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Beauty and Wisdom
photographs and text by
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 have 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.”
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.
— Robbie Kaye
Mrs. Milner, from the series Beauty and Wisdom