August 04, 2016
This essay was written as part of an empowerment campaign, “Wear Yourself In,” led by eco-luxe skin care company Kari Gran. In response to the beauty industry pushing an impossible idea of flawless youth for years, the campaign encourages women to be kind to themselves, and their skin, as they reflect on beauty, aging, wisdom, and self-acceptance.
Reena Kazmann owns Eco-Artware.com, an online gift store founded in 1999. It features products made by cutting-edge, independent artists using sustainable and animal-friendly materials.
I cringe when someone says, “You haven’t changed a bit.”
“That’s impossible,” I say. “I work too hard to change. If you don’t move and laugh, you rust.”
I come by this naturally. I was two months old when my father died and my mother and I moved into my grandparents’ home in Queens, New York. They had emigrated to the U.S. in their teens and didn’t automatically accept all the ideas of their new homeland. “You don’t need to do anything other people do,” my grandfather always said.
My artist mother, who earlier had one-woman exhibits New York, London and Tel Aviv, found a teaching job in Harlem. While she was away I spent time drawing pictures until I learned how to read.
I discovered early that when you work in the visual arts, people care more about your work than what you look like. After years of writing to magazines to see if they wanted an illustrator, I was commissioned by Seventeen magazine to write and illustrate an article – at age 14. A stationery company saw the article and invited me to illustrate note cards. I felt empowered.
My practical grandfather suggested that I frame my check and become a plumber like him.
Instead, I went to college in a small town in Massachusetts and helped found a film club, became art editor of the literary magazine and then the class yearbook. While others wore preppie clothes, I stuck to a uniform of black turtlenecks, dark skirts, and Birkenstocks, before they were popular.
After college I moved to Washington, D.C., and continued wearing my dark turtleneck uniform for years as I found art-related jobs in studio workplaces. Vogue never entered my mind, and nobody paid attention.
When freelance assignments vanished, I became an Executive Assistant. I was advised to wear string ties, white blouses and high heels, like everyone else. Although I enjoyed that job's benefits and predictability, I later enjoyed wearing flat shoes while working with arts-related nonprofits.
At the end of the 20th century, with little IT background, I opened an online gift store and have loved every minute of it. Each day brings new challenges.
While my company grew, my hair got greyer and my skin wrinkled. I hired 20- and 30-year-olds to help process orders, and nobody cared about age — we learned from each other as we worked together. Some of us still stay in touch.
Great content comes in different packages. Now I take a little more time to put my best face forward. For a pop of color, I streak my white hair purple with good old Manic Panic temporary color (still around from hippie days), thank my aging skin by massaging it with nourishing oils for 10 minutes daily, and then forget about it. There is more growing to do.