What This 66-Year-Old Model Learned on a Commune: 'Women Bring the Joy to the Table'

After more than two decades as a professional makeup artist who worked with top models around the country, Cindy Joseph, found herself in an alternate reality: in front of the camera instead of behind it.

That’s because a casting agent approached her on the street — when Joseph was just shy of 50 — wanting her to pose for a Dolce & Gabbana campaign to be shot by Steven Meisel. She was surprised but not deterred, and thus began Joseph’s flourishing, late-in-life career with Ford Models, which has made her the face of brands from J. Crew to Olay, Aveda, and Ann Taylor — always recognizable by her proud mane of silver .

Now, at 66, she’s also the CEO of Boom by Cindy Joseph, a pared-down, “pro-age” skin and cosmetics line consisting of natural moisturizers and color sticks.

So how did someone in the thick of the industry become known for her all-natural look, her embracement of aging, and an outlook on life that is downright crunchy?

You could start by crediting her free-and-easy California upbringing, but those roots were only further strengthened through an adult experience: living as part of a commune for nearly six years. The intentional community — Lafayette Moorehouse, founded in 1968 and still going strong — first counted Joseph as a resident in 1999, when she lived for several years at its Yonkers, NY, outpost. Most recently, she spent time living at its original Lafayette, Calif. location with her husband Bruce, a semi-retired contractor, now the CFO and COO of Boom, whom she married in an intimate ceremony just four years ago, with her two grown children on hand to celebrate.

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The newlyweds recently settled into a new home in Cold Spring, NY, to be closer to East Coast friends and family — prompting Yahoo Beauty to chat with Joseph about all things beautiful and healthy, and the idea of finding pleasure in everything you do.

You learned a lot from your time on the commune. What can you tell us about the “pleasure principal” approach to life you nurtured there?

We live in a pain oriented society. In a nutshell, that means we relate with each other over pain — we can complain to our neighbors, friends, or strangers about how horrible the weather is or our health is, then they jump in and start complaining, too, and the conversation goes on forever. If you talk to someone about your success, or how well life is going, they might say, “Oh, that’s great.” But if you go on for very long, they become suspicious, like, why are they telling me this, are they bragging? What’s going on?

Another example is how, if you have a job and you’re working and your mother dies, it’s “take the week off, no problem.” You got stuck in traffic and have a flat tire? No problem. Sick? No problem. But if you said, “This is the first sunny day we’ve had in three months and I’m going to the beach,” they’d be like, “Well don’t bother coming back.” The more this was explained to me, the more I was like, “wow.”

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Then [the folks at the commune] described how women are pleasure-oriented and men are goal-oriented, and that’s just how we’re wired. My whole life I felt like I wasn’t disciplined enough, focused enough, wasn’t enough like a guy. And when they said, “You are pleasure-oriented,” I felt like the shackles had been cut free… Women bring the party to the table — we bring the joy, the fun, and men respond to it. And your sexual orientation doesn’t matter. [The commune founders] discovered that when the women weren’t happy, everyone was miserable. So I decided I was going to start living my life according to pleasure — which they decided is a really strict discipline, as you have to really tune in, slow down, and pay attention to what feels good.

How did you work on this discipline?

I started taking better care of myself — taking bubble baths, paying attention to what I was eating. Instead of racing through the day with all these goals, I stopped to smell the roses. And the more I did that the more my persona really changed. That’s when I threw away the bottle of dye and let my hair grow out, and started enjoying my age.

Why do you think that’s such a challenge for most women of a certain age?

As we stand in front of the mirror, which is where we usually stand to criticize ourselves and fix, fix, fix, [the women of the commune] taught me to stand in front of the mirror and find something I could approve of, even if it was one small thing — my right eyebrow arch, my cryptic smile, my front tooth, my ankle, whatever you can find. And what’s fascinating about that is as soon as you find one thing right and approve of it, you suddenly see something else and something else. Women become more beautiful under approving attention — “Oh, your hair’s so pretty!” “You’ve got such a cute smile!” “Wow, that was a very profound thought you just shared with me!” We come alive, we eat it up — it’s delicious to us. It’s what started happening to me.

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And what were the immediate effects?

I mean, I certainly didn’t fit the status quo of the modeling world. I was 49 years old — I was under five-foot eight, my hair was gray. Hello! I had crow’s feet! I had all those things, and was approached on the street and asked to model. I was in studios all my life and no one had ever said I should get in front of a camera.

Lafayette Moorehouse seems to have a nagging reputation as being a sex cult…

I like to say, “Yes, I got this tattoo, and they injected me with this weird stuff, and I’m part of the cult.” It’s so ridiculous, but people are nervous and, back to pleasure, hedonism, “the devil” — it’s gotten a really, really bad rap for a couple centuries, in our country as well as England… But I’m following me and I’m following what I’m interested in, and if everyone did the same and put more attention on their own path than everybody else’s, we’d probably be getting along much better.

It was so much fun living there, and you could talk about what you wanted everyday, including sensuality and sexuality. [In our society] there’s sex everywhere, porn everywhere, yet if you sit down and really talk about it in a practical manner, people get all squirmy. I loved that it was just as normal as brushing your teeth.

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Are you still modeling at all?

I just came back from a four-day shoot for Coolibar SPF sunscreen clothing, and I was just up for a couple campaigns, one for Buick, one for Nivea, but I’m slowing it down a bit, because I’m focusing on other things. I don’t need to model for a living anymore, I’m making a living from running my company. But I still think it’s really import for women of my age to be in advertising, for women of all ages, so I’m continuing for that reason. I’m just not accepting as many jobs.

How do you square your all-natural hippie vibe with modeling and beauty, which seem incompatible?

I love that question! I’ve thought about it a lot, because [for much of my life] I rejected hair and makeup and all of that, and had hairy legs and hairy underarms. And then I started thinking about humankind, and how we’ve been decorating our bodies from day one — with piercing and scarring and tattoos and braiding — and we have been playing dress-up for a very, very long time. So when people say it’s not natural, I think it’s very natural. However, the motivation behind what we’re doing has changed — at least in Western society — and it’s about fixing something that’s wrong, rather than celebrating what we already are and have. We’re doing it to try to fix flaws and conceal things, and that’s the part I don’t agree with. And I won’t take jobs that are based on that premise. I won’t do it. I have never done a hair-dye job, I have never done anti-aging skin cream.

When I decided to be a makeup artist I thought, I’m going to get into the very industry that played with and challenged my self image and my self-esteem — and if I’m in the position where I have credibility in the world of beauty, people are going to listen to me more seriously than if I’m just Jane Doe down the street criticizing all those models and the fashion industry. I can now say I was behind the scenes, I’ve worked with all the famous models, I know how long it took to make them look like they had flawless complexions. And they’re all people, and they have the same highs and lows and challenges and emotional pain and joys that everybody has. And people listen to me, because I have the credibility. So it’s a powerful position, with a lot of responsibility.

Related:

Sexy & Grey: 13 Women Who Prove That One Does Not Negate the Other

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How My Kids’ Blunt Observations Have Helped Me Age With Grace

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