“Aging with Attitude means owning the age you are, without shame. It means taking the power that you have earned through life experience and being proud. It means not allowing others or society to diminish you because of your age. It means living life the way you want!” — Lori Petchers, Old Bags Project
Things grow out of conversations among women. Faith Baum and Lori Petchers realized while they were chatting with each other and their friends how sick they were of our culture’s youth-centrism. Both artists, they decided to turn the insulting phrase “old bag” on its head and create a singular image to represent what many aging women feel.
The multidisciplinary Old Bags Project is the funny and interesting result. Started in 2011, it’s a riot of full-length photographs showing women stripped down to their underwear with shopping bags over their heads — a portrayal of what real women’s bodies look like when they’ve lost that youthful look, complete with scars, socks, and bandages. The variety of bags pokes fun at consumerism while skewering the derogatory label for old ladies. In the words of the project creators, “The only actual old bags come from the stores in which we shop.”
Along with the photographs, which do a great job of celebrating self-acceptance and advancing age, are quotes from the women in the photos about how American society makes them feel — and how they transcend those feelings.
“I can’t understand why more middle-aged women aren’t criminals. We probably could get away with anything, because nobody notices us.”
“In all my craziness, I feel like now is the time for me to learn and to really do what I want to do. My time is filled with that rather than, ‘Oh, I wonder how somebody else sees me.’ “
“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.”
The project grew organically. First the artists solicited their friends. After each exhibition, women who were excited by what they saw would come for the next photo shoot. Once the project started getting press attention, women who had never seen the work came to pose, inspired by the idea. (The project is ongoing —see below for info on participating.)
A book spinoff, “Old Bags Taking a Stand,” was published in 2015. Its quick and refreshingly fun look at how we grapple with aging in this culture is valuable both for women in midlife —the focus of this project, which pictures women ages 40–70 — and for younger women, too.
“I am fascinated by the reaction to our project by women in their 20s and 30’s,” Faith Baum told Senior Planet. “I have learned that our talk is giving them a heads-up about aspects of their future lives, and they find this comforting.”
“I hate when someone says, ‘You don’t look 63!’ What am I supposed to say, thank you? I want to look my age and be told that I look good.”
“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!”
“I was always self-conscious about my body; it wasn’t right, it wasn’t this, it wasn’t that. And, when I look back on what it looked like, I would do anything to have it back today. So it’s difficult to watch things change right before my eyes. It just blows me away.”
If you’d like to participate in this project, contact the artists via their website.
- Read “Old Bags Taking a Stand”
- Get a behind-the-scenes look at the photo shoots in this video
- Follow The Old Bags Project on Facebook and Instagram
Photographs: Liz Harvey for OLD BAGS PROJECT