Now can you see me?! Images of older women in Sheffield 24/11/2014
Tuesday 4th and Wednesday 5th November 2014
On Tuesday and Wednesday night in Sheffield, huge images of older women appeared on some of the City’s most famous buildings. Kathleen and Eleanor, in big hair and sunglasses, covered the City Hall. Jill’s wrinkles, teeth and grey hair were beamed onto the side of the Town Hall. Shirley, taking off her wig, featured on the side of the Library in Tudor Square.
These images were from the NDA Look At Me! project led by Lorna Warren at the University of Sheffield. The aim of the project was to examine the stereotypical way older women are portrayed in the media, if, indeed they are visible at all. Lorna and a team of other researchers explored these issues with women aged from 41-93 across Sheffield who then produced their own images capturing their experiences of ageing.
Kathleen and Eleanor, both well into their 80s, poked fun at the ‘before-and-after’ format of make-over shows and magazines.
Jill portrayed the ambiguity of ageing, explaining “It isn’t necessarily that I feel more comfortable in myself because I’m older. Some days I feel OK and some days I see myself and I think who is that?”
Shirley, set out to capture the pleasure of dressing up - “I like a bit of glam” - but, reflecting on photographs of herself taking off her costume, realised that she was happy with the person who she was: “My hair was grey, pinned back but the face was very vibrant and I liked that, I liked me. I don’t need the mask and the wig, yes, it’s fun but actually it’s me underneath.”
Other images include Pat and Elizabeth looking contemplative and wistful in a more formal style of photograph. In contrast, 85 year-old Vienna-born Hermi has her legs up on her motorised scooter, conveying her view that: “The silver lining in old age is that you can do what you like and nobody can tell you any different.” Finally, there is Clee’s sculpture, a contemporary take on the fairytale crone with yellowing eyes and coil of chin hair.
One of Lorna Warren’s hopes was that the Look at Me! project would help make images of ‘ordinary’ older women more visible in Sheffield and beyond. She explained:
“Women aged 50 and over make up over a quarter (27.4%) of Sheffield’s population, yet we rarely see any representations of them or their lives when we are out and about in Sheffield. Sheffield City Council’s Women of Steel is an absolutely wonderful initiative and I really hope the Council manages to raise the funds to produce the planned memorial in recognition of the women who served their city and country by working in the steel industry and factories during World War I and World War II.
Meanwhile, I thought it would be a great idea to project images that have been created by older women from Sheffield onto the side of buildings that symbolise public life in the city, to encourage the general public to think about the diversity of women’s lives as their grow older. Last night we beamed images onto buildings in and around the University. Tonight, it’s the turn of City Centre buildings.”
Lorna talked about the issue of women, ageing and the media with Paulette Edwards on her BBC Radio Sheffield show on Thursday afternoon (6 November). They were joined in the studio by Judith Holder, producer of the TV show Grumpy Old Women, and Shirley Simpson who took part in the Look At Me! project. So, if you have ever wondered how female celebrities stay looking so young for so long or why Miriam O'Reilly disappeared from Country File; if you are addicted to 10 Years Younger or, like Mary Beard, consider Botox masochistic and have no interest in dying your hair, do listen to the show on BBC iPlayer.