Babushkas change the image

Grand­mas swap­ping tra­di­tional roles for new lives in the fash­ion in­dus­try

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Moscow

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.”

VASILY MAXIMOV / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

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.

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