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I am a photojournalist and portrait photographer. My specialties traditionally were author portraits and photographing indigenous cultures, such as tribal groups in northern Vietnam and the people who live in remote places like the Sahara or Gobi Dessert.
However, fifteen years ago, when I was in my 50’s, I happened to be taking a portrait of a beautiful French woman who had just turned 70. I found myself asking her questions such as “What does it feel like to be 70?”, “Have your interests changed?” “What advice would you give to younger women like me on how to prepare for the second half of life?” And that was the beginning of my book The Second Half: Forty Women Reveal Life After Fifty, which has just been published.
For the next 15 years I interviewed and photographed women from all different cultures and walks of life – from a Tuareg nomad in Algeria to one of the first women doctors in Saudi Arabia from a sacred healer in Indonesia to actress Olivia de Havilland in Paris.
I learned that the second half of life for us women is better than our first half; we are more confident, we care less about what others think of us than we did when we were younger.
As we age, we can size up situations better than we could when we were younger. We are not easily fooled or led astray.
We have decided what’s important to us – what areas of life we want to focus on and those we are happy to discard. As one woman put it, “When we are young, we want to do everything. It’s not this or that—it’s this and that. But life is not like this. It’s always or. (You learn) what your priorities are. “
It is easier for us to deal with difficulties in our second half. We have experience and have been through difficult times before, so we know we can get through them. One woman described it this way: “Being older, you have enough experience to deal with just about anything. I don’t feel as though I’m tumbling around in a dryer anymore. “
We’re more settled. We’ve found our careers and often a partner, even if they have changed over the years. We often have children. We have a stability and a support system that we have created over the years.
We have usually discovered something that keeps us centered and nourishes us spiritually – whether it’s meditation, spending time in nature, or a traditional religious practice.
We are less judgmental than we were when we were younger. We’ve learned that life has its difficulties and so we have more compassion for those that fall short.
The second half is the time when we become who we really are. We can take satisfaction in what we’ve accomplished, continue learning and make time to enjoy the things and people we care about.
THE SECOND HALF: Forty Women Reveal Life after Fifty by Ellen Warner will be published by Brandeis University Press in hardback (£28) on May 10, 2022. Available from all good book retailers.