could give me an honest assessment, and an overview of my options -- Frederic Fekkai, the superstar of hair care. The leader in women's hair care since the late 80s, Frederic opened his first salon in New York, which was an immediate success. Now, salons are worldwide, and his products have an international following.

There are degrees of gray, Frederic explained. We start out with a few gray hairs. More come in and we get up to about 20 percent, then 30 percent, and eventually our hair is over 50 percent gray. That's the natural progression of gray hair (for most women). Once your hair is over 50 percent gray, there are three options to consider:

  • Do what the vast majority of women do: color the roots every three to five weeks (single process) and maybe combine with occasional highlights (double process)
  • Instead of covering the gray, let the gray hair grow in, and apply highlights and low-lights through the hair to blend with the gray... creating depth and contrast
  • Go gray all the way!

Frederic's least favorite choice is the "single process" route. Very often women who do this create a single block of color, with very little contrast (especially if it's too dark or too light) and this can age you, draining your face. Even if your hair is dark brown or black -- which shows up the gray much more than blond hair does -- he encourages us to run the highlights and lowlights right through the brown and gray hair, creating a beautiful mix of natural colors. It's a more modern, fresh look and, he thinks very sexy, because it's an interesting way to embrace your hair, and your age, without going completely gray.

But, letting your hair go gray is an option that women should absolutely consider, too. If you've already been coloring your graying hair, it might take a little longer to get to where you want it to be, but this might be the most bold way to embrace -- and proudly show off -- your age. Think of Helen Mirren and Jamie Lee Curtis as great examples of women who have let their gray go, and look fabulous.

What it really comes down to is attitude. If you present yourself as being confident, bold, fearless and proud of your age, your gray hair could be beside the point.

What did I choose? I'm staying with what I've been doing since the gray started coming in: combining my dark blonde hair, with the new gray, and some highlights to help blend it all together.

Who knows? Maybe some day I'll go gray all the way. But, I'm not there just yet. Right now, it's the perfect compromise between walking proudly and fearlessly into my new life as an "after 50" woman... and... holding on to that little piece of my former self.

What did you do? Do you feel the need to cover your gray?
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