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To Grey or Not to Grey

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That is the question. Whether it tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune (been going grey since I was 16, embrace it and end my commercial acting career & highlight the age difference between me and my husband.)

Or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them (by continuing to crush the salt & pepper signs of truth that erupt every 3 weeks with $200 color and disappear into the silent expectation of the industry and society at large.)

To dye, to sleep no more – and by sleep to say we end the pressures of standing out too far in a industry that will launch you and your uniqueness into celebrity just as haphazardly as it will coldly dismiss you. Oh Hamlet, I’m over it.

Young celebrities today are dying their hair grey and being celebrated. Jennifer Lawrence, Dascha Polanco, Zosia Mamet, Ellie Goulding, Pink. I’d love to think this is their way of re-appropriating aging into “fuck you Hollywood, granny is hot” and maybe it is…a little. More likely it will be another short lived, fun trend soon to be eclipsed by the next short lived fun trend and on and on they go while journeyman actresses and women at large continue to cover up new growth.

(Cover up new growth – there is so much packed in there metaphorically I can’t even deal.)

While celebrities and the fashion sector love the 1%-ers who can dominate this look without career defamation, traditional media is targeting viewers in middle America with a more conservative value system. Commercial advertising reflects this value system and there are rarely women with grey hair. Even 60-70 year old women in these spots are blond! Reinforcing the shame of aging. In the last 3 weeks of watching commercials specifically for the grey factor, the only spots I saw with grey haired women were advertising products for terrifying age issues, like nerve damage screening service that shows elderly people in pain and being wheeled out of a hospital. But even then, only 2 of the 6 women had grey hair.

The average age women start to go grey is 30. If women in their 60’s and 70’s in commercials are still sans grey, actresses are looking at 30-40 years of hair dying. The financial impact of that varies from a $10 box of color to $300+tip for a professional color. That’s $4800 – $190,000 respectively over a 40 year period. Since our look is a huge part of our career responsibility, I would venture to say that a lot professional actresses are shelling out the cash for higher end services. As are many women in America.

In the 1930’s  artificial hair color was appropriate for starlets, chorus girls or loose women. Then an ad campaign in the 1940’s and 1950’s targeted the dangerous ramifications of aging aka grey hair. Check out this Clariol ad and this article about when and why women started dying their hair. The take away for me is twofold. One – the women in this commercial probably received better residual pay then we get now. And two, the power of commercial media. (Check out the power and longevity of this campaign against grey 11 years later.)

I posed the question of going grey on a Facebook page for Union commercial actresses in the mom category and an overwhelming consensus was “Dear God DON’T DO IT!!” This is yet another paradoxical area of an actress’ Hollywood career, that familiar “just be yourself, but in a way that we recognize and feel safe promoting” messaging. I suppose I’m speaking mostly about commercials, but the theatrical world of generalities embrace this concept, as well. The concept of “be yourself in my kind of way.”

So – will I go grey or not. It’s a glacial process for sure and I am still moving towards embracing the grey, but I’m not there yet. In the meantime, I have moved into the demi-permanent blondish arena to help bridge the gap. The bigger question for me is whether this would matter as much if I weren’t a professional actor…I have no idea.  How do you feel, dear readers, about your greys?

One last thought…Covering up new growth – metaphorically that sounds so crazy. Cover up, DYE (or DIE, kill) new growth. It’s so hard when an idea like this hits me because I can’t un-know it. I want to live authentically, consciously, purposefully and principled. Because of that I have to have a better reason to “cover up my new growth” than I want to keep my commercial career. My work in the commercial world promoting a manufactured emotional response to a target market so consumers will buy things they may or may not need with money they may or may not have, for companies I may or may not personally believe in is just so…the plight of many American workers today.  Ugh – being spiritually awake sucks sometimes.

Katie Wallack

About Katie Wallack

Katie Wallack is a professional actress and active union member. She serves on SAG-AFTRA’s Commercial Performers Committee and Commercials Contract Standing Committee, and partnered with the grass roots group Union Working. Katie began graduate school in 2017 at Claremont Lincoln University pursuing a Masters Degree in Ethical Leadership. She received numerous scholarships including the John L. Dales Scholarship from SAG-AFTRA Foundation. Her undergrad degree is in Theater and Dance from Trinity College. Katie’s recent film projects include “Mum” for Shoot ‘Em Up show, “Stillwater”, and “Wight Christmas” shot on location in her hometown – Anchorage Alaska. In addition to her theatrical credits, she has been seen in numerous commercial campaigns over the years, including McDonald’s and Ford Service.