The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Body Image and the Older Woman

Should a woman's value primarily be attached to a narrow ideal of youth, impossible physical attributes and perceived sexual availability?

If this idea makes you feel uncomfortable, then good, it should.

And yet we are bombarded with this notion every single day in every media to the point where it has become normalised.

From teenagers and young adults obsessed with doing their make-up right, to brands of skin moisturisers that "visibly reduce the 7 signs of ageing," to the multi-billion pound diet industry ruling the lives of most of the women in the western world, and beyond. Women are expected to try and make themselves thinner, smoother skinned and younger looking, in order to be perceived as more attractive, and therefore give them more value in a society obsessed with these things.

Even adverts or programmes that appear to challenge the norms, such as the Dove "Real Women" campaign, or Gok Wan's "How to Look Good Naked," still buy into the idea that they are empowering women by helping them to look more attractive – younger, thinner, and smoother skinned.

Are they really empowering women, or are they actually embedding these ideals even deeper?

In the world of art, the "art nude" has a long history – stretching back at least as far as the ancient Greeks in their statues and decorated earthenware. But, again, they almost always conform to a youthful ideal with a hint (or more) of sexual availability. An object of desire.

So unquestioned are these ideas that when artists such as Lucien Freud, and more recently Jenny Saville, have painted larger bodies, uncompromising in their depiction of flesh as we more commonly experience it – with fat, cellulite and stretch-marks - they have been perceived as shocking.

Take a moment to ponder this point: the depiction of impossible female bodies bombard us everyday as an ideal all women should be aspiring to, and yet bodies as they actually are – as we experience them in the everyday – are to be hidden away and never referred to.

Against this backdrop, I decided to start a photography project with a working title, "Women Over 50."

This project is about creating a series of nude photographs of women in this age group, that are neither vulnerable, apologetic, nor seeking the approval of the male gaze.

Bodies as they really are, with nothing enhanced or adjusted in Photoshop.

Each woman looks directly into the lens, unapologetically owning the body she has.

Starting this Sunday, as part of Luminate – Scotland's Festival of Ageing – I will be showing some of these photographs before joining a panel discussion, aimed at exploring many of the ideas and questions they raise.

There will be 3 of these events across Dumfries and Galloway, called Body Image and the Older Woman:

The first is on Sunday 12th May at Thomas Tosh in Thornhill 7pm-9pm
The second is on Thursday 16th May at The Stove in Dumfries 7pm-9pm
The third is on Friday 17th May at The Print Room in Wigtown 7pm-9pm

Each event will be hosted by DG Unlimited Development Officer, Maggie Broadly, and joining me on the panel will be playwright and poet, Carolyn Yates, and artist Denise Zygadlo, with playwright, Dr Jane Sunderland (Reader on Gender and Discourse at Lancaster University), joining us for the one at Thornhill.

Maggie will begin with introductions and an opening question, but then the idea is to open up to questions from the audience.

An interesting, thought provoking evening awaits!

Hope you can make it along.

If you feel you would like to take part in the Women Over 50 project, then do get in touch. I can send you more information and we can meet up to discuss the project before you make your decision.


daisyfae said...

Just catching up after another 6 month walkabout - and am delighted to find you tackling one of my favorite subjects! When i stopped coloring my hair 2 years ago, i was scared - afraid that i'd lose my 'sexual identity'. Nope. Nope, nope, nope and nope! i had to work through it, but am finding that my feelings about my own sexual self are comfortable. Perhaps more comfortable than before... Wish i lived closer, would love see your work!

Kim Ayres said...

Daisyfae - if you lived closer, I'd have been trying to recruit you for the project :)

Pat said...

Revisiting the photograph of husband and wife in the altogether (I couldn't leave a comment there for some reason)I wondered if I could have persuaded Al to be photographed 'arry starkers, or even from the waist up. Probably not but at least he was totally at ease as we were.

Kim Ayres said...

Pat - Wonder why you couldn't leave a comment on that post, but can on this one? Blogger must be having a "moment".

Back when I did the photos of you and Al, it was still very early in my photography career, and I hadn't done any nude or implied nude photography. Chances are I would have felt more uncomfortable that you if it had been suggested! :)

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