An open letter to the creators of the ‘Old Bags’ project.
I really wasn’t looking for another Huffington Post 50 pieces to go off on. I’ve been quite happy writing a post about my first few days of fifty-dom. But then this piece about your project was published and I found it impossible to ignore because I find the whole thing utterly hideous.
Huffington Post titled the piece: Semi-Nude Photo Series Will Empower Older Women With Body Woes. And then followed it with this slightly odd subhead that reads more like an editorial comment from a pandering intern: ‘We need to see more of this’
I think some people might have wondered if this was another one of those ‘real women, real bodies’ campaigns that Dove (soap not chocolate) started BACK IN 2004 to sell more of their made-with-a-glassandahalfof-real-milk soap (or am I confusing that with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk?). Weren’t those ads with the women in their underwear all about empowerment and advertiser bias (and soap)? But no, your campaign isn’t affiliated with a product or a brand. It’s about photographing middle-aged women in ill-fitting underwear with shopping bags on their heads.
If only we could see the look of empowerment on these women’s faces. But we can’t because some idiot (you) covered each of their faces with a shopping bag. As I’m sure you must know there’s nothing more empowering to 50+ year old women than not being seen. Ah yes, you’re commenting on their perceived societal invisibility. By making them invisible. Brilliant.
My first thought was how dehumanizing to bag a human being in this way. I believe that torturers do the same thing to their victims to increase the level of helplessness and terror. Maybe Dove could use this for their next deodorant campaign — set it in Guantanamo Bay and they could use the tagline ‘don’t let them see you sweat’.
And nice work on the campaign title – ‘old bags’. I see you’re cleverly playing on the popular British slang term for unattractive and annoying dried-up spinstery type women. Did you think you were somehow reclaiming the term on our collective behalf? Rather than actually reinforcing the ugly stereotype and introducing the term to a whole new generation.
You are quoted as saying “Middle-aged female bodies are rarely seen except in advertisements about lifting, incising, creaming and hiding,” And in those Dove campaigns from 11 YEARS AGO of course. Or do you see those as different because not all of the women in the Dove photos are middle-aged? Just like the actual population.
You also claim “A lot of middle-aged women have little idea of what is typical of an aging woman’s body.
What exactly is ‘typical’? Am I not typical because at 50 I don’t currently look like these women and have no intention of doing so?
But mostly this:
‘When middle age arrives, it can announce itself with added pounds, a changing shape and a tough time going clothes shopping No doubt a positive body image can be difficult to maintain as you get older, so two women decided to take the struggle public in an effort to put everyone at ease.’
A couple of things here. Firstly I don’t think anyone is feeling ‘at ease’ seeing these head-in-a-bag women. Nor do any of the women themselves look particularly at ease. The woman with the Clarks bag is striking a slightly more jaunty pose but the body language of the others says highly uncomfortable in their skin. Of course we can’t really tell for sure because WE CAN’T SEE THEIR FACES.
And secondly, I’m unclear on the point you’re trying to make with the selection of youth-oriented retailer’s bags. Abercrombie & Fitch? I wouldn’t expect to find anything to fit me in there. The owners of that brand have made it quite clear that if you can’t fit into a straw then don’t bother shopping there. And Forever 21? Seriously? When they say the brand appeals to women of all ages, they mean that a 16-year-old and 26-year-old can wear the same thing.
Four of the six brands represented by the bags are absolutely not aimed at middle aged women so what’s your point? That we live in a youth-oriented society? Wow, is this what passes as radical thinking post-menopause? The fact is that women can and should shop at these stores if they wish but only a twat would then blame anyone but themselves for their ‘tough shopping experience’.
And we’re in 2016 for fuck’s sake. Is taking your clothes off really the best way we have to show our empowerment or vulnerability? This is the equivalent of the solo show performer finally comes to terms with their sexuality or some other shameful secret by taking their clothes off and singing I am what I am. (I will not be doing this at my FronteraFest shows).
This campaign doesn’t ‘poke fun at consumerism’, it just makes me want to haul these women off for a decent bra fitting. And I don’t believe your assertion that other women draw strength from these images. They do not create a positive body image unless we’re looking at the pictures and thinking, well I may have chunky thighs but at least my stomach doesn’t look like that. Because you’ve given us permission to be totally judgmental. We don’t have to look at these women’s faces and try to reconcile their beauty with their aging body. No we can just critique the amount of fat on their upper arms without an ounce of guilt. The only common ground you might have achieved is someone realising they are not the only big-boobed woman in the world who wears sports bras that are only suitable for some light dusting by a tween with an A cup.
Seriously, did no-one around you actually question this idea? Did they all have their heads stuck in the proverbial sand/Wet Seal bag. I don’t even know how you managed to convince the women to do this. Do they actually feel empowered looking at these photos of themselves or do they just feel like idiots who’ve been conned by you? Haha, look the Emperor’s in his bra and pants.
And if you haven’t already scrolled down for a prurient glimpse, here is the piece.
When middle age arrives, it can announce itself with added pounds, a changing shape and a tough time going clothes shopping. No doubt a positive body image can be difficult to maintain as you get older, so two women decided to take the struggle public in an effort to put everyone at ease.
Lori Petchers, 57, and Faith Baum, 63, came up with the idea for a photo project to reflect older women’s struggles with their changing bodies. Petchers and Baum, both post-menopausal women and mothers, told The Huffington Post that it was a common discussion topic in their circles.
“Middle-aged female bodies are rarely seen except in advertisements about lifting, incising, creaming and hiding,” Baum and Petchers said.
So they decided to change that. Enter, “Old Bags.”
A photo series was imagined to “poke fun at consumerism.” Middle-aged women ages 45 to 70, of all body shapes, races and sizes, were asked to bravely strip down to their underwear, and show off their bodies proudly — but anonymously. They are all wearing shopping bags on their heads.
The project’s creators say they wanted older women to know they aren’t alone.
“A lot of middle-aged women have little idea of what is typical of an aging woman’s body. They think they are the only ones with saggy thighs, loose skin and everything else,” the creators say. “It is so important to normalize aging. And to feel comfortable in our own skin.”
The project was launched a few years back and has since grown into more than just powerful images. The photos have been featured in several art shows, anindependent exhibit, and most recently, a book. “Old Bags Taking A Stand” features photos of women, as well as anecdotes on aging taken from hours of interviews — all for other women to draw strength from.
“Many women see middle age as the end — the end of children, sexuality, youth,” Baum and Petchers said. “But the project has made us realize that many of us have 30 to 40 years ahead … it’s a chance to reap the benefits of past endeavors and start some new ones.”