15 Unflinching Photos Explore How We View Sexuality In Aging Women

Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.
This post was originally published on September 10, 2014.
"The body is not a thing," French feminist-existentialist Simone de Beauvoir wrote in The Second Sex, her treatise on the role of women in society. "It is a situation; it is our grasp on the world." Sixty-five years after Beauvoir penned these words, 40-something photographer Andi Schreiber turned her camera on herself to document how her body is changing as she ages and to capture an idea in line with Beauvoir's: How we experience the world is determined not only by our bodies as physical objects, but also by how we and others see our bodies — and, given the scrutiny placed on female bodies, this idea is especially meaningful for women.
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As female bodies age, society views them as less and less desirable, less useful, less attractive; in fact, Schreiber says, people often stop looking at them at all. "Somewhere in my 40s," she shares with us, "I began to feel less noticed by others. My physical appearance changed, and there was also a shift in the way I thought about and carried myself." In her photo series "Pretty, Please," Schreiber explores these shifts, shying away from none of the physical aspects of aging: her ebbing menstrual flow, creases of fat, and crow's feet all take center stage. At the same time, she asserts her status — to herself and to the world — as a sexual, sensual, and middle-aged being. With her photos and the title "Pretty, Please," Schreiber seems both to ask herself for permission to feel sexy and to request that others see her as the same. Her work connotes insecurity, but not despair: You finish viewing the photos with the hope that the woman who took them will find joy in her body for as long as she lives in it — and that the rest of us will, too.
We spoke with the photographer recently on what inspired her to create "Pretty, Please" and on what she hopes viewers will take away from it. Click through for the full interview with Schreiber and to view 15 of the rawest photographs from the series. And, for more of the photographer, visit her blog and follow her on Twitter.
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.
What do you try to achieve as a photographer?

Schreiber: "I tend to respond viscerally to subject matter. It’s about tuning into a moment and knowing when it’s right to pick up the camera. "
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.
"I’m constantly in search of that spark and believe that it motivates me to create new photographs. My hope is to seduce the viewer to feel as I do — to know visual pleasure, to be alive."
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.


What's your take on how middle-aged women are viewed and treated in our society?

"Recently, my teenage son was surprised to learn that the singer/songwriter Sia is 38 years old. He thought, based on the sound of her voice and current status as a pop icon, that she’d be younger and in her 20s. I sensed his disappointment and found it to be unsettling. Sadly, we live in a world in which we are judged unfairly based upon physical appearance."
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.
"Ageism is so rampant in our society that it’s practically an epidemic. I think the best defense is to move forward gladly and embrace gratitude. Being alive and healthy is a gift at any age. It’s time to value the aging process and to respect one another by looking beyond the superficial."
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.


How did you first come up with the idea to shoot "Pretty, Please"?

"My larger body of work is about the experience of raising a family and living within a domestic structure. I had been documenting my family for several years before I realized that another body of work had begun to take shape."
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.
"Some of the earliest photographs in this series were made in 2008-'09, but it wasn’t until 2012 that I began to consciously work on it as a separate project. "Pretty, Please" is an extension of that idea and one that allows me to take stock of where I am right now — as a parent, a partner, and a woman at midlife."
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.
"I never considered myself to be a self-portrait photographer, but at this moment it feels appropriate to include myself in some of the frames."
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.
"As my family grows older, I do, too. Aging is our shared experience. The process of allowing myself to be in the photographs has been cathartic."
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.


You've discussed before the idea of the "Invisible 40s." How have you experienced the transition from "seen" woman in her 30s to "unseen" woman in her 40s?

"The process of becoming aware of my 'Invisible 40s' has been gradual and is still evolving. If I’m lucky enough to live into old age, I suspect I will always feel as though I’m in transition."
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.
"Throughout early adulthood, these physical changes are not so obvious. But, at midlife, these shifts are newly experienced. For me, this time is filled with feelings of uncertainty regarding who I am and how I see myself."
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.


What role does "Pretty, Please" play in the renegotiation of your relationship with your body?

"This body of work is about coming to terms with my wanting to feel desired and viable, but realistically I can’t control how others see me, nor do I wish to. I’m thoroughly responsible for my self-perceptions and how I choose to feel within my own life."
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.
"The title of this project, 'Pretty, Please,' is a spin on the phrase 'Pretty please, with sugar on top.' I’m requesting your attention politely but with urgency. There’s a strong need for validation that runs through this work."
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.
"I’m not sure there’s anything better than the feeling of being taken in by someone, of sensing his or her genuine interest. It’s pure magic."
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.


What do you hope people take away from your photographs?

"Although midlife can be full of insecurities, it’s also a very rich and sexy time in a woman’s life."
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Photo: Courtesy of Andi Schreiber.
"'Pretty, Please' embraces this complicated stage, and my hope is that others will connect to the work and its message. There’s a lot of goodness and pleasure here if you dig a little deeper. "
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