Sunday, September 1, 2013

Book Review: Feminine Transitions

Editor's Note: The folks at A&C Books would like to give a Flattering50 reader an e-book copy of Feminine Transitions. For details, visit Flattering50's e-Book Giveaway

Ask women to pose for a photograph without makeup and chances are some will refuse. That’s what author and photographer Alyscia Cunningham found when she asked women to pose bare-faced for her new book, Feminine Transitions: A Photographic Celebration of Natural Beauty (A&C Books). “My intent was not to cause any discomfort,” writes Alyscia, who’s done work for the National Geographic, Discovery Channel and Smithsonian Institute, in the book’s introduction. “I simple wanted to create a celebration of womanhood in their natural state.” Interestingly, she found that women in their late 40s, 50s and 60s were most likely to refuse to be photographed without makeup, wigs or other accessories.

Feminine Transitions is a collection of photographs of females at different stages of life, beginning with 7-week-old Dionna and ending with Julia, age 103. A full-page photograph is accompanied by a quote by the subject (or, in the case of the littlest subjects, by a relative) on the facing page. For each portrait, the subject is makeup-free and bare-shouldered to show her “authentic beauty.”

While compiling the images for her book, Alyscia found that the subject’s age often determined whether or not she was willing to model without makeup. “The young girls were excited to be included,” notes Alyscia. “Women in their 20s were also excited, but they were much more aware of how they ‘should’ look.” The 30- and 40-year olds were aware of their aging, but it didn’t stop them from participating. As for the women over 70, they were unapologetic about who they were. They had a “wonderful sense of self and positive outlook on life,” says Alyscia. Many of the women in their late 40s, 50s and 60s, however, choose not to participate when they learned they couldn’t wear makeup. Alyscia attributed their resistance to their discomfort with “the transformation that came with growing old” or "denial about their aging.” Naturally, I felt immense empathy for those women.

It’s easy to deny, minimize or simply ignore aging when a woman is in her 20s, 30s and even 40s. Then, she turns 50 and the evidence is irrefutable: She is old. Turning 50 is a lot like entering puberty: a woman must adjust to her new body, and, often, to a new view of herself and the world around her. When these changes occur in an anti-aging society like ours, it’s not hard to understand why some women in their 50s and 60s would want to hide behind makeup.

Photographer Cunningham captures a woman's natural beauty

For women of any age who are trying to come to terms with aging as well as those who feel pretty comfortable about themselves, but need to be soothed now and then, Feminine Transition is a wonderful salve. The joys of life at any age are beautifully illustrated in the portraits and reflections of the female subjects. The book’s simple format creates a powerful and positive message for all women. While reading, I was frequently moved by the glowing faces and passionate declarations. I felt myself rooting for the young girls who had dreams of becoming dancers and I wanted to hug the older women whose words resonated with me. Take, for instance, Daisy, age 72, who says, “…I have seen many rainbows of hope, and endured many clouds of despair and still I begin each day with a new page…”

“We must take responsibility for embracing our true selves,” concludes Alyscia. “When we do, we will be helping the younger generation develop a healthier view of aging.” I couldn’t agree more and Feminine Transitions is the perfect volume to help women start this process. It is a book that grandmothers, mothers, and daughters of all ages can share with each other and with their friends. It’s a book I know I will return to whenever I need encouragement to embrace my true self.