"It had not occurred to me that my competence and effectiveness were contained within a small bottle of brown hair dye, but it should have," Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark wrote in an op-ed
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Katherine Clark
Credit: Sipa via AP

Assistant House Speaker Katherine Clark, a representative from Massachusetts and the fourth-highest ranking member of Congress, made the decision to go gray back in 2015. At the time, her mom was battling Alzheimer's and her dad had just suffered a stroke — so going to the salon to get her hair colored was at the bottom of her to-do list.

"Something had to give. And for me, it was dyeing my hair. I had been gray-curious for several years as more silver roots emerged, but had never been ready to take the leap to natural color," Clark said in an op-ed written for WBUR, Boston's NPR News Station.

Clark wasn't sure how she'd like her natural silver shade, but she hardly had any time to decide for herself; soon after she stopped coloring it, she discovered that "my decision about hair color quickly became a political issue."

"Supporters pulled my staff aside and asked if I was ill because that was the only explanation they had for why I would age myself," she wrote. "People told me I would no longer be able to pass legislation, that I was throwing away my reputation as hardworking, and most confounding to me, that I would no longer be taken seriously by the public and my colleagues."

At the time, she says, she was "dumbfounded" by her colleagues' reactions.

"It had not occurred to me that my competence and effectiveness were contained within a small bottle of brown hair dye, but it should have," Clark said. "It was a painful reminder of just how ingrained traditional beauty standards are in our culture and the double standards women face."

Katherine Clark
Credit: Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call/AP

Though the United States has been led by gray-haired men for centuries, Clark couldn't believe that her change in hair color could leave her political career hanging by a thread. But she didn't give into the criticism, and has kept her natural gray color for the past seven years and done her job effectively the whole time.

"Contrary to the many warnings I received, my gray hair hasn't stopped me from being re-elected or serving my constituents," she said. "As for my colleagues, I was honored to be elected by them as the assistant speaker of the House, the second highest-ranking woman in House leadership, ever."

Now, as more women are beginning to feel more comfortable letting their hair go au naturale, Clark reminds them to "wear your decision with pride."

"Your hair should be whatever makes you feel happy, strong, or beautiful," she said. "Wear your decision with pride and as a challenge to any notion that women should be anything other than equal and empowered."