It started when I was about 30, the first signs of this secret that needed to be kept.
It got so bad, the older women in my life started to get
My cousin Maureen was deployed to speak to me.
“Jean, these grey
hairs springing out here, they have to go.
Your mother is too young to have a daughter with grey hair!“
That day, I started to keep the secret that Jeanie was no
longer Jeanie with the dark brown hair.
Every month, month after month I would let someone put
putrid smelling gunk on my hair, gunk that made my scalp itch, gunk that I
hated, gunk that was necessary for my dark secret to stay hidden.
It became just what I did.
What lots of us do.
Now, I’m not saying that there is a problem with dying our
hair. In fact there is a bit of me that
would love to dye a strand of mine purple 😊
However me dying my hair was a thing I did to satisfy others, because I felt like I should, not because I wanted to. Hiding a bit of myself.
Then one day a few years ago I was leading a change
programme. It was complex, messy and
needed people with lots of resilience. I was speaking with some colleagues about
getting really strong, capable people to work with us. I found myself saying this;
“What we need is a bit of grey hair around here”
And I stopped short.
It was only a turn of phrase, but basically what I was
saying was that this project needed experience, grey hair is an indicator of
experience, and I was hiding my grey hair!
I realised that in keeping this secret, of pretending to be
younger than I was, I was also hiding the look of the experience that I
In fact, the only people I knew at work who had grey hair
So, this was a secret that women are expected to keep,
whereas with men, although I know this is not a universal thing, it seemed to
be normal for them to be grey when
they go grey.
So I decided to stop dying my hair.
Not straight away.
I was terrified! What would people think of me, would they think I was really old? Past it? What about while I was transitioning from dark to grey – the dreaded badger look – would they think that I didn’t respect myself at all, couldn’t afford to dye my hair grey anymore?
It was quite a slow process.
My very helpful hairdresser helped me temporarily camouflage the signs
of ageing, the slow creeping badger look, so although I was going grey
underneath, the secret was still intact.
Finally after six months, I looked at my lovely hairdresser and she looked at me and we said, “it’s time. Off with all the fake hair, in with the silver”.
And so, I stopped hiding my dark secret and revealed the
I’ve had different kinds of reactions.
Some people just said wow.
Some people have offered me seats on the train.
Someone asked me if my husband minded that I had allowed
myself to go grey!
Some people said it made me look 10 years older. And I have wondered. 10 years older than what? I used to dye my hair so I could look 10 years younger, so now I look 10 years older… i.e. I look like me! But the problem is that everyone expects me to look 10 years younger, so when I look my age I look 10 years older!
Here is the trick – whatever age you think I am, knock 10 years off, and you will probably be around right!
Some people have said it’s amazing that I have the courage
to do it at all.
And they wished they had the courage to do it too.
And yes, it did take courage for sure. But it was my choice.
Every day people have to face up to discrimination from
others just for being who they are and looking like they do – they have no
choice. And others feel like they need
to hide themselves or parts of themselves for fear of the judgement of others.
Do you need the courage
to show yourself? Would it help to know
that you are not alone, that there are lots of us who will still respect you
when you show yourself?
If those around you
were to show themselves as they are, are you showing that you would be kind and
respectful? Or are you showing by how
you act and speak of others that you can’t be trusted to be kind?
I’m fortunate, I had the support of lots of people who
accepted and encouraged me. My friend
Vanessa even went grey with me.
Recently I was on a Skype video call with two old friends. Back in the old days, I wouldn’t want to look at my video stream, because I was always thinking, do I look OK?
Jean is a change and communications specialist, helping organisations create a culture of change.
She delivers culture, business and technology transformation programmes and leads teams through interim management.
She provides troubleshooting, advisory and strategy development services.
She works with organisations to get their leadership aligned and their people engaged in delivering their vision together.