The reflection in the mirror bares the truth. My smile lines are growing deeper, the crinkles around my eyes seem to have multiplied, and the skin on my neck is no longer as taut as it used to be. Dare I say it out loud, “I’m getting older.”
When I started my career in 1981 at the youthful age of 21, I didn’t have a grandiose vision of where this journey would take me. The era of working “Nine to Five” was changing, and thankfully, young women like myself were being hired for positions other than a secretary. Working in the male-dominated energy industry, I wanted to be seen as a professional and quickly surmised that my physical appearance was going to be important. To gather more knowledge on that topic, I read books like “The Women’s Dress for Success” and “Color Me Beautiful” and transformed myself into a respected professional woman wearing a suit paired with a bow-tied blouse, pantyhose, and pumps. It was the female version of what men had been wearing to the office for years.
Throughout my 40s, I worked in the construction industry, and I was keenly aware that very few women were in managerial positions. I felt that my looks were always being sized up. Thanks to maternal genes, my hair was beginning to turn prematurely grey. Believing that I was too young to have grey hair and that it might have a negative impact at work, I began to color it. And before I knew it, I felt tethered to the color. But as I matured into my 50s, the signs of aging were getting harder to hide and the time invested into keeping myself looking youthful grew longer. I started to feel more and more self-conscious about the changes in my physical appearance.
During the Great Recession, I was laid off, and I immediately worried about the prevalence of ageism in the workplace. Would my appearance hurt my chances of getting hired? I persisted and eventually landed a job with a company in the education technology industry where equity prevailed in all areas, gender, race, and age. Being one of the more senior employees, it seems ironic, looking back, that I decided not to hide my maturing appearance any longer, but instead, chose to embrace it. I stopped coloring my hair, and it was one of the most liberating experiences of my life!
After my transformation, I received so many compliments from women who expressed they wished they had the “courage” to do the same. I realized that I was not alone in my struggles. More recently, I was uplifted by an interesting change that occurred during the COVID pandemic when women postponed going to their hair salons. Some women decided to stop coloring their hair and found a new sense of confidence and empowerment.
Ultimately the lesson I learned was that I can’t control what others may think. What is most important is how I feel about myself. When I embrace my age, silver hair, and all, my confidence shines through, and new opportunities emerge. Now as the founder and CEO of LM Virtual Services, I realize that the possibilities are endless as long as I believe in myself.
Leslie Martinez is the founder and CEO of LM Virtual Services and a Virtual Business Manager. As The Business Mechanic, she gets under the hood of an HR consulting business and keeps the operations running smoothly with organization and process development. With her toolbox of solutions, she helps overwhelmed independent HR consultants grow from solo to a team with less stress. In her spare time, Leslie enjoys reading, Jazzercise, and spending time with her first grandchild.