After four years of photographing and interviewing women in beauty parlors all over the country, the book of Beauty and Wisdom was released on Amazon.com at the end of this past year.
The reception has been wonderful and while I had hoped and expected women to relate to it I have experienced a surprisingly overwhelming response from men. I have given two talks so far this year and it has touched me deeply that when it came time for the Q & A section of those talks, it was mostly men asking questions and at the end of those talks they approached me to convey their gratitude and were pleased that someone was covering or rather, uncovering, this topic of agelessness in a culture that concentrates mainly on its youth. In fact, it was mostly men that bought the books!
I was introduced as the photojournalist who traveled around the country photographing women at their weekly hair appointments. They didn’t know what to expect but I sensed that they thought this was going to be a whimsical talk about older women in salons and it reminded me that it was just like that for me before I walked into the first salon to photograph for the Beauty and Wisdom project. It was interesting to see the transformation which took place for me, also occurred for them.
I started the talks with a short movie I created for the presentation:
It presented many of the photos from the book and exhibit set to the music of Joe Cocker’s “You are So Beautiful.” There were chuckles at some of the photos, but I could tell these chuckles were filled with love, respect and sensitivity. They weren’t making fun of the photos, they were enjoying, as I did, being voyeurs into what was considered a sacred ritual of sorts for many women of that generation and realizing that it was anything but frivolity.
In most cases, these women attended the salon as a necessity since at the time they could not reproduce their hairstyles by themselves. In fact, many of the styles from the past are no longer taught in salon schools. Attending their weekly appointments provided connection and relaxation while beautifying. And, as one of the women who shared at my talk noted, the salon was also a place where ‘underground’ information was shared at a time where certain circumstances were to be kept secret or thought of as taboo. This was a special time, women helping women at a time of need and sharing in elation as well as sorrow.
This generation of women (and hairstyles) is fading. I have lost three of my models in the last four years. Perhaps someday in the not too distant future, these salons that cater to the patrons of the once-a-week beauty parlor ritual, will be obsolete, but the wisdom and paths that they paved for future generations will not be. I hope they know how much they contributed and continue to contribute to so many of us.
If I had to do it over again, I would spend more time talking with the women about their lives, more in depth. I wanted to honor their time at the salon as they set it aside and I didn’t want to invade on their privacy. They agreed to let me take their photo and I didn’t want to take up too much of their appointment asking them questions. Some were more conversational than others, but they all had beautiful and wise insight to share as well as the women who contributed to the book in writing, also had beautiful and wise insights to share.
What I learned was that when I get the opportunity to speak with an elder, to ask questions about their lives, I will. I once heard that a good question you can ask your elder is, “what was one difficult time of your life and what did you learn from it?” This is where the wisdom gets juicy and the gap between generations lessens. We start realizing that even though this person is older, they experience their own trials and tribulations, just as a teen or twenty-something…or fifty-something…. and they have the uncanny ability to offer some kind of gem of wisdom that will remind us that we are all connected and valuable, no matter what age. The gems of wisdom shared are invisible reminders for difficult times. Our elders have more wisdom than most and our culture would greatly benefit from giving them visibility and a platform to hear their wise voices. I offer an alternative to how aging and beauty is perceived and hope that you will take the cue from the women in my project and choose to age fearlessly and gracefully, with no regrets, all at the same time.
I’ll close with this quote from Debbie J. Johnson, contributing author to Beauty and Wisdom:
“I am so grateful to be reminded of the true beauty of age and wisdom and of a time-honored tradition that shaped our world more than we will probably ever know. It has reminded me that nature demonstrates beauty in so many ways. The firm, tight petals of the rose bud are indeed beautiful, but we all await the real beauty, as time unfolds, when the petals reveal the fullness of the bloom.”
Being in an AGNG 200 course, it has opened my eyes to many perspectives on what it means to age. Society always stigmatizes it and makes it seem as if it were to be the worst thing in the world, when in reality it is, as the youtube video said: so beautiful…at least to me. Catching women, older women, in the beauty parlor is quite an intimate thing. That is what caught my eye about this article. Women, are told from a young age that beauty starts from the hair down. As one grows older and their hair changes, that can have a great effect on self esteem and image. So going to get your hair done becomes a symbol for something more; it shows that you still care, that you want to live and that you want to feel beautiful. Many elder tend to disengage as they become older because they no longer see themselves valued. But just with this piece you can see that women have humor and style and most of all wisdom. It was a fantastic concept, and I hope that it continues.
Bree Angelique says
As an AGING 200 student, I agree that there is currently no other generation of such a pure and genuine beauty and wisdom however, I think that it is possible to recreate because of the increase of children with older parents. Like my fellow classmate below mentioned, I too am very familiar with this mentality and beauty because of family. Though I was too young for my grandmother to begin giving me beauty tips and advice before she passed away, I do remember my mother and her older sister in the kitchen making sure my grandmother had her fresh wash and press and curl. Haha, In fact, the kitchen is where we all had/get our hair done. Think of it as our own little family style salon. Family stories, memories, advice, gossip, religious speak, and more were all done in our kitchen. And this is a tradition that my two sisters have passed on to my three nieces and that I will pass down to my daughters. My mother(62) is older, old enough to be my grandmother and she has the same mentality of beauty and wisdom. Therefore I have it too. I think in this instance, there could very well be a formation of another beautifully wise generation.
As a student in AGNG 200, I agree that there wont come another generation of beauty and wisdom. I personally can relate to this article because I see it all the time with my grandmother. She feels that it is necessary to groom herself whether we bring her to my house, take her to the local grocery store, or to the mall. She often reminds me to comb and straighten my hair, and to not tie my pony tail to high and not too low. The beauty and wisdom tips were only helpful from my grandmother’s perspective. Also, when we read about concepts such as age differentiation and age stratification, one would come to realize how much society judges the elderly. One advantage of having knowledge from the elder generation is to pinpoint how far we have come, and therefore we learn from mistakes or exceed further from successful accomplishments. This article explains exactly what’s fading away and I also see it with the elderly women in our community. The constant criticism from them of what real grooming and beauty is what is starting to fade away. The disciplinary generation is fading away. It is true that there is some kind of wisdom and advice that can be gained from a person of any age because we don’t know that others’ experience is absolutely not the same and their way f approaching a certain issue can be very different.
sylvia winter says
I wonder at the question? I think the Medical Profession has done wonders to change aging. What this type of post does for me, is to change the way it is looked at by the rest, the young, the middle aged, and yes, the actual aged. I love it. I love the Garden of Eden idea, I love the book:” What Are Old People For,” by Dr. William H. Thomas. Whenever I need a boost in my aging attitude, I read chapters in that book and it helps put my life into focus, my attitude toward members of the family and toward my decreasing ability to perform even simple tasks of everyday living. It helps to allay my fear of what is coming next in the chapters of my own aging. Dr. Thomas has added many facets to my way of thinking about getting older. My sense of value was very low until recently, when I began to realize my uniqueness in this life, and posts such as this, have added immeasurably to the fullness and pleasure of my life. I am sure it does wonders for others, as well. I am so grateful for the access to such programs through my computer and Social Media such as Face Book.
I thank all involved. Sylvia
Robbie Kaye’s work is truly memorable! The Beauty and Wisdom Project is an example of her fine work. The book is heart-warming, enlightening and engaging. Her intuitive treatment of beauty reflects spot-on significance, framed in love and painted with wisdom. I highly recommend it! Is she changing the perception of aging? Yes and Amen!
Thank you so much Deborah! For your inspiration and contribution to Beauty and Wisdom!
Thank you so much Sylvia. You words are so important and your journey, I really appreciate you sharing them. Keep shining!! You are a very beautiful light!