Happier Grey Podcast

Episode 5 - With Julia Darlington

April 19, 2024 Season 1 Episode 5
Episode 5 - With Julia Darlington
Happier Grey Podcast
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Happier Grey Podcast
Episode 5 - With Julia Darlington
Apr 19, 2024 Season 1 Episode 5

In this week's episode I'm chatting to Julia Darlington. She's a leadership and empowerment coach, specialising in working with women in senior roles.

Julia spent most of her career working in fashion, and it was fascinating to hear her views on the industry and the importance of projecting the right image.

Show Notes Transcript

In this week's episode I'm chatting to Julia Darlington. She's a leadership and empowerment coach, specialising in working with women in senior roles.

Julia spent most of her career working in fashion, and it was fascinating to hear her views on the industry and the importance of projecting the right image.

Happier Grey Podcast with Julia Darlington

Helen: Hello, and thanks for joining me, Helen Johnson, for the Happier Grey podcast. I'm pro-ageing and love my grey hair, but I know it can be quite intimidating to take the plunge, so each week I'll be chatting to other women who've chosen to embrace the grey in the hope of inspiring and supporting you, whether you already have silver hair, in the process of going grey, or just considering ditching the dye.

Today, I'm joined by Julia Darlington. She's an empathetic and commercially astute senior leadership coach and trainer and consultant, passionate about supporting female leaders and empowering women to embrace their unique skillset and enable them to lead with confidence. Good morning, Julia.

Julia: Good morning, good morning, Helen, very, very excited to be on this podcast with you.

Helen: Just wondering what it's like with you here. It's a very grim grey day.

Julia: It's a little bit the same, very misty. Very foggy and misty and cold. But hey, whatever, it'll

Helen: well, I shouldn't say the word grim with the word grey because obviously it's not. So first of all, I just wanted to start by asking you when you went grey.

Julia: I was trying to think this morning when I made the decision actually. I think it's a couple of years ago that I made that decision. And obviously it's a long process depending on how long your hair is before you actually become grey. But I've been dyeing my hair for a long time. But I think it was a couple of years ago when I made the actual decision.

I'm just going to let it, let it be, let it go.

Helen: And what triggered that decision?

Julia: I think it was a combination of things actually. I've worked in the fashion industry for many, many moons. For sort of 35, 40 years. And obviously, image and identity, is very much a part of that in terms of what you look like. And I stepped away from working within the industry a number of years ago to then forge a new career and direction as a coaching consultant.

And also combining that with age, with becoming menopausal, post-menopausal, and the huge shift in terms of who am I, and that question, who do I want to be?

Helen: Yeah. 

Julia: And because I'd moved very much into the space of female empowerment and working with such a diverse group of women, and that whole piece around how conditioned we’ve become, as to what we should look like, and how we should behave to be, If anyone could see me, I'm putting it in inverted commas, successful, because success means different things to different people.

I think I sort of got to that point of, I don't know if this was a conscious thing that I could have talked about at the time, but sort of being unapologetically me, being unapologetically authentic. And this is a natural part of who I am. There's nothing to hide about being grey. There's nothing to be, you know, that constant desire or drive to stay young.

And yes, in terms of mindset and in terms of energy, absolutely, you know, I don't believe in getting old, in that sense. But that link between my hair colour, and my age, is real, but at the same time it's bonkers. It's bonkers, isn't it? I am 59 and I'm proud of it. And, celebrate it. Celebrate it.

And it saves a lot of money in terms of the hairdresser. Having the roots done regularly, so I don't have to do any of that anymore, which is wonderful. 

Helen: Okay and can you remember when you first started dyeing your hair? 

Julia: I remember, I remember very distinctly sitting at a hairdressers, in Notting Hill, on Portabello, because I used to live in, live down there, having my roots done. God, how long ago was that? It was a long time before I had my son, and my son's 22 now. 25 years ago?

Helen: Okay.

Julia: Something like that. A long time ago. I can't remember exactly when, but it was a long time ago.

Helen: And did you start dyeing it because you were starting to go grey or were you just experimenting with hair colour anyway.

Julia: no, I think it was because I was going grey. My roots were going grey. I've always been dark brown. And I used to have very long, curly, dark, beautiful, you know, loved it, loved it. Actually a really key point for me in terms of making the decision that I'm just going to let it go, was over the years, not intentionally, honestly really not intentionally, I ended up going blonde.

And, I didn't believe I was blonde, I still thought of myself as dark haired. And it wasn't until I started getting a few comments from people like, no, but you're blonde. And I'm like, No, I'm not. I'm dark. But actually, I then started seeing, and this is no disrespect to any other woman, so I don't want it to be taken in the wrong context at all, but I started seeing lots of other women, probably in a similar sort of stage of their lives to me, who had all started going blonder and straightening their hair. And I thought, but that's not me. That's not me. What happened? I've sort of morphed into this straight-haired blonde woman? Which was never an intention at all. So, I think I sort of felt, well if I’ve gone blonde, I might as well leave it and go grey. And be natural, because there’s not a huge differential between the two, but there was no intention to go blonde.

I think it just, the dyeing, the roots, going on holiday, your hair gets blonde, all of that. And my hairdresser putting highlights in my hair. And I just, I don't even know how that happened. And I arrived at the place of being a being a blonde woman.

Helen: Just gradually over time.

Julia: It’s strange, isn't it? But it was certainly not conscious.

I'd never desired particularly to, to go blonde. 

Helen: Yeah, that's interesting because I started with a few blonde highlights and then as I got more white hairs, I ended up with an all over colour and then I ended up with an even paler stripe at the front because I'm whiter at the front of my hair.

Julia: Mine did. Absolutely, I did.

Helen: Maybe that's just the model that hairdressers follow then. 

Julia: Exactly, I think it's that, have it light at the front because it lifts you, which is nice. Don't get me wrong. It looked very nice. I was very pleased with my hairdresser. She's lovely. I've been with her for years. I think that was, she says not, but I think when I said to her. Right, I'm going grey, I don't want to do this anymore.

I think she was really quite scared. Because, you know, I'd always been very, very happy with what she'd done. And I still am. But it's a long journey, isn't it? She's done an amazing job at helping me through that transition. 

Helen: So, did you have different colours put in as it was growing out or did you just?

Julia: I had rinses put in,

Helen: Okay. 

Julia: So, not colour though, not sort of permanent colour. Because she used to put rinses in anyway, that would not get rid of the grey, but would sort of soften it or blend it in more. So, she used to put sort of a rinse in. I know that I'd got to a point where I felt that the blonde, I didn't like the colour it was. So, she used to put these rinses in to tone it down. I didn't go a different colour on the journey. It was just a case of put fewer and fewer appointments in the diary. Let the roots go out longer and longer, and then every so often go in.

And at the beginning, actually, when I started, my hair was a lot longer than it is now. And I didn't want to do, and again, there's nothing wrong with this for the women that choose that they want to, I didn't want to cut all my hair off and go short, so that I would go grey overall quicker. I wanted to keep my hair long and go on that journey. 

It has got, on that journey, it has got shorter. It has got shorter because I've got frustrated with how long it's taking. So, it has got shorter. And now I'm pretty much there actually. There's, there might be a little bit of a, the last rinse that she did, there might be a bit there, but I'm pretty much natural now.

I don't have to do anything. 

Helen: I think you're pretty similar to me in that, because I couldn't face having it cut really, really short because I've had very short hair when I was a lot younger and I just don't think it suits me.

 But I ended up with a jaw length bob with a few layers and just to get it out, quicker cause I didn't feel particularly comfortable with the stripe,

Julia: Yeah,

Helen: in the growing out phase. And I think you kind of reach a point where it's just like, I just need to be done now.

Julia: yeah. I agree.

Helen: I’ve been patient for a long time, but.[00:09:00] 

Julia: Yeah. I agree. And it is a long journey and unless we had the conversation, can you dye it grey from blonde? But that conversation was, but we'd have to bleach to dye, and actually in terms of the condition of my hair and all the rest of it, we decided just to be patient and do what we're doing.

Helen: Okay,

Julia: Which has been fine.

Helen: So, do you think you would have gone on this journey if you were still working in the fashion industry? 

Julia: Oh, that's interesting. Oh, that's very interesting, Helen.

I’m not sure whether I would have. My immediate response was yes, of course I would. But actually, thinking about it, I think, the decision would probably have been a little bit more difficult. Although, saying that interestingly,

I stepped away from being a sort of permanent employee back in 2016, I think it was. When I came back from, I'd lived in Australia, I'd got a role over there heading up a big fashion company in Australia.

And when I came back and made the decision that I wanted to, because I qualified, I trained as a coach in Melbourne at the Coaching Institute when I was there and made the conscious decision that when I returned, I wanted to set up my own coaching and consulting business, and not step back into permanent employment with it for one organization.

And that's what I did. And then through that journey, because actually thinking about it, I did become a permanent employee again. I became the chief brand officer for Radley. And then the pandemic happened. And I think the pandemic for many of us, actually, bizarrely, all of us women who were dyeing our hair, then had that challenge around, we can't go to the hairdresser.

Helen: Uh huh,

Julia: So, we all tried different ways of maintaining some sort of normality in terms of colour. But because we got to that point, of we were all, having to communicate via Zoom, and it was just head and shoulders. I think the whole focus on image, or the importance of it in some way, shifted. Because you couldn't see the whole person.

Helen: Yeah, and also there were so many people joking about taking zoom calls in there with their top half smart and their bottom half in pyjamas.

Julia: Exactly, exactly. And, a lot of people wouldn't even put their camera on at all. 

Helen: Mm hmm. 

Julia: So, we through that very strange transition stage, didn’t we, in terms of a new way of working, the whole, I mean it just seems surreal now when you, when you think back to it. But going back to your question, would I have done it as quickly as if I'd, stayed in the industry and was working permanently?

If I'm really honest, probably not. But then, but saying that. I have to add that to, but I wouldn't have the business that I've got now. And I wouldn't be, you know, the thread that runs through everything that I do with women is around female empowerment and identity and confidence. And if I'd remained as a permanent employee within a fashion business, I wouldn't be this, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing.

I don't think I'd be the same person. Or I’d have delayed being the person that I am now. Because I would, this opens up a whole other conversation, Helen.

Julia: Honestly, it's a huge thing. About the conditioning. And this isn't just about women. So, I'm certain, I'm, you know, for anybody that's listening to this, I have no problem with men.

I love them. I love them. I love them. So, this certainly isn't, you know, in any way negating or being negative about men. But we all know as women that the world that we've all been born into, brought up into, since the beginning of time has been, very much a male-orientated world. And the conditioning that we've all had as women, around who we should be, how we should behave, what we need to demonstrate, again in inverted commas, success, depending on what success is. That conditioning is so powerful, is so, so powerful.   

And I think, you know, a lot of women that I work with, coaching and mentoring and consulting perspective, as well as for organisations, you know, debunking these myths around how we have to behave, who we have to be, as women, in the work place, to be successful. And definitely, I’d be interested to know your thoughts on this. Ageism, and the difference between I'm a 59-year-old senior executive woman versus I'm a 59-year-old senior executive man. The actual inclusion element of that is very, very different. Nobody would question a 59-year-old man applying for a senior executive position. They wouldn't question that capability and their power and their all of that.

But, from the conversations I'm having with senior executive women, of that sort of age bracket, there is definitely a difference in terms of judgment as a consequence of age. And I think the grey hair element of it, this is my view. Having grey hair, there, automatically is linked to your age, isn't it?

Not everybody, you know, there are people that go grey much younger or make a choice to go grey consciously. You know, when a few years ago it was very much a fashion trend to be grey or lilac or, you know, any tone of grey. And lots of young people were, you know, dyeing their hair, bleaching their hair and making themselves go grey.

So, I'm not saying it's just about old people, but there is definitely this conditioning and this, you know, when you hear about the silver fox in terms of men going grey, well what's the, what's the expression for women that go grey? It's not sexy and slinky and silver fox. The connotation is very different.

That's, that's my experience anyway, my belief. I don't know what you think. What do you think?

Helen: , I absolutely think that's true. And that's one of the reasons why this podcast is here. Cause I just think it's ridiculous that it's fine for a man to go grey, and he can be really sexy, and he can own it. Whereas for women, there's often a lot of questions around have you given up on yourself?

Have you given up on life? Which I just think is ridiculous. If I'm honest,

Really, really unfair. When there are so many things that are more important in terms of ageing well, and with things like nutrition and exercise and even just feeling more comfortable with yourself is so much better for your mental health as you grow older.

I just think grey hair is a silly thing to focus on, if I'm honest.

Julia: It’s interesting, isn't it? Because I remember really clearly when there was all the publicity about Andie MacDowell, the actress, making the conscious decision to go grey. And as an actress, or should I say actor? I don't know if I'm meant to say actress. An actor, a female actor, the roles and opportunities as a grey-haired woman versus a grey-haired man were very, very different.

And she made that real public statement, didn't she? And I think she walked on the catwalk. I can't remember who she walked for, but she walked on the catwalk for a big designer brand as a grey-haired woman. haired, proud, beautiful, powerful, influential, inspirational woman. And I remember that so distinctly.

A, because I thought, yeah, how fantastic. But on the other hand, why does it have to be such a big deal? Why does it have to be noted that she's walking down the catwalk to show that she's proud to be grey? Whereas, you'd never get George Clooney having to walk down a catwalk to be proud to be grey, would you? It wouldn't even be a conversation starter.

It just wouldn't be. 

Helen: I do think it's good that she's was a role model.

Julia: Yeah, fantastic.

Helen: Because I do think there probably aren't enough female role models who have gone grey and are really owning it. There are more now than there used to be, but we could still do with a few more.

Julia: Yeah, there is, you know, I've spoken to many women, definitely over the more recent past, from the fashion industry and for those of, you know, those people that are listening, if you're not aware of it, the fashion industry, as many others have, has taken a massive hit. Firstly because of Brexit and all the challenges that that brought in terms of importing and exporting and the cost of goods.

Then, obviously, the opening up and awareness of the environmental impact of the fashion industry, and fast fashion. And then with the pandemic, because obviously people couldn't go shopping physically down the high street, so a huge number of brands, globally have disappeared and that's had a huge consequence on, you know, it's a very female dominated industry in terms of employment. Very, very female dominated. So, I, you know, one of the reasons I do what I do as a female empowerment coach is I've worked in an industry dominated by women, but my God, the number of times I've been the only woman sitting around the boardroom table. So, the representation of women, and it's changing and it's getting better.

It is statistically, I mean, if you want to look into the stats, it definitely is moving in the right direction, but still there is a huge imbalance between women at the top of the tree in this industry and, that's one of my driving factors in terms of getting so involved in working with female leaders.

But I've spoken to a lot of women in the more recent past, over the last year or so who have very sadly been made redundant and made redundant, you know, in their mid 40s, late 40s, early 50s and the real fear of I’m now going to be put on the shelf. Because I’m not a spring chicken. You know, and I’m not, there is real ageism out there, definitely. 

I've had so many conversations with so many of the women that I know in that segment. And to make it even more complex. You then throw that lovely perimenopause and menopause into the pot, which has such an impact on your confidence and your sense of self, and that in itself is a huge journey of identity.

Helen: Uh huh.

Julia: Who was I? Who am I? Who will I be? There's an element of loss, sadness, grieving around childbearing abilities. And again, that conditioning, you know, as a woman, whether you want children or not, I'm not talking about that, but it's about, who am I now, that I, even if I want to, or didn't want to, I can't have kids anymore.

And am I still attractive? And then that whole piece around ageism in the workplace and judgment, and then going back to the conversation we're having, which is around going grey. If I go grey, will people look at me and put me on that, you know, out to pasture? Even sooner, because they think that I'm too old, which is, God, the women that I'm talking to are so powerful, are so, forget the age.

I mean, we're just beginning, aren't we? We're just beginning. This is, I, I feel, and to see it from a personal perspective, God, I, I feel this is the beginning, this stage of my life is the most exciting, because now I'm me, authentically me, and I will say what I believe and think and, you let go of a lot of the baggage and a lot of the fear.

And for those that find that really hard, that's what I do. I work with them in terms of, well, what are those fears and get rid of those blocks and barriers and really, really work with clients to build self-belief, self-esteem, self-confidence, to empower them to step out into the world and just be bloody them, you know, be really unapologetically themselves.

And I think going grey actually is part of that. I'm not saying you have to go grey to feel like that, but I think it's a really empowering, a really empowering experience.

Helen: Okay, I don't disagree with you. I do think a lot of it's being comfortable with yourself and being comfortable where you're at with your age, then you can accept going grey, and you can feel that it's a part of you, rather than worrying about whether other people are going to judge you for it. Which I think when you're younger and you're less confident, you're probably more prone to do.

Julia: Yeah, alongside that when you’re younger and less confident, and I know the generations are shifting and changing, but God, if I think back to, that, and judgement and less confident around am I thin enough. Do I look right? Do I, you know, I, I stepped into an industry that's all about what you look like. That you look each other up and down when you walk in a room, not even consciously aware that you’re doing it. But you do. You do. Cause when you’re in the industry, especially you know, if you're employing people, they've got to look the part. They've got to demonstrate their creative selves. 

So, there's a huge amount of judgment, a huge amount of judgment around your image and your appearance and I, and that is still true. It's changing and there's, you know, with the whole focus on D and I, and the movement towards inclusion and equity, et cetera, that's taking place, you know, it's changing things and it's great that we see images of women now that aren't all, you know, stick thin and have to conform to a certain size, but it's still there. It's still there. And, going grey, you know, if I add that on as another thing, my level of confidence wasn't great, definitely wasn't great when I was, you know, younger, but the colour of my hair didn't have anything to do with it.

It was more around I didn't fit into the norm. I wasn't a size eight. I wasn't skinny. I wasn't all of those things. And I was in an industry that said you have to be that to conform.

Helen: Okay, well, I'm going to ask you one more question, which is, if someone came to you and said, I'm thinking about going grey, what would you say to them?

Julia: Go for it. Absolutely go for it. You can always dye it back if you don't like it. Nothing's permanent, is it? If you've been dyeing your hair for years anyway, not saying that everybody does. You can go any colour you want, you can go pink, blue, green or orange. We're privileged in the world that we're in, that we have those choices.

And I think there is so much less, far less barriers to that or you're far more familiar with seeing people of all different colours and shapes and sizes.

So, I think, go for it. What have you got to lose? You've got nothing to lose because you can change it. It's within your control, to make a different decision if you don't enjoy it.

But, you know, every so often I say to my husband or my son, do you think I should dye my hair? Do you think I should go back to they're very, no, they love it. They love it. I get lots of compliments about it being grey actually. Lots of compliments about it being grey. I’d just say do it.

Helen: Cool. Okay, well, I think I'm going to finish on that note. So, thanks so much for joining me, Julia, it's been a very insightful chat around the fashion industry. Food for thought there.

Julia: Really, really enjoyed it. Thank you very much.

Helen: Brilliant. Thank you. Thanks so much for joining me for this week's show. I hope you've enjoyed it as much as I have. I'll be back again next week, but in the meantime, you can follow me on Instagram at happier. grey. Have a great week.