“With time, I hope that ageing and menopause will not be treated as something to be ashamed of,” says Hans, one of the Female in Focus 2021 winners
Menopause is a hormonal shift leading to the end of a person’s reproductive years. The transition can cause a range of symptoms, from irregular menstrual cycles, mood swings, and loss of libido, to migraines, night sweats, and more. According to the charity Menopause Support, one in four menopausal people experience debilitating symptoms, and almost half say they feel depressed. These symptoms can last anywhere between three to 15 years. Many healthcare professionals are calling for wider recognition of the psychological and physiological effects of menopause, which has largely been ignored by doctors and mainstream media.
Marzena Hans, a photographer based in Lodz, Poland, wants to destigmatize menopause, and the wider sexism surrounding ageing. She noticed that while ageing men tend to be valued on qualities such as career achievements, life experiences, and wisdom, ageing women were more likely to face marginalisation based on their looks. This gendered bias is most apparent in the workplace. Ageism at work begins at 40 for women, but 45 for men. In one study, women reported feeling pressure to maintain a youthful appearance. In another, women were reported to be almost twice as likely to feel compelled to dye their hair.
Disheartened by the way in which women can become “invisible to society”, Hans decided to seek out older women to photograph. She reached out to a local senior club in the city, and was offered a job as their club photographer. Through spending time with the women, Hans gained insight into their feelings towards ageing. Her resulting series of images, Time of Transparency, is an intimate and psychological portrait of this process.
“What was most striking for me was the feeling of gradual disappearance from the social discourse felt by older women,” says Hans. In a patriarchal society that places value in youthful appearances, many women described feeling invisible in shops and public spaces. “My main heroine from these photos was Dominika, who used to write letters to women’s magazines saying that there were no older women on the covers and demanding change,” says Hans.
Although Hans is younger than her subjects, she felt connected to their experiences, and was driven by the inevitable reality that she will eventually experience this transition. “With time, I hope that ageing and menopause will not be treated as something to be ashamed of… I hope we normalise getting older, especially by women who by far are evaluated on the basis of their looks and age.”
While making the project, the subjects often asked why Hans wanted to make images of older women. “They felt that only young people are worthy enough of being [photographed],” she says. “Photography is a good medium to break that prejudice.”