18 September 2021

Beauty and Wisdom: Women over 60 at the Hair Salon

The American photographer Robbie Kay tells the story of women over 60 years old at the hairdresser’s. A journey in images that illustrates a generation of women, but also a lifestyle.

I grew up with a mother who went to the hairdresser’s once a week to get her hair done. Both my grandmothers performed the same ritual, and when they came to visit us their hair was perfectly styled and sprayed.”

Thus writes Robbie Kaye in the introduction to his website. The American photographer created a project that collects portraits of women 60 year of age and older at the hairdresser’s. A journey across the United States, half-way between journalistic report and sociological analysis.

The idea is simple: tell the story of a generation of mothers and grandmothers through one of their favourite haunts. A study that is not only descriptive, because it also urges reflection: from the evolution of the relationship with beauty, to the social value of the hairdressing salon, and even to the broader reflection of a social model that no longer exists of women boxed in by precise roles, rights, and duties.

As Robbie explains, “These women paved the way for many people, they are practical, even if the go to the hairdresser once a week, they are not frivolous. Going to the hairdresser’s is a ritual that is outside of the necessary, absolutely not luxurious, and represents personal care. They feel they deserve this pampering and love being in company. They are strong women and, at the same time, timid and reserved, with a truly “take me as I am” attitude. They are full of life and wisdom. None of them would feel guilty about going to the hairdresser’s once a week. It is simply a fact. All of them are committed to maintaining their weekly appointment just as they maintain their commitment to preparing dinner for the entire family every evening.”

How did the idea for this project come about?
“I was working on the series “A day in…”. I had already photographed a junk yard, then an old shopping centre, and then it was the turn of a day in a beauty salon. I just never left.”

Who is the first woman you photographed and why did you choose her in particular?
The first day of shooting I went to The Cut salon in Santa Monica in California. Then I hadn’t yet realised how intense this series would have been. I was agitated. The first woman I photographed was Jenny and, by chance, her portrait has been an icon of this project for a long time. I didn’t ask her to pose, but she took on this star quality like Audrey Hepburn, in her all-black dress against the orange background. All together it created a magic that demonstrated how beautiful and rich in dignity these women could be. It was then that I understood that I had to go forward with this project, because it could be useful in giving more visibility to an entire generation of women that are now forgotten.”

Do you think you will add women from other countries? Europe, Asia?
“There is nothing I would like more than to go in other countries and photograph other women. I think it would truly contribute to expanding the project, to adding information about how in other countries women over 60 perceive themselves and how they are perceived. It would be a wonderful opportunity for an exchange of information.”

Beauty and Wisdom documents a part of America that is quickly disappearing, a population of women who have always gone to the hairdresser’s once a week as an expression of a personal need. The pages of this book tell about the grace and courage with which these women age in a society that is increasingly focused on the beauty of youth.

Little by little, as I visited salons, I would discover the beauty of these women, their wisdom, and their devotion to their personal grooming. The relationship with their hairdresser is extraordinary. My book celebrates all this, underlining the strength that accompanies them as they get older in a society where the cult of youthful beauty obscures that of old age.”

Get ‘Beauty and Wisdom’ on Amazon.com!

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