For the women portrayed in Silver: A State of Mind, currently on exhibit at The Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California, the choice of whether to age or not appears to have been made. The work of Bay-area photographer Vicki Topaz, Silver features striking, over-sized, black-and-white portraits of subjects with varying shades of gray hair – from salt-and-pepper to snow white – accompanied by their stories.
More than a photo sitting, the project spanned four years and involved interviews with more than 50 women, most in their late 50s or older. “I wanted to explore how other women my age were dealing with growing older,” explains Topaz, 65. “I realized after the first couple of interviews that questions about gray hair were leading to some very deep issues around the aging process,” she adds, referring to topics that include attractiveness, illness, the workplace and more.
Ultimately Topaz discovered going gray for these women is more than a mark of time: “For most, it is a badge of courage, for sure, a willingness to embrace the authenticity of who they are at this time of their lives, gray hair and all.”
A fresh perspective on aging, it’s also a surprisingly moving exhibit (which you can see in its entirety at the link above). For Topaz herself, “the surprise came with the reinforcement of my own confidence about being the age I am and being reminded about what is possible.”
For the rest of us, Silver brings up interesting questions that – like the project – go beyond whether or not to colour our hair. For example, questions about image and aging.
In an age of anti-aging – when, as a recent UK poll found, less than 10 percent of women over the age of 50 are happy with the way they look, where global sales of anti-aging products exceed $250-billion annually and, as the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports, those middle-aged and older make up the lion’s share of cosmetic-surgery patients (a number that jumped from 2010 to 2011 by 5 percent for women and 6 percent for men) – what do you do? Conform or contest? Stand proud or succumb to the pressure?
Not that we’re suggesting there is a right or wrong answer, but it makes you wonder. If – as society seems to suggest – we continue on a perpetual pursuit of youthfulness, how long can we keep it up? And how far down the road do we want to carry our image issues with us? Will we want to look 50 at 70? 60 at 80? 70 at 90? Will we still be complaining about our looks at 95? Rhetorical questions.
In the end, there really is no question about aging. The fact is, eventually we will look our age (if we don’t already). And no amount of cosmetic enhancements or miracle creams will ever recapture our youth – or make us look like we did at 30 or even 40. Not now. Not ever.
Here’s an honest question. Should we do ourselves – and future generations – a favour and drop the pretence now?
We welcome your comments, as does photographer Vicki Topaz on her site.
Last song: From the man who gave us “New York State of Mind” – and turned 63 this month – we continue the silver state-of-mind theme and end on this note or his note. (And, if it pops up, please ignore that ever-so-subtle YouTube ad for plastic surgery that jumps on screen here. We couldn’t get rid of it. How ironic – or is that expected? At the very least it underscores just how pervasive that anti-aging message is. As we said, ignore it.)
We’re developing our first 12-week course! If you haven’t already ordered your copy of RIPE: Rich, Rewarding Work After 50, there’s still time. We’d love you to be part of this virtual Ripe Circle.
Ripening begins with a shift – recognizing that being older than 50 is not the end of the road at all, but a new beginning. After the initial ‘a-ha!’ moment, the process of seeing this phase of life in a fresh way continues and deepens over time. Do the questions posed above help you move a little further in this new direction? Or let’s take it from another angle – instead of focusing on our graying selves, imagine how well our children would have done (growing, learning, moving into the world) if we had constantly reminded them of what they weren’t (‘you’re no longer three!’), and not of what they were becoming and their potential. Or let’s take it even further outside ourselves and consider the great Western writer Wallace Stegner. He was able to appreciate what was unique about the west – arid terrain – instead of longing for what it was not – the lush green of the East. And he was deeply inspired by this unique beauty.
What kind of work would you do if you were in full acceptance of who you are now and who you might become? (Vicki Topaz, for example, set out on her career as a photographer as she approached 50 and, as she says, “It’s been a life changing experience.”) And what kind of world might we create together if millions of us embraced this new age en masse?
Keep your finger on the pulse – there’s a sign-up option in the right-hand column of this page. (Or visit juliamoulden.com and send us an email.)
Julia Moulden and Trisse Loxley have been writing and editing for the media and corporate sectors for a combined 50 years. Today, they’re reconnecting with their generation and helping their clients engage with Boomers, too.