The summer after I graduated from college, I became a photographer at Glamour Shots. They had carved out a little niche in the photo studio market that particularly catered to women. We offered a full makeover including hair, makeup, and wardrobe styling in addition to the photo session.
I had studied painting and photography in college and I had no idea what to do with my life. So when I saw an ad in the paper (yes, that’s how we looked for jobs in the ancient days) for a photographer, I thought, “close enough.” I’m not going to lie. I felt pretty out of place in this environment. Dressing women up in leather jackets and feather boas? It all seemed pretty cheesy to me. What I didn’t know then was that I would learn a great deal at Glamour Shots. Not about photography so much, but about women.
I trained with Will*, a smooth-talking, handsome young man from Pensacola, Fla. (I can still hear the drawl in his speech.) From him I learned how to pose clients in classically flattering positions, test the lighting, and shoot with the large format camera. I was the last point of contact for the customers after hair, makeup, and wardrobe. I shot them in 4 different outfits with 4 different backdrops. Then it was my job to present the images and sell the photos.
While my customers ranged in age, the largest demographic were middle-aged mothers. I quickly realized that they weren’t really there for the photos. They came for the experience. They wanted to be doted over, to be made over, to have fun, and to feel pretty. I was only 22 but I could see a hint of sadness in their eyes when and I could also see them light up with the words, “you look beautiful.”
Chris Rock once said, “There are only three things women need in life: food, water, and compliments.” A pretty good example of “it’s funny ‘cause it’s true,” eh? I learned this in a photo studio in a mall. It was true for younger women for sure, but the need was deeper and stronger for the older women. Married women. Women with children. Women caring for aging parents. Women who give so much of themselves. Everyone knows that young girls need self-esteem but somehow we think that mature women should be secure enough, strong enough to not need attention anymore.
By the time I left Glamour Shots, I had come to see the company differently. Giving these women something they needed – a little fun, a little pampering, a small break from “real” life and the chance to feel beautiful didn’t feel cheesy to me anymore. It felt like a gift I’d been given. Making a woman smile because she felt great about herself was a high and it felt fantastic.
Fast forward almost 20 years. I’m now the middle-aged mom and I stand by my analysis. Compliments mean a lot to me, maybe more now than ever. I put them in my pocket and take them out when I feel old or frumpy or ignored. And pampering is certainly worth every penny spent. I’m a hairstylist and a beauty blogger now and I still get high from making women smile. Maybe I’m the cheesy one. Oh well, at least there aren’t any feather boas involved anymore.