Leah Thorn explains who OWR are. She started this inspiring group when she was 65.
I am an old age, all age woman,
no way past my use-by date.
Walking in ancestral sisters’ footsteps,
I am an archive on legs,
a time traveller, alive to life,
I embody time, provide testimony,
a radical, lyrical, womanist legacy
Women’s blood memory speaks in me
a found poem by Leah Thorn, created after reading ‘Out of Time’ by Lynne Segal
and ‘How to Age’ by Anne Karpf
Using poetry, personal stories, ‘fashion’ and film, ’Older Women Rock!’ creates pop-up art spaces in which to raise awareness and explore issues facing early-old-age women in our 60s and 70s. It challenges our invisibility by placing us centre stage on our own terms; strengthens our resilience and our networks as we move into older age; and importantly, subverts society’s assumptions and prejudices about us.
How it started
I started ‘Older Women Rock!’ when I was 65. My generation of women made decisive change. I hope we never give up our vision of the world we want and our intention to have it.
In my 70s now, I am inundated daily with messages that as an older woman I am inconsequential and my thinking outmoded and no longer needed. This attempt to invalidate us builds on decades of oppression, where our existence has been diminished and erased.
I wanted to ‘hang out’ with older women to stop my growing sense of isolation and struggle. I was keen to see what their experiences were and to find a creative way to share what I was learning.
I set up opportunities for conversation with different kinds of women in their late 50s to mid 70s. I led workshops for women in a Zumba Gold class; women in prison; a deaf women’s group; women at a MIND Day Centre; lesbians in an Age UK Older LGBTQ project; daughters of Holocaust survivors; Women’s Institute members; unpaid carers; women who identify as feminist and those who definitely do not.
We addressed issues such as –
- the lack of older women in the media or the misrepresentation of us as a stereotype or a joke
- the fortune the beauty industry makes from the insecurity we feel that is manufactured by sexism and intensified by old age oppression
- poverty and the fact that many women have small state pensions because of low-paid work and/or breaks in employment to raise children or to care for ageing parents
- body image and the need to conceal or be ‘discreet’ about physical changes, like greying hair, facial hair or incontinence
- being a carer
Based on our conversations, I created poetry and then collaborated with older women artists to embroider, burn, print, bead, engrave and spray-paint words and images onto retro clothes sourced from local charity shops. Here are a few examples –
You speak of me in metaphors
of catastrophe. Soon I will be
an agequake, a grey tsunami.
My age is your nightmare.
A numerical fanfare
to fan your fear
Sculptor Nicholette Goff interpreted this poem by customising a 1940s jacket with skeins of grey hair and a beautifully constructed bar of ‘medals’,
Only men grow old on screen.
Women disappear from film and TV by fifty,
hit dread and disgust in early middle age
and suddenly we’re no longer fit for public display,
unless we’re flogging stair lifts, baths or wills
or we have a frozen face
or we’re de-aged by digital alteration.
It’s a kind of symbolic annihilation
Fashion designer and stylist Claire Angel burnt words from this poem onto a leather jacket.
The beauty counter screams ‘Buy This Cream’.
Got taut, tight skin? You’re in.
Got ticking clocks? Botox. Detox.
Resist signs of ageing at all cost.
Stop. Reverse. Hide. Slo mo.
Smooth your skin ego.
Feel the urge for a youth surge?
Want a victory of science over time?
Want to reignite your youthful light?
Deny age. Defy age.
You’re in control with phenoxyethanol.
Replump with sodium phytate.
No. Retaliate. Fight age hate.
It’s a diabolical conspiracy
for women to age agelessly,
line-, scar-, crease-free
I refuse to let the forever-young drug erase
the handwriting of life across my face
Allie Lee of the Profanity Embroidery Group embroidered an image onto a 1980s jumpsuit in response to my poem –
Vulva lost its youthful lustre?
Want a quick fix?
Try My New Pink Button,
rouge for labial lips
Annie Taylor of the Profanity Embroidery Group interpreted this poem onto a vintage negligee
I’ll never have
a designer vagina
that vajazzle dazzles
and permanently dilates
Allie Lee of the Profanity Embroidery Group embroidered and beaded this poem onto a 1970s swimsuit.
In my day, stockings came in black, bronze and American Tan,
opening a bank account needed the signature of a man,
girdles held in sexual urges, touching below the waist was no-go
and Dusty passed as hetero
There was no such thing as pubic hair wax and you daren’t use Tampax
or have a sexual climax for fear of being thought nymphomaniacs
A collaboration between members of the Profanity Embroidery Group, sculptor Nicholette Goff and myself, an extract of this poem was emblazoned onto a vintage wedding dress.
Pop up shops, a flashmob and films
There have been –
- three pop-up exhibitions of the poetry clothing in shops in Folkestone, Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle-under Lyme and one extended exhibition in the art gallery of Keele University
- several ‘Older Women Rock!’ programmes of talks, performance, film screenings and workshops creatively celebrating ‘early old age’ women
- Subversive Catwalks of older women ‘modelling’ the clothing while I read the poems
- a wild Zumba Gold flashmob in Folkestone Shopping Centre
And three films have been made during the project –
- ‘Older Women Rock!: The Documentary’ by filmmaker Clare Unsworth, a creative record of the pilot project in Folkestone showing poetry-emblazoned retro clothes, nineteen older models strutting a subversive catwalk and the Zumba Gold flashmob
- ‘Love Your Lines’, a Public Service Announcement film shown on performance artist Tammy WhyNot’s YouTube channel
- ‘watch’, about the impact of dementia on my relationship with my father http://www.leahthorn.com/film/watch-2/
Fashion designer and stylist Claire Angel and I are responding to requests to buy ‘Older Women Rock!’ jackets by creating pieces for sale, which will be featured in our up-coming pop-up shop in Folkestone, Kent 17th-23rd December and in an online shop in the New Year.
There will be ‘Older Women Rock!’ workshops in the New Year, including ‘Customise Your Clothes With Pearls’ and ‘Try Out Skateboarding’ and an intergenerational workshop, ‘Tattoo Stories’.
For more information follow us on Instagram @loveolderwomenrock or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org