Beauty & Wisdom documents a fast disappearing aspect of American culture (Americana) as well as a diminishing population of women who are part of a generation that is often overlooked. More important than their weekly ritual of going to the ‘beauty parlor’ is the fact that these women are extremely vibrant, wise and humorous…and committed to maintaining their life-long ritual for rejuvenation and connection.
As baby boomers age, the rituals of their mothers and grandmothers will fade and become obsolete. Beauty & Wisdom documents a generation of women, aged 70 and over, who has been going regularly to the beauty parlor once a week not as a luxury, but as a necessity for most of their adult years. This project explores the grace and courage in which these women age in a society so heavily focused on the beauty of youth. Ironically, these are the women who opened doors for future generations of women to walk through, yet they are now part of an invisible generation.
The women in this overlooked generation may be invisible to many, but they are quite visible to me and even more so since I began driving throughout the country, two years ago, to interview and photograph these amazing women for Beauty & Wisdom. Some of the locations I photographed are Alabama, Houston, Santa Fe, Taos, Memphis, New York and Los Angeles. It is my goal to not only preserve and highlight the role of these golden beauties in our culture, but also to demystify the aging stigma and show that older women are beautiful, vibrant and have very much to contribute to society.
These lively crones live in a culture where the beauty of youth is hugely valued but the beauty of age is often ignored. In beauty parlors across America, this fading generation of women share their humor and wisdom, as I learned in New Orleans when Mrs. Guste, 88, who lost every piece of her jewelry when her house was looted during Hurricane Katrina, reminded me, “everything is borrowed and when it goes away, it’s time to give it back.”
These women were the silent partners of their time. Some worked and managed the household, family drama and finances. The beauty parlor was the one place they could go, once a week, to have someone bring them a cup of coffee, or just simply pay attention to them as they engaged in the practice of self-care. Families were supportive of their ritual, rarely judging, if ever.
Beauty & Wisdom provided insight into my own future. As I photographed these golden ladies and listened in on their conversations and looked into their eyes, I saw the kind of courage that comes from embracing life fully without expectations, except to be happy and connected to people. Their “take me as I am” attitude has given me permission to age fearlessly with no regrets and reasons to look forward to my own aging process.
Visit the Beauty & Wisdom gallery for more photos.
Erika Schmidt says
Hi, as a women student enrolled in Aging 200 at the Erickson School of Aging I have an interest in the again of women. I find it interesting that the video followed a group of women in their weekly ritual of going to the hairdresser. These women go partially for beauty, but more often because it’s their place to socialize. I do believe that this is their way of staying youthful and in touch with their vivacious younger years. In last weeks discussion we learned about “crystallized intelligence,” which is intelligence gained by experiences, skills, and knowledge. These women may be again, but their crystallized intelligence stays intact. The beauty parlor is the perfect place for younger generations to learn from the women in the salon.
Wonderfully said… yes, the salon could very well be a place to bridge some of those gaps!
Lacy Gaynor Ohnstad says
I am an AGNG 200 student at the Ericson School of Aging. I appreciate that you have captured the elderly women at beauty shops. The weekly beauty shop ritual where the ladies are the focus seems like it could help ward off depression. Through standing appointments every week the elderly ladies build a relationship with stylists. Clients tend to use stylists as an emotional outlet to talk to someone about the stress of her daily life as informal counseling. They tell stories of how the town has changed sharing their oral history with the stylists and other clientele.
My sister is a stylist and she’s spoken about how her elderly clientele have planned financially to have the hair appointment as part of the retirement budget. A retired school teacher put money aside years ago to be able to treat herself. One of her clients had a hurt shoulder and she comes in once or twice a week to still look nice even though she’s unable to raise her arm. The stylist is a component in the elderly ladies’ continuum of care. The support system is vital to the well-being for elderly to maintain their independence.
I agree, the commitment to their self-care is incredible and thought of as a given..and the relationship between stylist and client… sacred. Thank you!
Firstly i am an AGNG student at the erickson school of aging and i have to say i am really pleased with this post because not only that it relates to my field of study but just how vastly important it is for people and society to start paying much more proper attention to beauty and most importantly wisdom that these vibrant women possess. It shows being old isnt weak as society and youth often showcase it, but rather extremely helpful to society in spreading wisdom especially to the youth and to also remind people that these women also want the finer in things in life and were once young themselves.
Thank you. Yes, wouldn’t it be great to get these women on billboards?!?
I am an AGNG 200 student at the Erickson School of Aging and I found this entry to be an eye opener and bluntly, beautiful. I believe a woman at any age is astonishing and deserves to be seen as such. Looking great is part of feeling great, and leads to happier women, an increased locus of control and diminishes the social hierarchy of age and expected social roles, leading to an overall more confident woman. These women should not be ignored, but rather set an example that you are beautiful no matter what your age, and that it’s not just a “young people” thing.
Deborah Talley says
Outstanding! When we can embrace and honor who we are we love ourselves. As we practice honoring ourselves we can do the same with others. Thank you Robbie for helping all of us to see these “invisible women”, and as we are blessed to live longer ourselves as beautiful and wise.
“Lighting the path to loving your neighbor as yourself.” http://www.MapsandLanterns.org
Thank YOU, for sharing your beauty and wisdom!
Amy Blitchok says
I am guessing that you are familiar with his work, but I though I would mention http://advancedstyle.blogspot.com/ just in case. Ari Seth Cohen has been working on a similar project that documents the style sense of older New Yorkers. His subject’s philosophical outlooks on style, fashion, and simply looking good are endlessly intriguing.
Yes! I love Ari’s work and as a former New York really enjoy it. He’s definitely part of the collective consciousness that is occurring in regard to aging and the perception of it.
Lizelle van Wyk says
incredible! Just shows you, we spend hundreds to thousands of rands, dollars, pounds, euros, whatever, on taking care of ourselves when we are young and upcoming and impressing the who,s who in the zoos! Why stop when we get to a certain age???? When i drop down dead, I want to be at my most beautiful, no matter what time of the day it is! Yeah, yeah, beauty comes within in, I agree! But damnest, have a heart! Think about the undertaker for one minute, I don’t want to send him to his grave when having to see me without make up and silicone!!!!
Betsy Sprouse says
“Lively crones?” Seriously? I don’t see how language like this advances a new and improved image of aging.
Robbie Kaye says
Thank you for sharing my work. Changing aging together! Robbie