"As someone who turns 50 in less than one month, what you said in your announcement about reconnecting with our spirit really resonates with me. This milestone is surreal... I do not FEEL anywhere close to 50, yet here I am. This seems like a wonderful and creative opportunity to celebrate this milestone," she said in her initial e-mail.
And when we spoke on the phone, she shared:
"What caught my attention is the way that you said '50 Over 50 & Fabulous.' I had thought a while back that it would be really cool to do a 50 photo shoot, but life gets in the way. And when I saw your ad, the description really resonated with me.
When I turned 40, I was fine, I blazed right across the milestone signs. Then, 45 was really hard for me. I kept thinking that I was halfway to 90. And 50 seems so surreal. My friends and I are trying to figure out how we got here. There isn't a piece of me that feels 50, but I've been trying to embrace it. Right before COVID, I cut my hair shorter - it's always been long - in order to embrace 50. I love my short hair, but somehow, life just doesn't compute.
I love the idea that the project is all women, and I love the idea of a beauty photography project to help women embrace who and where they are in life with no rules about being 50. I promised to myself that I would commit to going all in, and to letting my light and spirit shine, and letting the camera capture whatever's there."
And so VJ had no hesitations whatsoever about joining the project. She was the second person to sign up! VJ loves hiking - in fact, she's hiked 174 miles between May and September (wow!), so we headed to one of her favorite locations - Patapsco Valley State Park in Ellicott City, MD. VJ also has a glamorous side to her, so I purchased this beautiful, bright pink poplin fabric that we draped on her to create a glamorous dress. It looks like a dress... but it's just yards of fabric that I purchased for VJ's beauty photography session!!! And WOW! Does she shine! The beauty portraits in the poplin fabric are definitely my top favs from this session... but many of them are too sexy for the internet, so you'll just have to join the project and come to my Maryland photography studio in person to see them!
In the meantime, enjoy some of my other favorites from VJ's Ellicott City 50 Over 50 & Fabulous beauty photography session! And scroll down to the bottom for more excerpts from her interviews!
When you first heard about this project, what made you decide to participate?
I didn't have to think too hard about it. It just resonated with me. I decided a few months leading up to this that I was going to try to lean into the milestone and not resist it. It felt surreal, but it's happening. I did a hairstyle change, some other changes so I can focus on me and not others in a self-care way, and I thought, this is so perfect. Why not also tell my story and celebrate who I am and not worry about what other people may think 50 is supposed ot look like, and just let 50 be what it is. I would be excited just to take some I'm-50-years-old photos, but what I love about this project is that I'm connected to a larger group of women. It's all women, all 50 and over, from all different walks of life, all agreeing that we're going to celebrate who we are, that being 50+ doesn't have to come with any rules, that we can just feel free to be who we are. I'm excited to be part of the larger movement to celebrate our age.
You mentioned that you tried to do a '40 Things Before 40' list. What were some of your favorites?
The 40 Before 40 list became an "In My 40's" list because I didn't get it all done. And some of the things were pretty bold. I sang karaoke in a bar out loud for the first time in front of a microphone. That was a big one for me - I wanted to go into a bar. I wanted to sing karaoke, unapologetically. There were some random acts of kindness in there... some daytrips to places I wanted to see... some reconnecting with old friends...
What do you have left on your bucket list?
Interestingly, most of the things on my bucket list now do involve travel. There are lots of places I want to go and see. Given that I'm a professor and I'm technically off during the summer, I've always thought it would be fun to get in a car and just drive out west for the summer. I love Wyoming and South Dakota, so I'd love to explore more of the west - Montana, Idaho, Colorado. I think it'd be amazing to just drive out there whether it's car camping or nice hotels in between... but just to spend maybe a month out there exploring that part of the country. I'd also like to go to Nashville, Charlestown SC, Savannah GA. I like small, quaint towns as opposed to big, booming cities.
You told me that turning 45 was hard for you. Tell me about that.
It was completely unexpected. Since 40 was OK, I didn't anticipate that 45 would be tough. But I kept repeating this mantra, "you're halfway to 90." And it just felt old. Two other things that were going on for me - I was also facing that point in my life where the idea of having children - that ship was sailing away at 45. I was divorced and not in a committed relationship, so I think that was a feeling of loss for me. And I think just where I was in my life at that time was making it difficult to embrace growing older.
You just turned 50 four days ago. How did you think it would feel and how did it feel?
Interestingly, up until I turned 50 just felt surreal... like not even that it was possible. Where did the time go? How did this happen? There's not a piece of me that feels 50 years old. I don't feel like I'm in my 20s anymore, but I just don't feel 50. It's a milestone that hasn't created any angst for me, it's just surreal. The other thing that's neat about it is that all of my friends that I went to college together - 50 is a milestone, and we're all in it together and celebrating it together and talking about it together.
The piece that I didn't expect is that there's something about 50 that feels like freedom for me. You've been here for 50 years; you're most likely entering the last half of your life. And it's just freedom to let go of all the stuff that I've been carrying around for the first 50 years that might not serve me anymore and just focus on me. So it's a very interesting shift for me that I hadn't been expecting, and I hope that it's stable, because it's only been with me for 4 days! You don't have to try to be who you're supposed to be. You're 50. Just be who you are.
At what point in your life have you felt most attractive, and how have your perceptions of what being attractive means changed over time?
That's such a powerful question. I think when I was younger, I definitely defined attractiveness based on societal standards - so being skinny or having a good body, or having stylish clothes or a good haircut... In my mid-30s, I felt like I was a grown-up - I had my business, and I had a confidence about me, and I had less insecurities about my body. Now, when I think about what I find attractive, it has so very little to do with the physical. Show me someone kind-hearted and passionate about what they do, whose eyes light up when they talk about their families, women who are unapologetically themselves... I struggle oftentimes because I know that's not how our society views attractiveness, but in my heart, the wisdom, the laugh lines... all of that is beautiful. And that's what makes me so excited about this project is that we get to celebrate that: the stuff that really matters.
Do you have any ambitions for the future?
On a personal level, I'm still chasing that ever-elusive self-confidence. I feel like as I get older, it gets better, but every so often not so much... so being able to feel comfortable in my old skin at any age, especially now. Work ambitions... many of the short-term goals I had set myself in terms of the work I do. I feel like I've achieved many of them. My ambition is to do more of what I love and what makes me feel alive, and connecting with people... so better connections with my friends and family, more quality time, less running around from place to place to place, and being more comfortable in my own skin. Last fall, I was teaching and working full-time in my full-time job, coaching a high school volleyball team, I coached a club volleyball team, I had a private practice, and I was doing consulting, and an active research program. I'm recognizing less is more and that simplifying my life is not a step backwards, that it is OK now to sit back and take time for myself.
How do you think your generation is perceived by other generations?
Working in a higher ed setting, I can tell you how the 20-something year olds perceive my generation. We have this talk all the time. When I told them that I was turning 50, they said "We can't believe you're 50!" And I asked "What do you think 50 looks like?" And they said, "Well you just seem so young and cool and active." And I'm like, "What do you think 50 is? This is 50!" So I think the younger generations - much like I did when I was that age - hear 50 and they think you're past the halfway point, and life can't be fun and vibrant. And I think older generations, when I speak about this milestone, they say "You're still a baby." I love that I've been brave enough to have these conversations with both ends of the spectrum, and it's helping me to recognize that this milestone 50 for me is really just the beginning of me taking ownership of the next half of my life. So I'm excited about it. I wasn't 6 months ago, but now I'm realizing what this means, and we're good. It's going to be all about me now.
What do you want employers to know about women who are 50+?
I feel like we should be cherished. I think we bring with us a wisdom, a resilience, a hardiness, life perspective. I think we are fierce leaders because we get tasks done, but we also lead with compassion and with a focus on building relationships. I think we spent a long time being undervalued and maybe not given the respect we deserve. And I think that once we get to this age, and we have the confidence to contribute what we can and lead with our strengths, we really could be a force to be reckoned with. So I would hope that employers would see women 50+ on their staff and be really excited about what that might mean for them and how they could empower them and give them a voice and give them the authority to do great things.
What do you want other younger women to know about being 50+?
I don't think it's something you can prepare for. Like most of us, you're going to get here, and you'll be like, "How did I get here? Where did all this time go?" You're going to think about when you were a kid what you thought 50-year old women looked like or did or how cool they were. And hopefully, you'll take that and throw it out of a window and you're just going to be you. And I do hope that you feel the same sense of freedom that I and many other women are reporting. It's all about you now, girl, let's go! Don't be afraid of it! Don't be afraid of the milestone.
So we've finished your 50 Over 50 & Fabulous beauty photography session, you've seen the images, what are your impressions?
I cried when I saw my "Reveal." Actually, I'm getting a little teary now. I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone for my photo shoot, and when I finished it, my best friend and I were talking, and she asked, well how did it go? And I said, I felt really awkward 50% of the time because I was pushing myself out of my comfort zone because of the outfits I chose and the locations I chose, and was hoping that in all of that, that my personality would come through, and my inner resilience and hopefully inner beauty would shine through, and I wasn't really sure that was going to happen or not, but it did! And so I can't thank you enough for being with me and being so supportive through it all. So I felt really, really great about my images. It's so exciting!