Old Bags: A Project Exploring The Lives Of Middle-Aged Women

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Four years ago, friends Faith Baum, an architect in Lexington, MA and Lori Petchers, a documentary filmmaker from New York City, were chatting about their experiences of being middle-aged American woman and how society sees them, or rather how society doesn’t see them at all.

With similar conversations being had among their circle of friends, Faith and Lori knew they weren’t the only ones thinking about how women their age were being perceived, and decided to do something about it. Being artists, they challenged themselves to come up with a visual representation of what they were feeling, and the Old Bags Project was born.

The  multi-disciplinary project explores the lives of women ages 40-70 by showing the impact of biology, poking fun at consumerism and “turning an old insult on its head.”

“The only real old bags in the images are the shopping bags.”

“As two-post menopausal women, we felt like we were being incorrectly defined by a youth fixated society at the exact time in our lives when we’ve achieved a true sense of who we are,” Faith and Lori told WYSK. “Middle-aged female bodies are rarely seen except in advertisements about lifting, incising, creaming and hiding. We’re tired of a consumer culture that harps on the value of looking younger than you are.”

Faith and Lori started the project by photographing themselves. They proudly stripped down to their underwear and put shopping bags on their heads. “The bags are an artistic way of representing the invisibility we are feeling. To the viewer, the logos on the bags contain more identity than the women, and that speaks to our values in America,” said Faith and Lori. “The only real old bags in the images are the shopping bags.”

As word about Old Bags spread among Faith and Lori’s friends and colleagues, women began lining up to have their photos taken. Since the launch in 2011, they’ve photographed dozens of women, and have expanded the project to include a website, blog and most recently a book, which includes images along with thought-provoking commentary on aging submitted by the anonymous participants.

“This is not a soap commercial about how everyone is beautiful EVEN older women. It is a statement about refusing to allow our youth loving, commercialized, media ridden culture to have the last word about who we are and our place in American society.”

“Aging is something that happens to other people. I cannot tell you how it hit me. I didn’t like 30, I didn’t like 40, but 50 slammed me in the face. The mortality thing comes into play. You are well past halfway. Your outlook changes. I mean mine has. I even lie about my age to the Stairmaster. I put in 45 because I refuse to put in 50. I will always put in 45.”

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 “There’s gotta be something between skinny jeans and mom jeans.”

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“I have a better sense of humor about who I am. Now, if something doesn’t work out, I just chalk it up and go onto the next thing.”

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“Well, one of the things that happens is that as soon as you’re not fertile anymore, men look at you differently. It’s like you become invisible. It’s strange but in some ways it’s also liberating. You can be a crazy old lady if you want. You can stand on the street corner and say,‘That’s a stop sign there!’ I think it’s hard-wired into humans that once you’re not fertile, you somehow don’t exist.”   

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“Sometimes when I’m walking down the street, I look into a storefront and I see a reflection. It’s my mother in the glass. Then I am shocked because that old lady is me!”


For more information on posing for a photo shoot, hosting a photo shoot or exhibiting the project, you can contact Faith and Lori here.

Upcoming: Old Bags Project will be exhibiting at Rabbithole in Brooklyn, New York, on Feb 11, 2016

All images courtesy of Old Bag Project and republished here with express permission. 

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