• Genine Babakian

Zoom in on Middle Age


Middle-aged women.

Enough said, right? It is a phrase people try not to use in a sentence – especially by the women who happen to fall into that category. Myself included. We trend toward invisibility.

So, I was intrigued by the teaser announcing Elinor Carucci’s forthcoming publication, Midlife – a collection of photographs featuring women of a certain age. A former Guggenheim fellow whose work has appeared in museums around the world, Carucci made a name for herself with the intimate portraits in Closer, published in 2002. I caught a glimpse of her Midlife photos in a New Yorker article, which featured a gorgeous portrait aptly titled: Snow and Grey Roots. I was hooked.

I love the idea of women unabashedly and unapologetically showing their age. And yet it is a scary prospect – particularly in today’s instantaneous snap and share culture.

We rely on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – what have you – to post the spontaneity of our lives. And yet, there is nothing spontaneous about the way we curate the images of ourselves. Rather, we choose to re-shoot our own picture until we get it right for public consumption – or give up altogether. Do I look young enough, thin enough, pretty enough? Do I look too tired, or is the pose unflattering? Is that what I really look like?

In my first real job out of college, I was working on a publication commemorating the anniversary of the Fulbright Program. Part of my job was arranging for features of prominent U.S. alumni. For the most part, the alum – each well accomplished in their respective fields – were extremely gracious about taking time out of their busy schedules for a photo shoot and a brief Q&A. All except for one opera star, who was happy to answer my questions over the phone, but tried to get out of the photo shoot by sending me professional headshots. She made a point of telling me they were recent.

It took a little convincing, but she did agree, eventually, to a shoot with our photographer. And when we met at the appointed time and place, I realized that her idea of “recent” was sometime in the past two decades. The black and white head shots she had sent showed a woman in her mid-thirties. But the diva before me was not a day under 55. Glamorous and good-looking, to be sure, but definitely not the young beauty in the photo.

Since the photo shoot was in a relatively public place, there were plenty of people around to fawn over her, to tell her how beautiful she was, and how she never changed. She ate it up. That’s when I realized that she really believed she still looked just like that 35-year-old woman in the photograph she had sent me.

I felt pity for the aging diva. But my twenty-something self was convinced that it was her profession as a performer that made the aging process such a bitter pill to swallow. We mere mortals – who chose professions that did not require headshots – would be able to age with a healthy dose of reality, would we not?

But who am I kidding? Just how often do I update my facebook photo?

So bring it on, Elinor Carucci. Let’s zoom in on the women of middle age, whom society renders invisible.

And maybe I’ll be bold enough to expose my grey roots.

#Midlife #InvisibleWomen

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