How One New York Woman Is Confronting Her Fear Of Aging

Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
Kyoko Hamada is a 42-year-old photographer who lives in New York with her husband and two-year-old son. Kikuchiyo-san is an elderly woman who lives alone. She likes nice weather, going for walks, and stopping to smell the flowers. Technically, the two women have never met. Spiritually, they're two souls in the same body. Such is the intended essence of I Used To Be You, Hamada's two-year photography project inspired by her own interactions with senior citizens.

Kikuchiyo-san's life is Hamada's art. Though Hamada doesn't document her transformation into Kikuchiyo-san, she accomplishes it with a wig, latex makeup, and clothing stuffing — and then captures herself on camera.

"Aging is a mystery to me. I haven’t truly experienced losing your friends, or health issues," Hamada tells Refinery29. "This whole project made me confront the life that I have right now...[But] it would be a lie if I said I don't have a fear of aging. I think I do. Maybe even more than anybody else. Maybe that’s why I ended up doing something like this."

Ahead, see 15 of Hamada's haunting photos that remind us to take a moment to reflect on the beauty of life — at every age.
1 of 15
Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
Tell us about the first time you photographed Kikuchiyo-san.
"It was the second time I got into her outfit. I thought, Okay, I’m going to take a picture of her. I kept it in the neighborhood the first time, because I wanted to see how the makeup would hold up."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
When did she start leaving the neighborhood?
"The second time, I actually took her to the Botanical Garden and brought a friend of mine. Slowly, she started going further and further — Coney island or Central park or the Met."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
Are you comfortable being photographed?
"I feel vulnerable being in front of the camera. I feel very weird. There’s a reason that I'm behind the camera.

"I had to talk about the project for theKickstarter campaign. It was a very difficult thing for me to be in front of the camera."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
How do you feel about being photographed when you are Kikuchiyo-san?
"I don't feel uncomfortable. When you're disguised, you don’t have to feel like you’re vulnerable. She is really natural in front of the camera. She is much smoother than I am."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
Where is Kikuchiyo-san when you are Kyoko Hamada?
"She’s hovering around, I suppose. When I pass a secondhand store and see a summer hat, I go in there. It’s getting hot, so she needs a hat! So I am also thinking about her clothing and character and things when I'm not photographing her. If I see a nice corner of the park, I think, This would be a good one to share when the seasons change."
6 of 15
Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
Is it a lot of work to have to take care of two different people?
"I also have a two-year-old baby and a husband. It is, in many ways, a lot for someone who was so used to living by herself. Of course, Kikuchiyo-san is a fictional character, but in my mind, it really does feel like she's a person who really exists. I separate myself from her. I don't see her as me, really. She’s very much on her own in some way."
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7 of 15
Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
When did your husband meet Kikuchiyo-san?
"We met at up a café. I was already dressed up as her.

He thought it was really funny and I asked him to help me on some of the shoots. I think the first time when he saw me, he had a mixture of confusion and fascination on his face. I was being very polite to him. I said, "Hello, nice to meet you." It was definitely a weird introduction, but eventually he got used to it."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
Does your son have a relationship with her?
"He has met her recently. He didn’t recognize that it was me. He seemed a little taken, a little observant. I think the minute I spoke a word, he got very confused, because the voice was the same as mine. But, she certainly looks completely different. We had a babysitter that day, but he started crying when I had to leave. Then I came back and he was saying 'obaasan, obaasan' which means 'grandma' in Japanese."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
What does it feel like to walk around in someone else's skin?
"There’s a feeling of being an outsider. When she walks around the park, she’s an observant person. She just kind of does that. She's certainly not thinking about cleaning the house. She gets to focus on a new flower that’s blooming."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
What makes Kikuchiyo-san happy?
"Nice weather. She likes to go for a walk. Maybe seeing beautiful things on the street, very accessible things: flowers or trees or little frogs. She pays attention to those things. Those kinds of ordinary things make her happy."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
What do you admire about Kikuchiyo-san?
"I think I don’t appreciate life as much as I should. You just go on with your busy life and you don’t take time to stop and appreciate...not as much as Kikuchiyo-san does."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
Is there anything you don't like about being Kikuchiyo-san?
"There are so many nice things about being her, but the makeup and the layers of clothes...I feel so relieved when I can take them off."
13 of 15
Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
Do you feel that you better understand what it's like to be older now?
"Aging is still a mystery to me. I haven’t truly experienced losing my friends, or health issues. I’m pretty healthy. There are so many things that I haven't experienced as an aging person, even though I might dress up as one."
14 of 15
Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
What has I Used To Be You taught you?
"This whole project made me confront the life that I have right now. It made it very clear that aging is going to happen, as long as I live long enough. Aging is not avoidable. It’s like the seasons; it's very organic."
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Photo: Courtesy of Kyoko Hamada.
Are you scared of getting old?
"It would be a lie if I said I don't have a fear of aging. I think I do. Maybe even more than anybody else. Maybe that’s why I ended up doing something like this. I’m here for a limited time. We all know that. But, I really feel it."
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