“I’ve worked hard for these wrinkles,” an older friend of mine smiled recently over salmon quesadillas. I was explaining to her why I was here in San Francisco, thousands of miles from home, doing an art project on women, beauty and aging. This project is a strange mutt, a mix of art and sociology. I will interview women 60 and older, recording their recollections of how they viewed beauty in their 20s, their current ideas and how things have changed over the years.
During the interviews, I will take photos to later translate into oil paintings on boxes. When I show the work, I will run an audio of splices from the interviews. This blog will run alongside the project. Always with my work, I want to invite dialogue. The women will speak of what they knew and what they know now. I will listen, ask questions and write. I invite you to join in the conversation.
This project comes after a long personal diatribe against the beauty industry, modeling, the selling of the sexualized female body. I’ve worked with these themes for years. This project also joins the current (or recent) ranks of celebrating women of all ages…the voluptuous senior models of The Calendar Girls, Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, the recent commercial from Kaiser Permanente, “When I grow up, I want to be an old woman.”
So my celebrations are not alone, nor are my queries. I’ve spent a lot of time with contemporary consumer culture. I know “the look” of what sells – the young, long-legged beauty. And I am curious. The last 100 years have seen the birth and exorbitant growth spurt of the modern advertising industry. Almost every woman alive today in Western culture has been surrounded to some degree by advertising and subsequently, beauty images. I wonder on a deeper level how this has shaped us…how women of different generations are affected similarly or quite differently.
Recently, a friend mused about the ambiguous role and space older people occupy in our culture. If nothing else, this project carves out a little space. A space to listen to memories and ideas. A space to see faces that are not “idealized” or a cookie-cutter sell. These are faces instead that carry the deep beauty of life lived, of wrinkles earned…remnant traces of a thousand smiles, the frown, a glamorous cigarette.