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Cornered Office

with Mir Kamin

I'm a freelance writer and mother of two working from home, which theoretically means I can set my own schedule so as to best accommodate my family. In reality, "flexible hours" often equals "working too much." Yes, I'm my own boss; no, that doesn't mean life is easy. It's hard to leave the office when you live there. But I love what I do and feel very lucky. And not just because I get paid to work in my pajamas.

To learn more about Mir, check out her profile on Work It, Mom! or visit her blog at http://www.wouldashoulda.com/

My grays are giving me the blues

Categories: My boss is an idiot, Now I'm free(lancing)

8 comments


For one of my gigs, I have the freedom to write about pretty much whatever I like (relative to self image and/or my experience of being female), and last week I wrote about my hair. Specifically, I wrote about how I feel like I’m losing the battle against my advancing gray. For me, this was an off-the-cuff musing, resulting mostly from a couple of weeks of extreme stress and very little free time, and realizing that right now my hair looks just plain awful. Three inches of obvious roots isn’t attractive on anyone. Luckily, my hair is very curly—which hides it, somewhat—but still. It’s not a good look. The question was whether I make peace with going gray, and stop coloring (and likely cut my hair short, at least to start), or continue to color even though I sort of hate it, because I’m still relatively young and gray hair on women who aren’t senior citizens is, I think, often viewed as lazy or unprofessional.

What shocked me, though, was that (at last count) there were nearly 90 comments, and while some of them were of the “do whatever feels right to you” variety, many more were vociferous defenses of one camp or the other. “Embrace it!” urged several commenters, while my own father (the source of my early gray!) suggested that I do the extra work for now because I’m too young to go gray. One anonymous commenter not only went all-caps to make their point (”DO NOT GO GRAY”), the justification was that my wonderful husband doesn’t want me to look “OLD.” (The hell?)

[Sidebar: For the record, my husband almost never comments on my paid writing, but for that particular comment he was moved to do so---he made sure that Anonymous knows he really doesn't care what color my hair is, thanks.]

Part of the lure of writing from home is that I don’t have to have a closetful of suits or get dressed to impress every single day. I’m a casual sort, and I definitely appreciate being able to spend the majority of my time in jeans, makeup-free. So the whole “look professional” thing is, for me, an intermittent concern. But the flip side of that is that when I do go give a presentation or attend a conference or whatever, of course I want to look my best. It is important to me to look good—look polished—when I’m out and about, being the physical face of my “brand.” (I really, deeply, hate referring to my person as a brand. But in this case it’s accurate, as I’m referring to situations where I’m probably looking to network and/or get hired.)

Several commenters on my post referenced Alice Bradley as a younger woman who’s totally rocking the whole “embrace the natural gray” thing, and I couldn’t agree more—Alice is gorgeous! Her hair and face are very different from mine, though, so someone saying “Alice rocks it and you can, too” to me isn’t a very practical comparison. And, again, it seemed like some commenters brought up beautiful graying ladies to say it’s a-okay while others said that allowing myself to be gray at this age would be totally bad and wrong and make people not take me seriously.

The funniest part, to me, is that my issue really isn’t the color. I’m deeply pragmatic; for years I really felt “too young to be gray” and I dyed it because it bothered me. At this point, I think I’m more bothered by the time/expense/chemicals than the color. What I’m really struggling with is the fact that there’s no good way to convert, here, short of chopping all of my hair off and basically starting over un-dyed. And I’m not sure I want short hair. (I’ve had short hair, long hair, and medium hair. The bottom line for me and my curls is that longer = more manageable, most of the time. Shorter usually means I’m fighting poodle-head.) I tried to convey that in my post, but instead I stirred up strong feelings about whether or not gray is professional.

And on that, I’m still sort of torn.

I think… I need a Hairy Godmother to come tell me what to do. Anyone know where I can find one of those…?



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8 comments so far...

  • I am 36. 37 next week. I’m going gray. I’m not coloring it. In my case… I also have very curly hair, although it’s a lighter color than yours. I don’t think gray/not grey, however, is a professional question at all. If you’re gray, and it’s your natural color, it’s professional. If it’s dark (not, say, neon pink), also professional. Yes, if you want to go gray - do it. Or not - just don’t let professionalism dictate it. Also - when I had a color, and wanted to go back to natural but was looking hideous at the half point stage, I went to a professional, and they carefully colored my hair back to natural so the grow-in was inconspicuous. Is that possible with gray, I wonder. Anyway, my point? Do what you want. If you have to live through the grow out, and need to go to a meeting? Ponytails and buns are our friends in the meantime.
    P.S. - I TOTALLY get the poodle thing. I went short once. BIG.MISTAKE. It reminded me of that chick with the triangle hair in Dilbert.

    Michele  |  March 21st, 2012 at 12:32 am

  • I don’t have any gray hairs, just REALLYREALLYREALLY blonde ones…ahem. And, I color my hair. That said, one of my favorite mentors and one of the most professional lawyers I know has long gray hair. It’s sort of her trademark. I don’t think the color of your hair matters one iota as much as how you carry yourself. That said, the growing out phase would be weird; I get that.

    elz  |  March 21st, 2012 at 10:12 am

  • The idea of hair color reflecting professionalism seems absurd to me.

    Miss Britt  |  March 21st, 2012 at 10:26 am

  • Britt, I agree that it seems absurd, but I also think a LOT of people think that way, whether we like it or not. Just like how I normally don’t wear makeup, but I think if I were to walk into a professional situation without it, I would be judged for it.

    Mir  |  March 21st, 2012 at 10:48 am

  • For what it’s worth, I’m 38 and I stopped colouring my hair in December of 2010. I don’t know why specifically then, I just know I was tired of the time, the expense and the mess. I have curly hair as well. I have found now that I’m not colouring it that there is so much more colour and contrast in it - I thought my hair was mostly white, but it’s not and it’s so much more interesting now. I haven’t regretted it for a moment.

    Kathryn  |  March 21st, 2012 at 1:12 pm

  • When I was younger my hair was very dark. I started graying in my thirties; I didn’t mind and didn’t want to color it. Then three years ago I was trying to find a job and my son became engaged so there was going to be a wedding…so my stylist worked closely with me to find something close to my natural color. She did a great job and I got lots of compliments. My hair grows fast so I was going every four weeks to keep up with the gray. After about six months I realized that I missed my gray, I missed the look of the woman I had become as my hair had grayed. I did learn that I liked my hair a bit longer, so once I had most of the color cut out I let my hair go longer than I’ve had it in 18 years. I just got a job, gray hair and all.

    Sharon  |  March 22nd, 2012 at 11:05 pm

  • My mom went gray in her 20s. I was blessed to not go gray, noticeably at least, till my late 30s and now at 43, it seems every few weeks I gotta deal with a LOT of gray/white roots. 43 is not old, is it? I don’t FEEL old…but I don’t like the look of all that gray.

    Sure I stay at home with the kids, but it still bothers me. And although I don’t have curly hair, my hair is frizzy and gets frizzier when shorter. So, long hair (at least shoulder length) is a must for me.

    Longish hair to colour out of a box at home in a small bathroom every 4 weeks or so = painintheass.

    Still. I do it. Because I don’t like the alternative.

    PS mom is turning 66 next month, is completely white, and colours her hair completely every 3-4 weeks. He hair is the opposite of mine, and she has never in her life worn makeup, cares nothing about clothes (other than that they fit her right, feel comfortable, and are clean. Fashion isn’t a concern to her). Still she goes through the colouring regularly. I said ‘you said when you’re a grandma you’ll forget the colouring’ and she said ‘but I look so old’. Huh. Her oldest grandchild is 8…

    Sigh.

    Javamom  |  March 23rd, 2012 at 10:33 am

  • It is just really, really hard for me to see grey (or greying) hair vs. dyed hair as an issue of professionalism. Then again, I’m mostly out of the professional loop, as a primarily SAHM with a toe dipped into academia … and as we know, academics seem to aspire to frumpiness.

    The nice thing about hair is that you can always try it, then adjust, because it WILL grow. You could TRY the short-grey-thing on for awhile to see how you like it. Hell, noting reactions to it would be an interesting experiment.

    I am halfheartedly struggling with this myself, as wiry grey/white hairs are beginning to spring up from the mass of brown hair. I had always seen myself as someone who’d embrace that change when it came, but I didn’t know I’d be on the cusp of 50 with a pre-schooler and a first-grader. I’ve begun toying with the idea of hair color so as to better “pass” as a more traditionally aged parent.

    Heidi  |  March 23rd, 2012 at 12:41 pm

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