“Using my camera to pry deeper into woman’s psyches, I started to photograph timeless beauty, trying to capture what lies beneath the skin, woman’s hidden desires, and hidden conflicts. I am motivated to help women overcome their inhibitions and insecurities about their bodies. I believed if I could persuade enough women to let themselves be photographed naked, I could prove to them and prove to the whole world, ageless beauty does exist. Women over 40 and 50 and 60 and even women in their 80’s and 90’s radiate from within and are beautiful at every age.”
— Angelika Buettner
I AM is a book of nude photographs of 121 women between the ages of 40 and 100, and it’s so much more. Photographer Angelika Buettner celebrates these women — their beauty, wisdom, humor, and audacity. From the first page, this book shines with a celebration of women’s beauty as they age. No makeovers, no retouching: these are women celebrating their time of life — their authenticity, self-acceptance, and joy. I AM kicks at our outdated notion that we age out of beauty and desirability. Quite the contrary, as Angelika Buettner and her 121 brave women illustrate.
Each page of photographs glows with images of the splendor of aging. The women proudly bare their wrinkles and loose skin; their large breasts, small breasts, breasts that droop, or maybe no breasts at all. But the point is that they are at home in their bodies, proud and courageous in their skin. What a lesson we can learn from them!
Buettner explains her mission:
It’s been my passion, my intuition, my vision, my desire, my obsession, and my quest to reveal and showcase ageless beauty of women over 40 to make us all more visible. Using my camera as a therapeutic tool and instrument of social commentary, I have attempted to capture, something raw and refined, edgy and elegant, honest and pure. Naked portraits of strong women who dare to step out of their comfort zone…
We, meaning, the women over 40, who are ready to own their sensuality without being sexualized, stand naked and bare it all. There is no judgement involved in how our bodies look when we see into each other’s souls. We accept we are all goddesses.
We are so much more than our bodies.
We can celebrate our pasts, nourish our present selves and relish what our futures will hold.
In Buettner’s words, “Each picture has a story to be told.” Lucky for us, we get glimpses of those stories. Each woman speaks in prose or poetry about what “I AM” means to her personally. For example, this from Ruth, age 100:
There is great power in this book. If you’re looking for a special Valentine’s gift for a lover or yourself, I urge you to splurge on I AM, a gorgeous book that you’ll be proud to display on your coffee table for all to see. Buettner put 7 years into making this project a reality, and she spared no expense making the finished product stunning — a big book (12″ x 9″ hardcover, weighing 4 pounds) on thick, glossy paper. Purchase it here.
I turn 76 on November 10, 2019. I meant to write this on the eve of my birthday, but I’m rushing it by two weeks. Right now my home is under an evacuation alert because of the huge Kincade fire not far away and projected high winds tonight and tomorrow. The power will go out any minute. The bad air is exacerbating my asthma. Somehow it feels important to write this now.
This past year has been astonishing, both personally and professionally. Who could have guessed that age 75 would be filled with all of these?
- A new book, Sex After Grief, that helped bring closure to my own grief and let me help others who are grieving;
- Making a film (!) about sex and aging, a project that I never envisioned doing until the lovely jessica drake told me it was time to do it together;
- Speaking events in the US and abroad and much media attention;
- A stimulating and nurturing relationship that delights me every day.
Do you want to know what matters less than I predicted? Wrinkles. Puckered thighs. Loose skin. I hear people bemoan their aging bodies, say they have to cover up. Some tell me they’re giving up sex because they don’t understand why anyone would desire their old bodies. Yes, wrinkles startle us, showing up in places we didn’t expect — even cleavage in a push-up bra! — but hey, our bodies are the youngest they’ll ever be from now on! We can celebrate our bodies, or hate them, or ignore them. Which choice serves us best? We can’t go back in time, but we can go forward accepting ourselves and glorying in our life experience. The more we accept and celebrate ourselves at our age now, the sexier we will feel.
My view: let’s celebrate the ability of our bodies to move us, to stimulate us, to feel sexual pleasure. And why should we see ourselves as less beautiful or less desirable because we wear our experience on our skin? Isn’t that a badge of living? I’ve been indulging myself with lingerie photo shoots every few years, and I have one scheduled with Perry Gallagher on my 80th birthday. The point is not to show off my body — it’s to accept it and see it with new eyes, and chronicle my aging process.
I’m amazed, actually, at how well my body functions, despite its many health challenges. (You don’t need to know specifics, other than I need 5 medications a day to keep them at bay.) I realized a long time ago that I can’t change what I inherited (family history of early heart disease; a mother who took up smoking during her pregnancy, resulting in my low birth weight and breathing problems since infancy) and what happened to me (auto accident body destruction).
But I can change what I do to keep my health day by day, hour by hour. I’m a fanatic about exercise, tracking my steps and minutes, challenging myself with 1.5 to 2.5 hours a day of fitness activity: teaching line dancing, brisk walking, Pilates. I lead a very busy life, but I always make time for exercise because it gives back more than it takes — my mental acuity and physical energy are charged up by movement, the more the better. I feel lighter in my body when I exercise. I embrace my physicality. That translate to more joy, better sex, and myriad unseen health benefits. Fitness after 50, 60, 70, or 80 – it’s your choice. Start today, don’t put it off any longer.
I wrote the following on Facebook, and I’ll expand on it now:
I often reflect on this: every path taken or not taken, every relationship that starts and/or ends, every life decision — all of these open doors (and windows) to what happens next.
I realize with the perspective of almost 76 years that our paths aren’t linear. They wind around, sometimes end up where we started, but with new knowledge. Or they lead us to a new place entirely. Sometimes the signposts along the way are helpful, other times they’re in a language we don’t know, so we make our best guess.
I think the only mistake we can make is to be afraid of taking a path because we don’t know what’s at the end of it. The truth is, we don’t know where it will take us even if we think we do.
My advice (if you want advice):
- Move as much as possible — your health depends on it.
- Adopt the “if not now, when?” mindset and live your bucket list now.
- If your relationship situation needs changing, change it.
- Put plans in place now that you might need later: financial, healthcare, will, advance directive.
- Take care of things now that you don’t want your loved ones to have to figure out when you’re unable.
- Spend time with friends — we don’t know how long they’ll be with us.
- Tell the people you love that you love them.
- Learn from the past, celebrate the present, be unafraid of the future.
As I wrote this list, I cringed at a few items. I have a list of important and time-consuming tasks I keep putting off because other things seem more urgent and easier to complete. I’ll check in again later once I’ve followed my own advice on those things!
Did anything on my “advice” list resonate with you particularly? If you were giving advice, what would you add to my list? Please comment and include your age.
Aging brings wisdom and experience — and body image insecurity. Most of us, even if we glory in our sexuality, have misgivings about our ever-expanding wrinkles and sags. Sometimes it takes another pair of eyes — whether a lover or a photographer — to show us that our outer beauty matches our inner beauty.
At age 65, then again at age 68, I stripped to lingerie for photo shoots. I learned a lot about myself from these experiences and from viewing and sharing the results. People applauded, praised me for my courage, high-fived me for encouraging others to have their own lingerie shoots.
My blog posts about these events quickly drew more viewers than any of my other posts, and they continue to place in the top four all time most popular posts. Many women shared their own experiences and photos, some privately. some publicly. I was happy that my experience had helped to empower others.
I didn’t know I would do it again. But in September 2016, I slipped (wrestled?) my 72-year-old body into lovely lingerie provided by Lovehoney.com and smiled at the renowned Los Angeles photographer, Perry Gallagher, who specializes in Boudoir, Fine Art Nude, Fashion, and Wedding photography.
How did this happen? Krista from Lovehoney knew Perry’s work and mine. When she learned that I would be in LA for speaking events in September, she offered both the lingerie and the photo shoot.
Krista explained her involvement in the project this way:
Joan is a lovely timeless spirit and I was overjoyed to work with her on a photo shoot and check out some of Lovehoney’s newest lingerie styles. I connected her with one of my favorite photographers, Perry Gallagher, to complete the vision.
Joan is not only adorable, she is also breaking down stereotypes that women of a certain age are not considered sexy or sexual. I want people to see that lingerie isn’t just for the young and pert. Lingerie, and sex toys, can enhance your sex life and increase your self-confidence no matter your age, size, shape, or ability.
What was it like to work with Perry? A ton of fun. Perry is a true professional. He knew how to put me at ease with his humor and his appreciation of the female body whatever its shape, size, or age. He give me instructions — where to turn, where to look, how to arrange various body parts — including tucking myself back into my bra when breast spillage occurred. The whole time, he clicked away.
I felt completely comfortable with Perry — except when I worried about him climbing on a ladder to shoot me from above. (I have a fear of heights — he does not.) It was exciting to be at the center of his rapt attention, I admit that. Much of that excitement was the feeling, “I’m doing this. My 72-year-old body is fine with being photographed in skimpy bits of cloth.” It was a truly empowering experience that I’ll take with me anytime I fret about a new wrinkle or thigh puff.
Thank you, LoveHoney.com, for sending me the luscious undies and sponsoring this photo shoot. These are the products I’m modeling. Follow the links if you’d like to wear these yourself!
- Lovehoney Spoil Me Satin Babydoll Set Plum
- Lovehoney Flaunt Me Floral Lace Robe
- Lovehoney Flirty Underwired Plunge Bra Black
- Lovehoney Tempt Me Dot Mesh Bra
- Lovehoney Flirty Black Lace and Mesh Panties
[8/3/21 update: Some of the items I wore in 2016 are no longer available. See LoveHoney’s latest lovely lingerie instead.]
Thank you, Perry Gallagher, for these amazing photos and for making the whole experience fun and full of laughter. View Perry’s video here:
I would encourage other women of all ages to explore the opportunity to have just this type of experience for yourself: to be photographed and to see the inner beauty that is you, right now, no matter what age you are. Now is a good time.
Discover the best-selling sexy lingerie at Lovehoney.com!
I’m putting together the final touches for the launch of
my BawdyLove program and I wanted to ask if you’d be interested in sharing
what I’m calling your “Bawdy Love origin story”, or the moment(s)
where you decided you were done hating yourself and ready to work towards
loving yourself fully.
I didn’t ever “hate” my body, but I didn’t see it as beautiful or sexy through most of my teenage and adult years. I looked good in clothes, but naked, my body was far from the media’s image of what a sexy female body should look like. My breasts have never been perky, not even as a teenager. They always flopped, and the older I get, the flatter and floppier they become.
But here’s the strange thing: I love my body now more than I ever have. OK, you can tease me about my eyesight, but honestly, it isn’t about what I look like — it’s what I feel like. and I feel like a beautiful, sensual, sexy woman at age 71. Here’s how I got here:
1. When my great love Robert and I fell in love, he truly found me beautiful and told me so often. He and I had a morning routine, where he brought me coffee in bed, I let the covers slip from my breasts, he covered his eyes and stepped back as if dazzled by my beauty. This didn’t just go one way — I would drink in his body with my eyes and tell him, “You’re the handsomest man in my world.” Take-away point: If you’re lucky enough to have a lover in your life, let each other know how sexy/ beautiful you find each other.
2. I discovered shaper bras that can give me the uplift and cleavage that my breasts don’t have on their own, and that makes me feel confident in sexy, revealing clothing. Take-away point: Shop for underwear and outerwear that show off your body to the best advantage. Put the accent on revealing rather than covering up.
3. I did a lingerie shoot with a photographer at age 65, and I enjoyed it so much that I repeated the experience at age 68. (Hmm, I’m due for another!) I learned so much from the experience of posing in lingerie and seeing the photos afterwards. Take-away point: Pose in lingerie if this intrigues you — you’ll discover that the camera reveals how sexy you are in ways you never saw on your own.
4. I realized that this body, whatever its age, is capable of giving me great sensual and sexual pleasure. What’s sexier than that? I celebrate my body because of the sensations and the pleasure I get from it. I encourage you to do the same. Take-away point: Whether you’re partnered or not, experience, enjoy and love your body’s sexy gifts to you.
I asked followers of my Naked at Our Age Facebook page to comment about their own body image challenges. Here’s what they said:
- I turned 62 yesterday and of course never appreciated my young self’s body. While I try to appreciate my current body, sagging breasts, stretch marks, and loose skin make my newly single sex life a challenge. The lights are out before sex and I don’t dress or undress in front of him. He likes my body but I’m still not comfortable being naked in front of him.
- I’m 55. I have been severely limited in expressing myself freely because I think I should be a smaller size. A friend who was heavier than me once said, “Men don’t care what size you are as long as they can get it in there!” Too funny! I guess she could sense my fear was holding me back from meeting anyone. I have never been able to be that uninhibited about not being my ideal size. Hence, I have been alone a while now. I say I’ll meet someone when I trim down.
- How about also addressing the challenge of explaining scars from injuries and surgeries to a person not yet familiar with what adventures and misadventures you have survived? Along with the ethical quandary of a cancer survivor (with the scars to prove it) dating a person who lost their mate to cancer?
- The most insecure I have been is after surgeries. Explaining your scars and exposing them is nerve wracking. Plus your body has been through a trauma and getting intimate after these events takes time from healing and a patient lover.
- [from a therapist:] I frequently counsel with gorgeous women from 30-65+ who look at their body in the mirror and all they see is the tummy roll from child-bearing or their less than 34D bust. What I see is a woman who is physically, spiritually and emotionally beautiful, but just doesn’t look like the Victoria’s Secret models. You must love yourself before you can love others, and that includes your body.
|Lauren Marie Fleming