There is a heady and freeing loveliness to being seen without a filter and saying here I am.
My photography does not appeal to everyone. I edit lightly, preferring to celebrate the reality of who we are, how we look. Sometimes I gently whiten teeth, remove a blemish, or lighten the shadows underneath a subject’s eyes and that’s about it.
When women ask me what they should wear to our photo shoot, I say, whatever you feel beautiful and comfortable in. I provide some insights about how necklines can elongate or shorten our necks and always recommend some lip gloss. My work is not done in conjunction with a make-up artist, stylist or other partners. There are many photographers who do provide these services along with quite a bit of photoshopping and that’s absolutely fine.
It’s just not what I want to do and I thought I should share why.
As women over fifty, we have been bombarded from youth with perceived perfection in the media. I’ve lived long enough to remember when round bodies with buxom breasts were the celebrated figures. And I remember the style of skinny, flat-chested models too. We’ve been taught to hide our skin imperfections with concealer, consider botox for those hard-earned laugh lines, and if I had a dollar for every weight loss program directed at menopausal women, I would be rich.
I enjoy following fashion, but am now wise enough to know that it doesn’t matter if something is in style, if it doesn’t flatter my body, I’m not wearing it. Things like waist lines that sit just beneath a bosom and then billow out or those baggy ‘boyfriend’ jeans. Low rise was great when I was younger, but now I prefer my jeans to be mid-rise. I like to dress in real clothing, and do not spend my days in yoga pants.
In short, I try to dress like I know and accept myself. And somedays that can be challenging.
When I meet women for the first time to photograph them, I want to know if there is something they are sensitive about as it relates to their bodies. I want to know so that I pose my portrait subjects accordingly.
Since the thesis of my work aims to remind women that they are not a problem to be fixed after the age of 50, I want to show them the truth in their unique and authentic beauty. We don’t have enough models of such things in our culture.
I came across an article in HuffPost that deeply disturbed me, about an app called “Facetune,” which is used by many young women before they share their images on social media. The author of the article interviews young women who use the app to make themselves look ‘better’ before they share photos. The sad irony is that these images actually make them feel worse about the reality of their appearance. Waist trimming, tummy tucking, nose shortening, cheekbone and eye edits are all available at the swipe of a finger. Some go on to request plastic surgery that is biologically impossible to make themselves look more like their edited pictures.
Not only do I find this practice absolutely horrifying, I don’t want to contribute to it. I don’t want women to only accept themselves once they have been heavily photoshopped or are professionally pulled together. I want my work to model this for my generation and those that will follow.
It takes an enormous amount of courage to put yourself out there as the real deal. To place your trust in the hands of a photographer who prefers to show you how lovely you are just the way you are, wrinkles, extra pounds, and all.
This is a deeply felt mission on my part because I believe we can only change the negative societal perspective surrounding women and aging, if we change ourselves. If we love our own imperfect bodies. When we stop attempting to be flawless. If we forgive ourselves for daring to grow older.
We need to be the agents of change before we change the perspectives of others. There is a heady and freeing loveliness to being seen without a filter and saying here I am. This is why I edit lightly.
I think it’s okay to wish for fewer wrinkles, smaller breasts, a slim belly, or whatever it is you might wish for. But if those wishes for a youth that has passed gets in the way of loving ourselves as we are, it’s a waste of precious time.
So this is why I aim to share women as they are. I try to say, “Look! Do you see that lovely sparkle in your eye? The way you radiate joy? The openness of your heart?”
Because this is what I see.
And that is why I do what I do.
There is still time to join us.
I made the decision to focus my photography work on women in early January 2021 after a realization that those were my favorite photo shoots. Though the narrowing of my focus with the Wise Women Project was a bit frightening, everything about this decision felt right. My soul sank into this work like a soft cushion after a long work day. Narrowing my focus was frightening because of the unanswered questions:
- Would there be enough women who had interest?
- Would women over 50 be willing to invest in themselves this way?
- Would this work matter to anyone but me?
The answer to all of the above? Yes. A resounding YES.