Photographer Yolande is showcasing the strength and beauty of women as they age.

I never really thought about age, nor even told anybody how old I was. It was one of those things. You know when you’re self-employed you have to fill out forms and give your age and I haven’t had to do one of those in a long time. But then coming into my late 40s I noticed a bit of a shift. I became aware of how being 50 is being sold to us by society. And I think the first thing that really got on my nerves, was the ads on daytime TV, like insurance for the over 50s, where the portrayal of this life stage very negative and just not something I recognise.

And then I was looking around me at all the amazing, strong, successful and driven women I know, women who are turning 50 this year or already in their 50s. No woman I know hitting 50 or even hitting 60 looks like the people in the ads for retirement and life assurance and all that kind of thing. I just think there’s a real disconnect. I feel like I just need to challenge these stereotypes around ageing.

As a photographer I do a lot of lifestyle portraiture for personal branding and I really enjoy it. I feel like sometimes the work is not commercial, exactly, but it still has to serve a purpose. So while I can be creative, the goal is to promote people’s businesses and portray them in the right way. Which means it has to be a little bit more serious. And, with all these amazing women in mind I thought about how I’d love to do something a little bit creative, with more of a free rein, so I could be experimental. I guess I was looking for a personal project that has meaning to me, something that I feel an emotion about and it just sort of hit me at the end, sort of towards the end of last year, and then this is it, the project that I want to do. Tell my friends about it and getting their positive response told me I’m on the right path.

At 50 society makes you feel like you’re over the hill, you’re unemployable, like you have nothing to do really except go off and retire.

It’s overwhelmingly negative. And when you look at all the redundancies among over 50s since Covid, the stats on people in this age group who’ll never find another job, it’s particularly disheartening.

Up until now I never really noticed age. Everybody kind of looked the same, but in the last year or so I can see that people in their 20s and 30s are much younger than me. I can’t actually tell how old they are, but I know that they were much younger than me. They think oh my goodness 50 is ancient. But it’s not like that makes me sad. I don’t ever want to be young again, that’s for sure. I never want to be anything under 40, because everything before that was a nightmare in terms of confidence.

It’s the Catch 22 of life that as you get older and become more knowledgeable and have confidence within, your body sort of lets you down and you’re going in the opposite direction, and you’re viewed differently and so that confidence kind of has nowhere to go.

I often meet women who are much older than me, like my partner’s grandmother who I got on with really well. And when you’re older people dismiss you, like you don’t matter. She used to say to me, “ I still feel like I’m 18 in my head, it’s just my body that that’s not cooperating”. And I always think about that.

My biggest problem was finding a name for the project. I wanted to find a better word than midlife. If you Google midlife, it comes out with pages and pages about midlife crisis. But I also wanted something that wasn’t airy fairy. In the end it was the only one that really fits.

The aim with the Midlife Paradigm is to take pictures of women in their 50s or turning 50 and showcase them, and get them to write a blog post about their experience of turning 50. About how they experience it socially, how they feel about the menopause etc. I’m hoping that women will not just book me for portraits for their business and social media, but book a shoot to celebrate themselves and spend a day just on them, looking glamorous. A dream shoot for women who want to own their 50s, rather than feel negative about this life stage.

I want to help women build their confidence, especially at a time when they are starting to feel different about how they look. There’s a sense of letting go, maybe a rebirth in a way. There’s definitely a change, you can feel it.

Knowing what to wear can be a struggle, when those clothes that may have looked amazing on you when you were 20 are just not going to look the same when you’re 50. So you have to think, Well, what do I look amazing in now? Coming out of lockdown I feel like I’ve kind of lost my identity a little bit, probably because I’ve been in the same clothes for the last year, living in a kind of safe uniform. And now if I know I’m going to anything that involves looking smart I going to be worrying about it all weekend.

I really enjoy the process of working one on one with all these amazing women and bringing out the best in them, showing their real selves. It’s a process that feels very empowering, at a time of life when we really need to feel empowered.

Words: Marina Gask

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