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More Than Skin Deep: A Documentary About Self-Esteem, Aging, and Hairdressing

Distributed by Fanlight Productions, 32 Court St., 21st Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201; 800-876-1710
Produced by David Gaynes
Directed by David Gaynes
VHS, color, 25 min.
College - Adult
Women's Studies, Aging

Reviewed by Faye A. Chadwell, University of Oregon Libraries


After spending a summer volunteering at the Jewish Home for the Elderly in Fairfield, Connecticut, filmmaker David Gaynes returned to direct and produce the provocative, but brief More Than Skin Deep: A Documentary About Self-Esteem, Aging, and Hairdressing. The Jewish Home for the Elderly is home to 300 female residents. Of these 300, approximately 298 women have regular appointments at the beauty shop located within the nursing home. More Than Skin Deep is a unique exploration of the importance that this weekly ritual has in the life of the facility’s residents, all of whom are women between the ages of 80 and 100.

“Hair is an important part of your body,” says one resident. Taking care of this body part is an important and obvious outcome of going to the beauty shop. However, Gaynes’ focus on six distinctive residents makes it clear that going to the beauty shop is good for the residents’ mental as well as physical health. Sandy, the beauty shop manager, says that looking good makes the women feel better. The beauty shop staff obviously cares about their elderly clients and often the older women will tell the beauticians about aspects of their lives they do not otherwise divulge.

Keeping the regular beauty shop appointments provides an opportunity for the residents to circumvent their usual routine of taking medications, playing bingo, or going to concerts. The staff’s regular interactions with the aged women ease some of the burden of being lonely. The staff speaks respectfully of the residents, demonstrating and delivering concern and even physical affection. They provide another benefit - perhaps the best one articulated in Gaynes’ film - a connection not just to others outside the home, but to that part of the residents that resides in the past with their youth and physical beauty.

Though More Than Skin Deep focuses on this particular diversion from the routine of living in a nursing home, it does not evade the complex issues associated with growing older. The six residents talk about their physical limitations and infirmities - arthritis, senility, hearing loss, depression and osteoporosis, especially common in women. They speak directly of personal loss and loneliness, and most have accepted the inevitability of their own death. In fact, the six women at the heart of the documentary seem to embrace the standard concerns of the elderly more easily as a result of keeping their regular appointments at the beauty shop. In this way, More Than Skin Deep communicates a powerful message about how truly simple pleasures can easily improve the daily severity of nursing home life.

This film is shorter than many documentaries, but it supplies more than skin deep coverage about growing old with dignity. It is recommended for all libraries supporting professional or academic programs or schools in gerontology, nursing, social work, psychology, sociology, medicine, and allied health fields. For another film about women growing older, viewers might think about Michal Aviad’s Acting Our Age: A Film about Women Growing Old