Going Gray Was the Best Thing I Did for my Career

Beth Springer was a successful model for nearly twenty years. As she approached 40, she gave it up to start her own business. Twelve years later, at fifty-something, she decided to give modeling one more go. The jobs were scarce — until she stopped coloring her hair.

By Beth Springer, as told to Genevieve Monsma
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How I got my start

My first foray into modeling was at the age of 19 when Mademoiselle magazine was doing makeovers at malls around the country, and they came to my hometown of Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the time, I was a sophomore at Washington University in St. Louis, was home for the summer, and a friend and I thought it would be fun to go to the event. I was one of three teens chosen for a makeover, had my photo taken and, that fall, was one of ten women to appear in the magazine. That experience sparked my interest in being in front of the camera, and when the magazine came out, I took it to TalentPlus in St. Louis and told the owner I wanted to model. We did some test shots, and my career was born.

The arc of a modeling career, and how it relates to hair

I spent most of my twenties and thirties modeling. For the first fifteen years, I had an international career and traveled regularly, appearing in magazines, such as Harper’s BazaarCosmopolitanSelf, and Vogue. I worked with photographers like Peter Lindbergh and in campaigns for brands like Revlon and Versace. In my late thirties, I started doing primarily commercial work and by 40, decided I was ready to try something else.

For twelve years, I ran my own handbag business. I also let my dark hair grow long and my personal style became more bohemian. It was the first time I was doing something that was divorced from how I looked, and it was freeing to be able to wear my hair and dress the way I wanted. It may sound silly, but when your career has been based on how someone wants you to look, this was a process of discovery — and recovery — for me. I also enjoyed doing something where I could use my intelligence and speak my mind. As a model, more than once, I was told I was not being paid to talk.

Yet, despite all of that, I did miss the creativity of being in front of the camera. I was good at modeling. And, when the recession hit and my handbag line suffered, like many small fashion businesses at the time, I thought I could try modeling again, this time on my own terms. 

So, I started to dip my toes into modeling and acting. And the work was ok, but not that steady or that interesting. Initially, when I returned to modeling, my hair was still dark like it had been in my twenties and thirties. But staying brunette was increasingly cumbersome. I am blessed with healthy, fast-growing hair, but this also meant I was in the salon every three to four weeks touching up my roots. So, my colorist suggested I go blonder, which would help camouflage the incoming gray and extend my time between appointments. 

She was right: Being blonde was less maintenance, but interestingly, also less modeling work. I’m still not sure why. Almost five years later I thought, why am I putting all this dye on my head? I’m tired of it. And I talked to my colorist about the process of growing in my natural gray. She was not that enthused about it, but she agreed to help me with the transition. I didn’t want to cut all my hair off at once, and I didn’t want massive roots, so we went very slowly. Initially I stayed blonde on my top layers, but each time I went to have my hair colored, we left more and more of the underside of my hair alone. Sometimes the color looked a little awkward, and my colorist made me swear not to tell anyone she did my color during this period, but I felt I was growing in the gray with dignity and grace and in the way that felt right for me. It took almost two years, but eventually, I was there. My gray had grown in.

How I'm owning being a gray-haired model

Although I’d made the transition for personal and not professional reasons, my agent loved my new silvery strands and he wasn’t the only one. Suddenly, at 57, I started to get the most interesting jobs I’d had in years. I was cast in ads as a surfer and a skateboarder — and I was a dancer in Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road music video. I am constantly complimented on my hair color now, often by younger people. Hair color has always been important in the beauty and fashion business, and the choice to go gray may seem bold. But it has been fun and exciting to be loud and proud and see my career growing as a result. I think my silver hair makes me a symbol of freedom and self-ownership, rather than a woman winding down. 

The benefits of being gray go beyond steadier, more interesting work though. I feel like embracing my natural color also brought me greater self-acceptance. And that feels good. I believe I project more radiance and sex appeal as a result. I’m not trying to be something I’m not. The way I see it, we age if we’re lucky. I am so very lucky.

Want to hear another empowering story about going gray? Read this.

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