Photo: Robbie Kaye
Culturally speaking, youth has a near-monopoly on our definition of beauty. But for photographer Robbie Kaye, the opposite is true. Her photo essay and book, Beauty and Wisdom, aims to combat ageism by documenting older women at their weekly salon visits. It was Kaye’s own 50th birthday that spurred the project, which started with a day at the junkyard, one day at the laundry mat, and so on, until she spent one day at a beauty parlor. That one day turned into five years, and a prolific series of photographs. “Initially I was going to make these photos fun and frivolous, but in looking at the women, I realized how much dignity they had and how amazing they were,” she says.
Each of Kay’s subjects is at least 70 years old, hailing from all over the United States. Some women are being shampooed in their photos; others sit under large dryers, their hair coiled around plastic curlers. Though the candid pictures make the women look particularly vulnerable, Kaye says not one was concerned with looking ‘perfect.’ “They have a take-me-as-I-am attitude,” she says, unlike the selfie-obsessed generations coming up behind them. “They weren’t sad about not looking young. They felt great about who they are and what they look like now.”
Photo: Robbie Kaye
Needless to say, Kaye hopes viewers will rethink the way we see older people and value the lessons they have to teach. “We discard our elders,” she laments. “People forget that these women have amazing lives. My goal is to say and show that these women are beautiful — they’re brave, courageous, and vivacious!—and to de-stigmatize aging by giving them more visibility.”
Of course, the project has changed Kaye’s own perspective on aging. “When you see how beautiful these women are and the lives they’ve lived,” she says, “there’s nothing to fear.”