When I was growing up deep in the small town rural life, hair played a major role in my life. My mom would not only cut my hair and my dad’s, but also my four older sisters, my uncle next door, and many other relatives and friends of the family. As the years went on, both my oldest and my youngest sisters became hairdressers themselves. From perms, to dye-jobs, to straightening, to streaks, to crew cuts, to the iconic old lady comb & tease, there was no hairstyle you could possibly think of that didn’t pass through our kitchen at one point or another. So when I encountered the work of photographer Robbie Kaye and her series entitled “Beauty And Wisdom” I became as nostalgic as I was fascinated. Kaye traveled far and wide across America and visited countless hair salons, all the while capturing the beauty and personality of women in their 70s, 80s, and 90s. As Kaye dug even deeper she began to notice the powerful meaning behind all those hair-dos as she began to see this salon time as “not as a luxury, but as a necessity.” She discovered the essential role these visits play not only to the integrity and grace of these Gorgeous Golden Girls, but also to their loyal, lifelong commitment to camaraderie and rejuvenation. The following is an abstract from Robbie Kaye about “Beauty And Wisdom”:
As many baby boomers age, the daily rituals of their mothers and grandmothers will begin to fade. Beauty and Wisdom documents a disappearing aspect of American culture, and a diminishing population of women who have been going 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 and now they are part of an overlooked generation. The subjects in Beauty and Wisdom, all 70 and above, live in a culture where the ideal of youth is highly valued yet the beauty of aging 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 after Hurricane Katrina, reminded me, “everything is borrowed and when it goes away, it’s time to give it back.” Beauty and Wisdom provided insight into my own future. As I photographed these golden ladies and listened in on their conversations with their hairdressers 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. There was not an ounce of shame present—maybe shyness—but no shame. 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. These women may be invisible to many, but they are quite visible to me. 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.
To see the full gallery of Robbie’s photographs be sure to visit her website at RobbieKaye.com. And I couldn’t resist attaching below something else that meant so much to me during those years growing up in the 80s — the amazingness that is Steel Magnolias. I swear to God that movie made me want to move to Louisiana so bad and start my own beauty shop. And fittingly, Dolly Parton’s portrayal of beautician Truvy Jones secured my undying and infinite love for Dolly Parton — another terrific example of a woman who interprets beauty and spirit as one and the same.
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