Jane Evans, 56, is the founder of Uninvisibility, a project bringing older women into the spotlight.
"I started my career in advertising when I was just 20 and was headhunted out to Australia at 25, where I worked with big name brands like Revlon and Maserati. I decided to come back to the UK in 2013 [at age 50] after receiving a call for more female leaders in the advertising industry, so I applied, but I found myself continually ignored. I remember people saying so many ageist things to my face. For example, I'd go for a job but the employer would tell me: "I'd give you one but you'd end up as the old lady at the back of the department doing the shit no one else wants."
In the three years that followed, I felt like I was becoming more and more invisible, so I started working with much smaller clients just to keep a roof over my head. Then, one evening at work drinks, I was subjected to a shocking tirade of sexist, ageist verbal abuse by a client of mine. It felt like the deepest, darkest patriarchy was spewing out of him. After the tirade, and being taken off a major part of the project, I found out all the women were paid £100 a day less so I walked and escaped to Paris on a whim.
I walked into a salon and said to the hairdresser, 'No more old lady, give me old punk!'
The idea to overhaul my image and chop off all my long, dark hair hit me when I was sitting outside a café in the city centre, people watching. The women I kept seeing walking by all had their own individual style and they all totally owned their age, including their natural hair colour. No one was trying to be younger and they just looked so cool being themselves. As soon as I got back to London, it was like a lightbulb moment, a switch flicking. I walked into a salon and said to the hairdresser: "No more old lady, give me old punk!" I told her to take all my cascading hair off and to give me my natural hair colour, which is white.
At this age, you only have one chance to completely reinvent yourself because your hair changes, your skin changes, your shape changes and so on. It’s a great time to think, Who am I? What do I look like? What do I do? I felt like I was released from so much after I cut my hair, particularly in business. Interestingly, I’m no longer sexually objectified. When I had longer hair (and I don’t really have any evidence to back this up), I got the feeling that I could be taken advantage of because I was trying to look younger and this seemed to encourage the ageism that I faced. My ex-client shocked me so much that evening before I quit, but it spurred me to realise that I wasn’t the only woman who was facing things like this. It made me look ageism in the face, which has been incredible. I'm going over the other side of menopause and nobody tells you how powerful and empowering it is. Add on top of that a whole new look and it’s more than just changing your appearance.
When I went white, I thought, 'Fuck yeah. That's the 56-year-old badass I feel, that's who I am.'
The reactions following my big hair transformation were amazing. Firstly, my own! I used to look in the mirror and my first impression was of myself at 28. Then, somewhere in me, I realised I wasn’t that 28-year-old because of my ageing face. The image in the mirror that was reflected back to me wasn’t the image I had in my head. When I went short and white, I thought, Fuck yeah. That’s the 56-year-old badass I feel, that’s who I am. I stopped looking at the wrinkles and I stopped caring about my age and it was absolutely liberating.
The interesting thing is that everyone thinks I look younger. When my daughters said, "Oh my god, that’s fantastic," I loved my look even more. Your teenage daughters are your biggest critics! It was more men who said they weren’t sure about it. My Tinder matches dwindled after the drastic change. I think my hair says: "I’m not afraid and I won’t take any crap." I think it looks very feminist and that’s what scares men off. A feminist is not what they’re looking for, but I actually felt quite relieved, to be honest. I’m focussing on the brand I’m building and my family. If a man were to come into my life, that would be nice but I don’t get my sense of worth from men anymore, and now, I’m not looking for the same things. After so many years of struggling with that and caring what men thought about me, I feel so much better.
As a result of my experience of both sexism and ageism, I recently started the Uninvisibility Project, which is for women over 50 who feel invisible. Women in entertainment, publishing, media and education are lending their visibility and their voices to the movement. A lot of it has come from my personal journey. If this was happening to me and to the women I was talking to, who were reluctantly telling me their stories of irrelevance and marginalisation, I thought, What's going to happen to us while we still have half of our life to live? And what about the generations of young women following us? Now, I talk to lots and lots of women over the age of 50 and we all have a completely different view of ourselves. The project gives women the confidence and skills in new technology, the financial backing and the opportunities to become entrepreneurs, to contribute meaningfully to the applications of new technology like robotics and artificial intelligence, to have their say in the impacts on children and families, on society and relationships.
At the moment the image I present to the world is my brand. I’m trying to build a movement and wearing my hair like this means people know who I am as soon as I walk through the door. There are so few leaders of our era, which is strange as we were the first women en masse with equal opportunities. That said, no one has designed the second half of our careers. For me, my hair is part of the confidence to stand up and lead."