Acclaimed journalist, fashion commentator, champion of diversity, professor, mother, wife – Caryn Franklin wears many hats. As someone who has accomplished an exemplary work-life balance while actively stimulating the conversation around body image and diversity in fashion and mass media, Franklin has become a steady source of inspiration for generations of professional women.
As we go through life, we are plagued by numerous questions and anxieties over what awaits us in the landscape of our womanhood. In our quest to find encouraging words of wisdom for the journey ahead, we visited one of the most accomplished and inspiring women of our generation, with high hopes of getting reassuring answers to our burning questions. In part one, founder of the W Project (championing women in the arts) Loren Platt asks Caryn: Should you embrace your greys in your 30s?
Loren: When you started your broadcasting career [on the BBC], you decided to have your grey streak, and that caused some controversy. I’m in my 30s and I'm getting greys thick and fast, and I almost feel ashamed because at the moment, I’m covering them – but I don’t feel ready yet. You advised me previously to just be aware that if you let yourself go grey, you’re going to look 10 years older, and if you’re in a job where your aesthetics affect your work, then be aware of that. I really admire the way you’ve allowed that to happen and embraced it in such a beautiful way. I remember watching you on The Clothes Show as a young girl and thinking, ‘Oh there’s that lady, she looks amazing, she’s got grey hair.’
Caryn: No shame! Although I was told ‘Don’t have grey hair’ – they did actually say, ‘Hello, we’ve just been speaking about you in a meeting and we’ve noticed that you’ve got quite a lot of grey hair and we think you should dye it otherwise you’re going to be run down’ – that was the term, ‘run down', the televisual term meaning ‘You’ll get less opportunities to be on screen’. And I remember being quite indignant, so… my journalism and the campaigns I’m involved in, my voice, my commentating around fashion, it’s not about that, then? And that’s quite a hard lesson to learn at 34 – that’s when they said ‘You’re looking too old’. But I didn’t, I just said, ‘Well this is how I want to do things and I will take whatever comes my way’. That was right for me, but just because I did it, doesn’t mean to say it’s right for other people because I was in a unique position.
Women are conditioned to think that as you get older there is loss and atrophy because you lose the visibility of youth – the veneer of youth. We live in a world where dominant culture prioritises young, beautiful women. So that may be a loss to dominant culture, you know, masculine perspectives and the male gaze may focus on that, but it’s not a loss to women, because you gain so much. This is really interesting, because women, in a way, aren’t able to be out there saying it! Because otherwise that could empower other women! So let’s say it here! But you do – you gain so much because you have a much broader perspective on life, on yourself, on the cycle of things; you’ve seen lots of cycles where you’re up and then you’re down, you’re up and then you’re down, and life goes like that.
We are lucky enough to be born in a space where we can make so many choices about our lives and about how we go forward.”
Interview by Loren Platt, copy by Valentina Medina, film edit by Tilley Harris.