Grandmothers change appearances, but not roles

Grandmother "Glam-Ma" Sharon Jordan (Top Left), Linda Carmichael (Top Right), and Shelly Carmichael (Bottom Center).

By Dalinda Ifill-Pressat

Sept. 12, 2017

Swap the knee-length skirt for one a bit shorter. Substitute the grey wig with a curly ombre weave. Toss the pantyhose and show legs and switch out Mary Jane shoes for a pair of stilettos. Gone are the days of the “traditional looking” grandmother; being a glam-ma is now a celebrated rising trend among African-American women.

Sharon Jordan, 55, of Dorchester. is a mother of three. She has a 3-year-old grandson and is looking forward to the birth of her granddaughter due in a few months. Jordan said being a glam-ma is “how you feel about yourself and your upkeep.”


Jordan shares a home with her oldest daughter – the mother of her grandson and unborn granddaughter. She said she enjoys being able to conveniently spend time with her grandson. “I let my daughter do what she does as a parent, but when he’s with me, it’s him and I, he knows me, he reads me. It’s a bond, it’s a true bond,” Jordan said. “My grandson changed my world for the better. I’m living for my grandkids now. I lived for my kids already; they’re grown. Now I’m here for him and his sister that’s on the way.”

Sharon Jordan pictured with her grandson. Photo courtesy of Sharon Jordan


Sharon Jordan posing with her grandson. Photo courtesy of Sharon Jordan


The significant role of grandmothers in African-American families dates back to slavery – grandmothers were essentially the foundation for spirituality, caretaking and guidance – and has manifested in black culture in the decades that followed. 

Grandmothers often times reside in the same household with their children and grandchildren or serve as the sole caretaker of their grandchildren.  A  Pew Research Center report noted that “among racial and ethnic groups, black children are the most likely to be cared for primarily by a grandparent.”

Linda Carmichael, 55, of Dorchester,  said being a glam-ma is “all in the appearance.” She said being around her granddaughter is “like a new beginning. Everything I did in life to protect my child, it’s like it transformed for me to protect my grandchild and put all my energy and all my love into my grand-baby.”

She explained her thinking as a glam-ma differently. “I consider myself a glam-ma in the aspect that I still make sure I do my nails and my feet, and I want to be sure to look nice when I’m dressed,” Carmichael said.  “I still want to wear my makeup and do things. I’m not going to dress older just because I’m older; I dress in things that are modern, but still decent and appropriate.”

While 21st century grandmothers  may choose to go out to a restaurant with their grandchildren rather than cook in the kitchen and pass down recipes, or get dressed up to go out for mimosas with friends on a Sunday morning rather than get dressed up to go to church with their grandchildren, modern-day African-American glam-mas like Sharon Jordan and Linda Carmichael  possess the same love and compassion for their grandchildren as older generation grandparents.

Carmichael said she remembers her grandmother being a great guidance and support, but doesn’t remember her grandmother keeping up with her physical appearance or enjoying a social life. “My grandmother was very traditional: she cooked, cleaned, and tended to everyone in the house,” Carmichael said.

For many modern-day African-American women, the image that once represented a grandmother changed. The fundamental values of love, guidance and support are still practiced, but there is a new profound sense of high-spirit, self-love that inspires the sense of glamorous physical appearance and youthful attitude, hence the term, glam-ma.

“Yeah the reality is I am a grandmother first. I know I’m a grandmother because my daughter had a child so it’s automatic, but I’m going to still look nice. I’m not going to look like a grandmother,” Carmichael said. “People will always call me glam-ma because of how I look.”

Celebrity figures such as Nene Leeks, Majorie Harvey and Tina Lawson help promote the glam-ma spirit among African-American women along with a long list of apparel and merchandise for sale on the Internet keep the social phenomenon trending.

Boston’s Shelly Carmichael, 54, said being a glam-ma is a lifestyle.

Shelly Carmichael said her 1-year-old granddaughter brings great joy to her life. “I feel a whole new since of responsibility, I think about her all the time,” she said.

Shelly Carmichael added she likes living like a glam-ma but wants her granddaughter to refer to her in the traditional way, addressing her as grandmother. “A lot of people don’t like to be called grandmother because they think it makes them feel old. Me, I embrace it. Even though I carry myself like a glam-ma, I want my granddaughter to call me grandmother,” she said.  “Glam-ma is how I look but grandmother is what I am.”

About Dalinda Ifill 2 Articles

Dalinda Ifill-Pressat is a multimedia journalist with a passion for writing, reporting and producing stories which highlight unheeded communities. In 2010 she earned a B.A. in Communication Studies at Northeastern University and in 2017 her M.A. in Journalism at Emerson College. Dedicated to evoking tolerance and understanding through her multimedia storytelling, Ifill-Pressat is optimistic for her future as an innovative journalist.