The Finding 40 Project: What 40 Looks Like And Means To Women Around The World

December 2, 2013 by
Aimee Cebulski
BooksWomanhood

The BIG 4-0… while it’s just another number on our biological clocks, it is considered a major milestone age that carries a lot of conceptual weight for most women. Some fear it, while others celebrate it. For Woman You Should Know Aimee Cebulski, turning 40, and watching a friend do the same, sparked an idea that became an epic mission to connect with women from around the world. She calls it The Finding 40 Project.

“After hundreds of hours of interviews, photos, writing and editing, I look at 40 as a jumping off point for the next adventure.”As Aimee contemplated her own recent encounter with 40, the photographer, writer, and lifelong traveler set out to determine and document what being 40 looked like and meant to other women in the United States and across the globe.

She spent 2 years interviewing and photographing more than 30 women in 10 different countries – United States, Mexico, Belgium, France, Italy, Ecuador, Peru, Pakistan, India and the United Arab Emirates – who were all finding 40 (turning 40 or had just turned 40).

While cultures and geography make them distinct and diverse, Aimee shared with WYSK that the women she met and spoke with, “all rock in their own special way.”

Despite her subjects’ vast differences, Aimee also found that these 40 year old females of the world share several common threads that connect us at the deepest level. “Universally, if women have a regret, it’s around not completing something they were working on for themselves. Putting something else ahead of themselves. Women are far too often inclined to put themselves last, no matter what culture.”

Finding 40 Book CoverThe culmination of her inspiration packed The Finding 40 Project is a book by the same name that offers a peek into the world of these women – those who simply hope to make it to 40 to those in desperate need to forget. It tells their stories through stunning photos and compelling narratives.

By pairing images with text, you see the women and get to understand the specific challenges, opportunities, realities and dreams that shape their lives.

Through the pages of her book, Aimee is sharing what we consider to be newfangled “coming of age” stories… the points at which women truly come into their own, which is a far more empowering and meaningful transition than that of adolescence into adulthood.

But circling back to the question that set this whole journey in motion, we wanted to know what being 40 means to Aimee now, with all that she has seen, learned, and discovered. She told us, “After two years and hundreds of hours of interviews, photos, writing and editing, I look at 40 as a jumping off point for the next adventure. Knowing that I could visualize the project, see it through and plow through my fear of flying all the while, I realize there is really nothing I can’t do at this point in my life. I’m excited to see where the next 40 takes me and beyond!”


Meet Some Of The Finding 40 Project Women:

Rosa Elena in Esperanza de Azama, Ecuador

Rosa Elena

Her entire universe is only about 100 square miles. She has never been beyond the village of Otavalo – “I travel there once a week on Wednesdays to visit the market.” She works making handcrafted beaded bracelets that she sells to market vendors for resale; her profit is $1 for each six bracelets made, a standard workday output for her.

On a typical day she rises with the sun at 6 a.m. to prepare breakfast for the family. Her kitchen is a simple pot, a fire and a few implements in her “kitchen/dining room” – a single three-walled space attached to the bedroom where all 10 people sleep in one Queen bed. After breakfast she beads for a few hours, and then takes the family’s sheep down to the river for water.

“No birthdays are celebrated, they do not matter.” – Rosa ElenaIn the afternoon, she again prepares a meal for the entire family (lunch), and again beads until the sun sets around 6:45 p.m. (being near the Equator, her sunsets and sunrises rarely shift more than a few minutes either way). Around 8 p.m. the family heads to bed without a dinner; two meals a day is the norm. “With the money I make selling bracelets I buy material or onions or vegetables to cook,” she says. Most of the family’s meals are vegetables and grain, with meat once a week on Sundays.

Some of the questions asked of other Finding Forty participants were not especially relevant to Rosa Elena’s life where every day is a battle to survive. We did ask if 40 is a milestone number or of any importance. She laughs when the question is translated and shakes her head… “No birthdays are celebrated, they do not matter,” she says. Many in the community don’t know how old they are and Rosa Elena had to check her identity card to verify her own age.


Julie in Washington, DC – United States

A few years ago Julie realized she was just burned out. “I wasn’t really enjoying work as much any more and I was definitely tired of the 24/7 lifestyle that comes with fundraising for political candidates.” A friend had gotten her involved with the Washington DC Humane Society and she started fostering dogs. At one time she provided foster care for a litter of seven puppies. “That was by far the hardest work I had ever done – ever.” Through her work as a foster pet parent, she came to see the financial needs of the society and realized there was an opportunity to use her valuable experience in political fundraising for another purpose.

JulieNow, the Washington DC Humane Society is a client and she is getting ready to launch a $25 million capital campaign to help build a new facility and animal welfare campus with the goal of becoming the model humane society in the United States. “I am very excited and honored to be playing an instrumental role in such an important endeavor. Everyone always wonders if they will leave a legacy – I hope to make this one mine.”

Working on Capitol Hill has been interesting on the personal front, as well. Julie’s partner of seven years Kathryn is an attorney and lobbyist and the two have gone through some challenging experiences as a couple. Several years ago, Kathryn served as counsel on the Judiciary Committee with it passed the Defense of Marriage Act, severely limiting gay rights. As an openly gay woman, she took a lot of flack from friends and colleagues that couldn’t understand how she could work on something that directly negatively impacted her own rights. “We both try to separate work from our personal lives,” said Julie. Even though they are Republicans themselves, they often find themselves on the other side of the fence from their co-workers or even their bosses when it comes to some issues, but Julie feels like there are opportunities to advocate for change. “Often, you can get a lot more done from the inside than out.”


Shamsa in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates

Shamsa

Born and raised in Al Ain, Shamsa’s the youngest of five daughters. I ask her if she is married and she says, “no, not yet…” Then her male friend, who is joining us in the room to assist with translation issues, chimes in and says, “she’s hoping, like any lady.”

Shamsa came to the museum five years ago after the death of her father and currently works as an assistant store keeper with the Abu Dhabi Culture & Heritage Department. She studied social education at the university, graduating in 1998, but did not go to work right away.”I stayed in the home for many years,” she said. “I took care of both my mother and father, who were older.”

Over the course of nine years, she lost both her mother and father – mother to heart disease, father to Alzheimer’s. “It was very sad to see my father like that,” she adds. “He was almost like a child, needing so much help.” First on Christmas Day in 2002, then again in 2007, she held each parent in her arms as they passed away. “I am not angry,” she says. “God needed them.”