Real Life

Hairdresser shaking up the beauty industry, so women no longer feel invisible

Ally’s models celebrate age diversity
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Ally Nischler, 49, from Hobart, Tasmania, shares her story with Take 5:

My client shifted nervously in her chair as I picked up my scissors.

It was May 2022, and I was about to give her the usual haircut.

“Will this suit me?” she asked, scrutinising herself in the salon mirror.

“Of course,” I replied. “It’s what you always get.”

“But am I too old for it now?” she asked. “I don’t want to look like mutton dressed as lamb.”

It broke my heart that she was so conscious of her age, but this wasn’t the first conversation of its kind that I’d had.

Since opening my salon in 2019, I’d seen many customers lose confidence in their appearance as they aged.

My heart broke for my clients. (Image: Sarah McGregor)

“All the models you see are so young,” my client continued. “I feel invisible.”

I thought about the criteria used when salons needed models for a shoot back when I was an apprentice hairdresser.

Ages 18-30, all the advertisements had read.

It was hardly surprising that so many of my clients felt invisible when the beauty industry refused to showcase anyone who looked like them.

That evening, I couldn’t get the word ‘invisible’ out of my mind.

I scrolled through my salon’s Instagram page, which featured images from hair shoots I’d staged over the years, and a sad realisation dawned on me – all the models I’d used were in their 20s.

I couldn’t get the word ‘invisible’ out of my mind. (Image: Sarah McGregor)

I’d unwittingly contributed to the beauty culture that made so many women feel unseen.

If I wanted my clients to start feeling visible, I’d have to create the change myself.

My next hair collection will celebrate age diversity, I decided.

Later that week, a woman with beautiful hair walked past the salon.

I’d noticed her several times before.

She seemed to be in her 40s and had clearly embraced her naturally grey locks.

I ran outside to catch her.

“Excuse me!” I called nervously. “I’m planning a hair shoot and was wondering if you’d be one of my models?”

Dorianne suffered with significant trauma. (Image: Sarah McGregor)

“I don’t want to dye my hair,” she said.

“I don’t want you to either!” I explained. “It’s a shoot to celebrate diversity.”

“Hell yeah!” she exclaimed. “I’m in.”

Her name was Dorianne, 43, and the following week, as I styled her for the shoot, she opened up to me.

“I was sexually assaulted when I was 27,” she said, detailing the long, internal journey she’d gone through to overcome the trauma.

“I learnt to know myself and above all, I learnt to trust myself,” she explained as I curled her flowing grey tresses. “Now, I’m a voice therapist and I help women find their voice.”

I was astonished by the strength of this woman I’d so often seen walking by.

Now she helps other women find their voice. (Image: Sarah McGregor)

It reminded me that the value of a woman lies in much more than her physical appearance.

Instead of simply posting their photos online, I uploaded them with details of their personal stories, to showcase the multiple layers of beauty that women of all ages possess.

I titled this platform ‘The Age of Visibility’, and in June 2022, the Instagram page went live.

Very quickly it attracted hundreds of followers and I was being recommended other Tasmanian women who didn’t fit conventional model standards, to photograph.

“You should do a shoot with Ange,” my sister, Leah, suggested.

Ange, 53, was her close friend who’d been battling breast cancer for 10 years.

Sara, a performer with Autism, feature in ‘The Age of Visibility’. (Image: Sarah McGregor)

She’d been through chemotherapy and had a mastectomy but sadly, the cancer had spread.

I met up with her to discuss the idea.

“I want to send a message to women to check their breasts,” she told me.

“Would you consider showing your scar?” I asked. “It would get people intrigued by your story.”

Ange paused.

“For the first few years after my operation, I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror,” she confessed. “But I’m ready to do this.”

Ange is using her story to help save other women. (Image: Sarah McGregor)

Weeks later, on a Sunday afternoon, Ange met the photographer and me at my salon.

Wearing a black silk gown, she allowed it to fall open in front of the camera.

I was astonished by her bravery.

Sensuality and confidence oozed from her.

Days later, I emailed her the finished photos and she called me.

“I closed the photos as soon as I’d opened them. I find it so confronting looking at my body,” she said. “But my husband had tears in his eyes when he saw them. He and my kids said I look beautiful. These photos have made me feel feminine again.”

When we posted the images on Instagram, the response was overwhelming.

Beauty, courage, and such an inspiration, one follower wrote.

Maya, an actress with Down Syndrome, features in ‘The Age of Visibility’. (Image: Sarah McGregor)

Many different women have since featured in The Age of Visibility.

Women of all ages, backgrounds and body types are celebrated.

Each model is free to express her individuality and challenge conventional perceptions of beauty.

There’s Maya, an actress with Down syndrome, Aimee, who’s proudly going grey at 42, and Sara, a performer with autism.

Nyajal, a refugee from Sudan, features in ‘The Age of Visibility’. (Image: Sarah McGregor)

We’ve showcased 
my sister Maryann, an artist with functional neurological disorder (FND), Nyajal, a refugee from Sudan, and Gabrielle, who took up CrossFit and championship swimming in her 40s.

And that’s just some of them!

We’re helping to make this the age of visibility for all women, because when women can see it, they can be it.

Gabrielle, who took up CrossFit and championship swimming in her 40s, features in ‘The Age of Visibility’. (Image: Sarah McGregor)

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