Babushkas change the image
Grandmas swapping traditional roles for new lives in the fashion industry
In Russia, elderly women are usually expected to forget about fashion and watch their grandchildren. Not 71-yearold Olga Kondrasheva, who is fighting stereotypes by modeling for a glossy magazine.
“I’m over 70 now but my life is just beginning and it’s so interesting,” says Kondrasheva, slim and sporting wavy white hair, a few minutes before a studio photo shoot for the Russian edition of Cosmopolitan magazine in Moscow.
With a lifelong zest for adventure, she used to take part in zoological expeditions to study wildlife across Russia and has worked as a film extra.
She admits she “never trained as a model”, but says she has “always been fascinated by this line of work”.
“I’m discovering a totally new side to myself. When I’ve had my hair and makeup done and I’ve got a nice outfit on and there’s some lovely music playing, it’s wonderful,” she says.
Kondrasheva found herself posing for the cameras thanks to a website called Oldushka (or “Oldie”) launched by photographer Igor Gavar.
“I wanted to show that older people can work in the fashion industry and they can be beautiful — even with wrinkles and white hair,” he says.
The site serves as an informal modeling agency by showcasing studio shots of Gavar’s elderly subjects, who like catwalk queens a quarter of their age have been spotted in all kinds of places — on the street, in a supermarket, and even a dance floor.
Gavar has managed to orga- nize numerous photoshoots for his dozen or so “muses”, including 80-year-old former air stewardess Irina Denisova and 64-year-old Lyudmila Brazhkina, a retired engineer.
Several striking silverhaired men are also on Oldushka’s books, though of those who have scored shoots in Russian fashion catalogs, magazines and advertisements so far, all but one have been women.
The retirement age in Russia is 55 for women and 60 for men. Many continue working long afterward out of economic necessity — and few look forward to retirement, knowing that years of money worries likely lie ahead.
The average pension in Russia is only around $200 per month, but Oldushka allows its models to “earn a little bit extra,” Gavar says.
He and the model split the fees for any shoots secured through the website, which have so far ranged from $40 to $300.
They say the work gives women a new lease of life and a confidence boost at a time when their main role in Russian society as babushkas, or grandmas, is to provide large amounts of free childcare.
“It brightens up my life. Doing this is always so joyful, so positive,” says Brazhkina.
“And I enjoy being viewed in a different way during the photoshoots — not the way I see myself in the mirror. It’s like a little holiday!” she says.
The women involved in Oldushka said family members sometimes find it hard to understand their new pastime.
“My husband was very angry at first. He kept asking me: what are you doing this for?” said Kondrasheva.
“But then he saw this was making my life interesting with lots of activity and was keeping me fit. And now he is supportive.”
Russian grandmother Olga Kondrasheva gets her makeup done before a photo shoot in Moscow. The 71-year-old is among a growing number of elderly people who are earning much-needed extra money as models.