This week, I had the privilege of interviewing Anne Kreamer, author of Going Gray. Anne's book gives us a unique opportunity to ask the question: "Why do we color our hair?" Going Gray is a "must read" for anyone over 40. Yes, men too. At least Metro Men.
As a hairdresser, I have a unique perspective regarding "coloring hair" based on 27 years of experiential data with clients of all ages. In the early 90's, I became certified in Color Analysis, which opened my eyes and mind to the amazing world of COLOR (and not just haircolor).
COLOR has the power to energize, as well as, drain a person's appearance. What I've witnessed (in some cases) is how dangerous color/image consultants can be if they analyze a person's colors incorrectly. Unfortunately, I see and meet lots of people who look tired, less friendly, older, haggard and pounds heavier solely on the wrong colors he or she is wearing.
Here I demonstrate "The Silver and Gold Test" on my model RACHEL FRANKLIN. Of course Rachel is adorable in both photos but the gold gives her a clearer, creamier complexion. At Rachel's age, haircolor is about having fun! Of course, Rachel still wants to look her best, but I recently colored Rachel's hair in all cool colors and with some make-up adjustments, she looks HOT!
If you see what I see, PAM BEKO MOLINI of DICKSON REALTY in Reno, Nevada radiates elegant beauty in her silver/gray hair. Like Anne Kreamer, Pam Beko Molini is a "Silver Fox!" If any hairdresser were to color Pam's hair, he or she should have his or her cosmetology license revoked.
Here's what Anne has to say about Going Gray:
Q: What made you decide to stop coloring your hair?
Anne: A friend sent me photographs from a trip we’d recently taken and in one of them I was standing with my sixteen-year old naturally blond daughter and a good friend with gray hair. I was in the middle with a harsh and dark brown hair dye and when I looked at that photograph I realized that I didn’t like the way I looked. I saw that my face and hair no longer really jibed with each other.
Q: How did you decide to go about letting your hair grow in?
Anne: That was the hardest part of the whole process. I was fond of my shoulder length hair and didn’t want to get a buzz cut and start fresh, so I went to my colorist assuming that we could just start to pull the color out. But unfortunately it isn’t simple like that. You have to add different kinds of highlights to blend in with your roots as they grow out as well as a toner that can help to blend in the various colors. And none of it looks very good.
Q: How long did it take?
Anne: From start to finish it took me about 18 months to get rid of all of my color. And it was tough – about mid-point I felt like I looked like an old crazy kind of bag lady. My hair was brittle and sort of unkempt looking and I finally decided to cut about four inches off. It was wonderfully liberating. It felt as if I’d cut off my old and disingenuous dyed past and was ready to look to the future with a clear eye about my age.
Q: What made you decide to write a book about the experience?
Anne: My usual way of making any kind of big change in life is to tell as many people as I can what I’m intending to do, and then I have to follow through. So I suggested that I write a piece for More magazine about the experience. And More got the most letters from their readers about my piece they’d ever had so I thought I’d touched a nerve that was worth analyzing in greater detail.
Q: What were the issues that you’d uncovered while your hair was growing out?
Anne: I discovered that I was worried about whether I could ever be attractive to men in the same way with gray hair as I thought I had been with my dyed brown hair. And when I began to talk with other women about my experience I uncovered that worry about their loss of attractiveness is perhaps the single greatest fear almost all women feel as they get older – and gray hair is just one very visible signal of age. Women were also terrified that they would lose professional opportunity if they were perceived as old.
Q: How did you go about getting at the underlying truth or issues behind those fears?
Anne: I did several different things.
I talked to as many different kinds of men and women as I could – from well-known people like Emmylou Harris, Anna Quindlen, Frances McDormand, Mireille Guiliano (French Women Don’t Get Fat), Nora Ephron and Governor Ann Richards to regular people I met across the country. I conducted a national survey of 500 people probing all sorts of issues around aging and the things that we do to mask the signs of aging. I used myself as a guinea pig in a variety of situations – I pseudo-dated on-line, went out to bars, interviewed headhunters and met in cognito with image consultants. And I read everything I could get my hands on.
Q: What surprised you the most?
Anne: You mean after I figured out that I had spent $65,000 on hair color alone during the 25 years I dyed my hair? (And $300,000 after adjusting for inflation!)
Wow! But yes, beyond that statistic.
What most surprised me was discovering that when it comes to letting their hair be its natural gray, or not, I think a lot of women tend to be worried about the wrong thing. I certainly was. More women are more worried that men won’t find them attractive with gray hair, and yet believe that gray hair is acceptable professionally. In my research, the truth was pretty much the opposite.
Q: What do you mean?
Anne: Well, for instance, I tried to really get at whether gray hair was unattractive to men on Match.com. I figured if I was honest about my age and interests and posted an image of myself with gray hair that I’d naturally get fewer “dates” (or “winks” as overtures are called on Match.com) than I would when I posted the same information but instead used an image of myself with my hair Photo-shopped brown. And shockingly, after I did the experiment three times in three different cities, three times as many men in New York, Chicago and L.A. were interested in going out with me when my hair was gray. This blew my mind. Maybe men figured that if I were being honest about the color of my hair they figured perhaps the lack of pretence would make me more accessible and easier to date. Or maybe the gray made me stand out from the overwhelming majority of Match-com women my age who color their hair.
Q: Did you test this theory in the real world?
Anne: Yes, as a matter of fact, I did. I went out to a variety of New York bars (from places where Wall Street guys would hang out to the kinds where locals went to watch sports) and once again I was really surprised by how it seemed that my gray hair color did nothing to prevent me from meeting and talking with nice-looking younger guys. Most women I talked with during research for my book were convinced that if a woman had gray hair and then got divorced that it was absolutely essential that she dye her hair if she were ever going to date again. I strongly believe that that is not the case. And moreover, I would suggest to most women that if the guy they’re interested in will only like them if they dye their hair, then maybe he’s not Mr. Right.
Q: Was there anything else that supports your contrarian point of view?
Anne: The results from my survey were compelling. There is a huge double standard. Through a Photo shopped experiment I also tested precisely how much gray hair aged a person and what I discovered is that if a person is in their 40s or 50s, gray hair allows others to accurately guess a person’s age. When I Photo shopped the gray hair out with brown, the person was guessed to be about two or three years younger. Which seems like a modest difference to work so hard to achieve.
Q: So what was the story professionally?
Anne: I interviewed two different media headhunters – one in New York, the other based in Colorado and both said that they had neither a female client nor a prospective job candidate with gray hair. They went into real detail about how gray hair was consistently viewed as a signal that a person would not be “right” for most company cultures. And if a woman were in sales or marketing allowing herself to go gray on the job would be the kiss of death.
Q: You didn’t expect this?
Anne: I met with these women assuming they’d tell me that if I wanted to get back into the corporate arena then I’d have to update my image and dye my hair. But I didn’t expect them to be so emphatic about how damaging gray hair could be to a woman’s career.
Q: What about the image consultants?
Anne: I was completely taken aback by the image consultants. I met with three very different people and firms and in each instance they believed that my gray hair could be an asset. The main thing I learned from them was that if you change any one aspect of your look, then it is important to modify everything else to bring out your best features. I needed to update my style and color palette. And it was some of the best money I’ve spent in a long time.
Q: What about men?
Anne: I interviewed a lot of men for the book and with the exception of a writer living in Hollywood, all of the men claimed to be indifferent to the color of a woman’s hair. If a woman is lively and interested in what they are saying and seems to take care in her personal appearance, then hair color was irrelevant to the men – and they are so worried about going bald that the color of our hair never entered the equation!
But I also discovered that men are the next market segment that the cosmetic companies are targeting for hair color. The female market is practically saturated so men are the only growth area left. It’s a scary thought.
Q: And did you find any differences with people from other countries?
Anne: I interviewed Mireille Guiliano, the author of the French Women Don’t Get Fat books, and also several other European men and women and, not surprisingly, found that Europeans in general have a greater tolerance for a wide range of what women can look like as they age.
Q: Where did you end up? Do you disapprove of people who dye their hair?
Anne: I certainly don’t disapprove of people who dye their hair – after all, I’m a very recent convert to my natural color. And I no longer work in a corporate environment so I have the luxury of feeling safe and comfortable writing at home by myself with my gray hair. And I’ve been married to the same man for 26 years. But I did come through on the other side happier and more at home in my body than when I dyed my hair. It feels liberating to walk down the street and know that as much as possible I’m projecting pretty much who I am to the world. I love not spending the time at the beauty shop and I really love not spending the money.
I feel like I’m a better role model for my daughters and it seems like my husband finds me as sexy with my natural hair.
I also discovered through my research and reading that acknowledgement of your real age is one of the most important tools we have to increase the odds that we’ll age healthfully and happily. Several studies have clearly indicated that people who accept their age actually live longer. So I love that by choosing to give up one little piece of artifice I might actually be helping myself stick around longer for the grandchildren I long to know.
Several years ago, I was in a restaurant observing a beautiful woman with silver/gray hair - I had to ask her age - she informed me she was twenty-eight. The men in the room couldn't take their eyes off of her. She was gorgeous! This Silver Angel knew her gray hair worked for her. Did it make her look older? Not in my mind. In fact, if her hair had have been colored, she probably wouldn't have turned as many heads. It wasn't only her gray haircolor, however, that made my dining experience so memorable. Her hairstyle complimented her face shape and body type. Her make-up and clothes style were impeccable. Either this young woman was innately sensitive to what worked (in her favor) or she had a competent image consultant assist her in making all the right decisions. She was living, breathing ART.
Just like anything else, there are good and not so good image consultants. If you decide to visit an image consultant, make sure you do your homework. Find someone who knows her/his stuff. NOTE: Full spectrum lighting is imperative when having your colors analyzed. Color is dramatically affected by different types of lighting. The old days of doing Color Analysis in someone's living room are over.
So do you want to Go Gray? Are you locked into haircolor that is not all it could be?
Anne informed me during a phone conversation she has received e-mails from women (and men) around the world trying to, more gracefully, grow out their haircolor. "Do you have any tips on how to do this?" Anne asked me.
Here is my suggestion:
Each time your stylist touches up the roots, choose one (to one-half shade) lighter than the previous color application. Also, decrease the volume of developer to 10 volume or less. This creates a stain and the gray hair will begin to appear "dimensional." Stop pulling color through the ends. Begin using a cool blonde shampoo and conditioner to minimize the warm tones, which will inevitably begin to appear from not pulling the haircolor through the ends. At some point, highlighting may be an option. In most cases, highlights are less obtrusive than a solid color during the grow-out period.
There will come the time when you will have to take the plunge. How about a short haircut to get rid of all the remaining color? Contrary to what most women think, shorter hair works better during the fall/winter months. During cooler weather, turtle neck sweaters, neck scarves, coats and higher-collar blouses soften the look of shorter hair. During hot weather, more skin is exposed by tank tops, etc. Short hair in fall/winter, longer hair in spring/summer. It makes sense once you consider your wardrobe and accessory options.
I am grateful for Anne Kreamer's book and message. I think Anne has done an incredible job sharing her story of what she learned about "beauty, sex, work, motherhood, authenticity and everything else that really matters" in her book, Going Gray.
My special thanks to Anne Kreamer and Bonnie Hannah (Anne's Publicist) for their kindness and willingness to take time out from their busy schedules to make this segment possible.
To visit Anne on-line, go to: www.annekreamer.com
250 Crummer Lane
Reno, NV 89502