Nominee Bachelor Research Award 2020
The practice of representation is an influential tool to create meaning around a certain group of individuals with similar identity aspects. As an image-maker (that positions herself as socially engaged) I consider this practice to be an extremely relevant topic. In my research paper gender, skin colour and age are intersecting while looking at the representation of older (white) women in western visual culture. I am a thirty-eight-year-old white woman. My youthful appearance has always been praised by family to strangers. This is one aspect that led me to think about what it means to age in a female body.
The beauty standard born from the western patriarchal gaze excludes post-menopause women from (visual) culture unless they are ageing ‘gracefully’ and even then representation is minimal and limited to commodities and services aimed at their specific target group. If post-menopausal women are visible at all, it often has been in the stereotypical role of the witch, the wicked stepmother, crazy cat lady, spinster or docile granny. Emotional lability is what these types have in common and they are mostly there to affirm how normal the protagonist is. The fact that it is not harmless if you cannot identify with the representational norm is discussed in various theory around the topic.
Interviewing nine women over fifty was the empirical part of my research to find out how they experience this under- and misrepresentation and if getting older as a woman is as dreadful as society suggests. I bundled an impression of these conversations in an (online) publication with the title: you don’t have to be afraid (only alert). Along with an illustration I made from a selfie of the participant. The result is the series of nine very different portraits that communicate a relevant message when it comes to women over fifty: they are diverse.
It is definitely a phase of change, the question is: how do we want to frame it?
With this publication, I hope to contribute to alternative reference frames for women over fifty but also send an alternative message to younger women who might dread the thought of reaching that number in years. It is definitely a phase of change, the question is: how do we want to frame it?