The Old Bags Project is an exploration of being a middle aged woman in America today. The idea is simple: pictures of women in their underwear with bags over their heads, often along with audio and video of women talking about their many different experiences at this point in life.
In a society that pushes the idea that younger is better, architect and mother of three Faith Baum teamed up with documentary filmmaker and mother of two Lori Petchers, to capture what middle aged women really look like. Beginning as a visual art project to documentary, and now a book, the piece contains images of women with bags over their heads photographed in their underwear.
“We just exist. We’re here. We’re thoughtful. We’re smart. We have all this other stuff going on. We don’t have to be beautiful to matter. That’s what we’re saying.” –Lori Petchers, The Old Bags Project
When Petchers turned 50, she made a film about being middle aged. She interviewed women from all over the country about reaching this point in their lives. Living next door to Baum, she shared the thoughts that the interviewees expressed in the film. One of thoughts that Baum expressed was that she could walk around with a bag over head. That’s when they decided to come up with an art project that would feature photos of middle aged women with bags over their heads and their bodies would be nude. Since many women did not want to be photographed naked, they went along with photographing them in bras and underwear.
Being young and beautiful can take a daunting toll on women. With the bags being placed over the heads of the women, we as a society are forced to look at their bodies. This was part of the artistic intention, to understand and see what the body of a middle aged woman looks like without using Photoshop or airbrushing the images.
Surprisingly, young women have reacted positively to this project. In a time where young women are championing a movement to celebrate the diversity of their bodies, the goal of the Old Bag Project is focusing ‘body positive’ messages emphasizing that impact of ageism, and that women don’t have to conform to any norms. This also shows young women what they will look like after they have children.
These aren't just any ordinary bags, Baum and Petchers carefully chose bags from stores where middle aged women are the biggest consumers. The marketing efforts of these stores tell middle aged women who they are and what they should feel like.
Hearing women having conversations about how they feel about themselves after seeing the project, is very rewarding for Baum and Petchers.