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Artist Helen Tansey challenges aging myths by capturing the raw and natural beauty of women over 40


We’ve all heard the bitching and moaning, and it isn’t pretty. Most of us females over 40 have indulged in this bad habit ourselves: “I look old! I look fat! I hate pictures of myself!” Well, artist Helen Tansey got tired of all the negative self-talk going around, and she decided to do something about it.

Her new book, Sundari Women, published earlier this month, is her artistic and political statement, an effort to reclaim the narrative around women and aging. Sundari means beautiful in Sanskrit. And it comes in the form of a coffee-table book, a shiny Trojan Horse to disguise a serious message. “We women need to embrace the gift of aging and feel gratitude for the opportunity to do so.”

She put out a call to arms, got friends to ask friends, and made a few cold calls to people whose strength she admired. The casting snowballed, and she ultimately gathered together 42 Canadian women — between the ages of 40 to 96 — who were more than just pretty faces.

There are a few familiar names in the mix, including actors Jennifer Dale, 65, and Wendy Crewson, 63, and skin-care guru Elizabeth Grant, 96. “But we are all regular gals,” says Tansey, who appears on the cover, “all dealing with the same thing.”

The black-and-white portraits are stripped down, so each woman’s personality shines through. More importantly, they are accompanied by each sitter’s thoughts on aging. And even if they were outside their comfort zone going into the project, by the time they wrote their thoughts afterward, there was only collective enthusiasm for the cause. “When we listen to women speak, it empowers us,” she says.

Tansey’s method involved hair and makeup, but the looks were kept minimal; it was more of a quiet time to talk and warm up. “I wanted the photos to have a natural feel and a rawness and edge to them. They are shot on black background with natural light and no retouching,” she says.

Of the results, she says, “When their walls come down, you get a true sense of who they are. The place between confidence and vulnerability. To be vulnerable takes great strength.”

Tansey, who is 53, started out as a model, working the European fashion circuit from the time she was 17. When she moved back home after a loss in her family, she began working as a receptionist for a photographer who shot a lot of actors. Her test shots got the attention of agents, and she began shooting. Today she does a blend of portraiture, corporate and individual. This book was her passion project……to read more click here