This is what women over 40 look like

Something strange happens to women after we leave our 20s – as far as stock photos are concerned, we seem to all-but disappear.

So we decided to launch a mini-campaign to find these ‘lost’ women. To capture real photos of real women over the age of 40, living real lives.

Here’s why we were inspired to do this – AND what those invisible women over 40 really look like.

The mystery of the disappearing ‘older’ women

We publish at least one article a day on our site. And as our articles are all about or aimed at women, we need to source a LOT of images.

Thankfully today there are plenty of free stock image sources, like Unsplash and Pexels. They share high quality images contributed by photographers and creators for free use. However, as we gradually use up all the decent shots of older women, we’re finding it increasingly difficult to find images. 

And by ‘older’ we mean 21 and over. 

For example, a recent article was about the menopause. We couldn’t find one photo under that search term. ‘Middle age’ gave us either men, old women, or castles. When we tried ‘middle age women’ as a search term we got one or two much older looking women, and many more girls, like this image:

Very beautiful, yes. But middle aged? Definitely not.

Sadly, on free stock image sites women over the age of 40 are barely represented. If you want a laugh, try searching ‘woman 40s’. Most of the girls that appear in the search results could be the daughters of women in their 40s. 

It gets even worse if you want a photo of a manager, boss or business owner who just happens to be female. And if you’re looking for images of BAME women or disabled women then you’ll have an even tougher search.

Where are the photos of real women over 40?

Where are all the photos of women over 40? Real women, living real lives? It seems that we’re only photo worthy if we’re bikini-perfect 20 year-olds and younger, or haggard old women. 

It’s not as if we don’t exist. I see plenty of us on the streets, in supermarkets, in bars, pubs, restaurants, galleries and shops. But when it comes to being represented in media images, we’re virtually invisible.

Why is this so important?

Increasingly we spend a significant amount of our time online. And the images and messages we consume online are a powerful influence on the way we view the world.

For some people, this online world is more ‘real’ than their offline reality.

And the online world we inhabit is hungry for images – images used by news sites, websites, ads, social media and blogs, like ours.

Many of these photographs are sourced from free stock image sites. Indeed, Unsplash alone apparently has “over 110,000 contributing photographers and generates more than 9 billion photo impressions per month on their growing library of over 810,000 photos.”

While it’s wonderful that resources like Unsplash exist, the lack of representation of older women and minorities is worrying. Because it’s the equivalent of airbrushing us from the online world.

It forces sites like ours to use images of younger (and often white) women when we’d far rather show valid, vibrant, empowered women of all races over the age of 30. Or even 40 or 50.

So what can be done?

So what can we do to redress the balance? The problem isn’t the ‘fault’ of any individual party. Sites like Unsplash can only make available images that have been uploaded. And photographers are free to choose and shoot their own preferred subjects.

For us, a start is acknowledging the lack of representation. Perhaps with more awareness, photographers can choose to shoot more images of older women (and more BAME and disabled people too).

And stock image resource sites could actively request more of these images, to ensure a broad representation is widely available. Maybe more careful tagging and labelling of images would help too, so you didn’t have to wade through hundreds of barely post-pubescent girls to find one or two pictures of women over 40.

And finally, we wanted to do one small bit ourselves right now. So we decided to round up some of these lost women – to show just how ‘real’ we are – by putting a call out on social media for photos. And here they are. This is what real women over 40 look like.

Catherine Gladwyn, 42

I’m the author of the award-winning, Amazon bestselling book How to be a Virtual Assistant.

Jagdeep Virdi, 59

I’m Jagdeep Virdi and I’m 60 in November.

Anne Wilkinson, 64

I’m a coach, and this is me at 64. What price can you put on the wisdom that (hopefully!) comes with the ageing process? Women of my age used to be called crones and in communities we were revered for our wisdom. 

Christina Saccoh, 46

I’m a disabled single mother of two, Further Education lecturer and business owner (PT and fitness). My Instagram is @iamcoachkrissi.

Louise Tondeur, 47

I’m a writer and a tutor. Here I am doing one of my favourite things (reading Agatha Christie on my own!) just before a hectic 47th birthday weekend in September. I have three hidden disabilities. Photo by my wife Sarah. Not a professional picture but if definitely sums me up! 

Catherine Lane, 52

I’m 52 now and run Inspired Health Supplements. I’m probably in better shape that I was in my 30s. It just takes a bit longer for my face to wake up in the mornings than the rest of me!

Angela Montague, 49

 I am 49 and I own my own marketing company, Push Creativity.

Michelle Chandler, 44

I’m 44 and a freelance marketing consultant at Rocket Marketing Solutions.

Emilie Thysse, 40

I own Yellow Door Talent Development and I specialise in leadership and sales training across the service sector. We’ve been going for four years and have been lucky enough to gain some amazing and loyal clients during that time. 

I employ my best friend, Ruth, who is bloody amazing and my right-hand woman, and I also have a super team of associates including a friend, Roxanne, who I was at school with from age eight!

Next year Roxanne and I are starting to do some pro-bono work in secondary schools doing a programme by Brene Brown which helps build the courage and resilience of young people. Feels like a really nice meaningful thing to do when the rest of my work is very commercial. 

Josie Cornhill, 40

Josie Cornhill, I’m 40 and I’m a portfolio careerist. My portfolio includes blogging at Business for Mums.

Rebecca Levene, 42

My name is Rebecca Levene, I am 42 and I am a career change confidence coach for mums.

Debbie Leask, 42

I’m Debbie from The Dimpse. I design bespoke wedding stationery and paper goods.

Mimi Bogelund, 62

I’m a Certified KonMari Consultant and Professional Organiser. That’s what I do. I started it aged 60 after a complete change of career.

I’m also mum to two daughters, mormor to two grandkids and to five bonus grandkids (from my other half), Danish, married but not on paper.

Karen Whittaker, 41

Karen Whittaker, at a party aged 41. 

Ruth Watt, 53

I’m a 53 year old music-obsessed papercut artist living in Edinburgh. My business is Ellie and the Rubester Papercuts and I am lucky to be constantly surrounded by wonderful women over 40.

Carolyn Strand, 51

I am a digital marketing and e-commerce specialist based in West Sussex.  I help small and niche businesses improve their profitability and visibility online by utilising appropriate social media, email funnels, sales channels, website platforms, optimisations and management systems.

(Carolyn’s photo was taken by Brighton-based photographer Susan Grace Hinman.)

Claire Winter, 43

I’m the owner of Making Words Come Alive, and I help businesses with writing training and content creation.

We need more diverse images of women in the media, in stock photo libraries, in fact everywhere. I am the mum of three daughters and I want them to aspire to be themselves and not feel the need to airbrush or filter themselves.

Marie Brown, 48

I’m 48 and I run Beyond the Kitchen Table, helping small business owners of any age build high converting websites.

Sophie Morris, 45

I am a personal coach at Essential Focus Coaching and I help people cope better whatever life throws at them. I’m soon going to be adding EMDR therapy to my business, which I’m really excited about.

Nicki Williams, 52

I’m a qualified nutritionist, author, speaker and founder of Happy Hormones for Life, helping women over 40 to feel better than they did in their 30s.

This is on a good day with a bit of make up and nice lighting! But I’m happier now than I’ve ever been, and proud of every wrinkle.

Nicolle Anderson, 43

I’m the owner of Business Clan with Delia Porter. I am 43 and Delia is 50. Business Clan is a one stop shop for business consultancy and professional services. We help businesses grow by providing knowledge, expertise and implementation services all under one roof.

Our business success is built on investing in, developing and retaining our flexible-working team of “women-returners”. Together we deliver all the essential services larger organisations take for granted and small businesses struggle to find.

We were recognised as the 2018 UK Employer of the Year by the Federation of Small Businesses (which is where the photo of Delia and I was taken) for our “strong ethos of playing to everyone’s strengths and collective expertise.

I also want to share our selfie from this year’s International Women’s Day as the majority of our team are over 40 and we are looking very “real” in it!

Kelly Kemp, 42

I’m 42, and a creative virtual assistant, freeing up time for female coaches and entrepreneurs to be able to focus on growing their business.

Stephanie Boswell, 45

I am 45 and am a Senior Manager in an Orthopaedic Device company, which is a very male dominated environment. Thankfully I have never felt ‘invisible’ or in any way inferior to a man, but perhaps that is  because I was very independent from an early age.

When I say I don’t ‘feel’ 45, I’m not really sure what 45 is meant to feel like, all that I know if that I feel better than I felt in my 30’s!

I have competed in the fitness industry, have modelled on fitness shoots, and am also a qualified life coach, so I do believe in learning new skills and knowledge to develop yourself as you mature.

I have two boys aged 9 and 11, and have been married for 15 years. Life at 45 is good! You can find me on Instagram.

Jodie Humphries, 41

I’m Jodie, I’m 41 and I’m an award-winning business woman. When you say those words you probably imagine a lady in a suit or a lady wearing a tightly fitted body con dress and heels (like in the boardroom of the Apprentice!), but women in business come in all shapes and styles.

This is me ‘in my office’ so to speak – photographing at a vintage steam fair who are my main client that I lead the marketing strategy and creation for. We just won an award for ‘the best marketing campaign’ at the Maidenhead and Windsor business awards.

I want my daughter to grow up knowing that success doesn’t follow one set path, or style, and life doesn’t have to be sat at a desk in an office – we make our own rules and successes. 

Dee Stringer, 50

I just turned 50, and found my 40s to be the best time of my life and where I finally felt good in my own skin and more confident than I ever did in my 20’s. So much so that I was inspired to set up my own business making cosy accessories for dogs five years ago with my company Slumbering Hound.

I don’t think I would have had the courage to go out there alone when I was younger, even though I freelanced in the film industry, as so much confidence has come to me with age.

Lottie Clements, 49

I spent many years working as a draughtsperson in a very male-dominated industry here I did feel a little invisible. Then at 45 I took a career change and set up my own handmade business, the Cosy Canine Company

I design and make gorgeous and practical accessories for dog owners. Having the confidence to do that and put myself out there is definitely not something I could have done in my 20’s or even my 30’s. For the second year running I am a finalist in the Animal Star Awards for Best Per Related Business.  I turn 50 next year and I can’t wait to see what excitement that brings. 

This is me at the Flourish Fusion. A conference for handmade sellers held in New York earlier this year. 

Isabel Lydall, 40

At 40, I’ve just left corporate life to launch Curiosity & Clarity – a market research and training company aimed at SMEs and entrepreneurs.  

I work with business owners to get them the answers they need about their target customers – and how to grow as a result. I get to be curious for a living, which is lots of fun!   

Carol Robinson, 40

I am 40 years old and I’m Founder and Jewellery Designer of One of a Kind Club

One of a Kind Club is a contemporary jewellery brand aimed to inspire confidence and celebrate individuality through fun statement pieces that make an impact.

Each item is designed and handcrafted by me. After a long career in advertising I have finally turned my love of jewellery into a living. For years I fitted in jewellery making courses around my full time career, using my skills to transform my work outfits, making them funky and distinctive.

My bold and bright collections are inspired by all the amazing women I encounter. 

Victoria O’Conghalaigh, 44

I’m 44, a university lecturer and happy!

Hannah Ayre, 44

I’m an artist, educator and producer, aged 44. I work freelance for a huge range of clients including museums, galleries and festivals.

I chose this photo as it represents me and my work. Also because I’m giggling (rather than the pouty nonsense often seen online).

Janine Coombes, 43

I help small businesses get clear on their high-level brand message and niche so that the rest of their marketing works better.

Susie Valerio, 48

I’m Susie and I am 48 years-old. I am a bilingual voice actor and language producer based in the UK, and constantly have fingers in many very interesting pies!

My day to day work includes voicing super cool adverts, cartoons and games in English and Portuguese, and being the Brazilian voice in places like The Houses of Parliament and Strawberry Field, for example.

To top it up, I also work a lot with Football, and have been the interpreter for Brazilian National Team in the UK in multiple occasions.

Michelle Richards, 47

As a photographer this has inspired me to think about shooting stock images of older women! Here’s my photo – I’m 47 and a freelance photographer.

Becky Kilsby, 62

I’m an Exeter-based Career Change Coach helping dissatisfied professionals around the world to create truly fulfilling working lives.

By gaining clarity on values, purpose, strengths, passions, and the kind of life they want to create, career changers are able to identify their personal measures of success and use these to confidently choose and achieve their new direction. 

Rachael McGillion-Fee, 43

I turned 43 at the beginning of October and am going into my third year of self-employment. I am a social media manager that works with SMEs, charities and social enterprises.

ISEL Social is a social enterprise that has an impact on small charities, helping with their social media strategy, management and training as well as workshops for them and/or their service users.

Lucy Brandram, 43

I’m 43 and run my own social media management business – I work with all kinds of businesses helping them find their voice online. On Twitter and Instagram I’m @76_social.

Silvia Del Corso, 40

I’m Silvia Del Corso, SEO Specialist and I run PinkSEO.Marketing from West London. I’m 40 years old and I’m the mother of 2 children aged 8 and 12.

Rohan Revell, 40

I feel very young as a nurse of 43, and mum of a five-year old (although some days feel less young!). I’m in the middle in this photo, between my two under 40’s friends.

Nicola Semple, 41

I’m Nicola Semple, an author, speaker, mindset coach and host of The Good Life Well Lived podcast, helping women in their 40s who are juggling work and family, to slow down, identify their priorities and have more fun.

Esther Wane, 46

I am Esther Wane.  I am 46, nearly 47, and I’m a storyteller and creative coach.  I left my investment banking career just over nine years ago to follow my childhood dreams of being an actor and a writer.  

I am now an award winning audiobook narrator of over 100 titles, where I get to play ALL the characters and have a lot of fun. I have published my first novel “The Way Home” and have a new book in the pipeline: “Be Your Own Hero: A Mindful Guide to Thriving in a Creative Life”.

This also forms the basis for my creative coaching and my upcoming TEDx talk at Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in November.  For me life really did begin at 40!

Jackie Colchester, 40

Jackie, 40, runs Les Petits Tigres, fun French classes for children.

Emma Foster, 50

I’m a freelance PR consultant and copywriter. I help businesses and brands find their voice and get their stories out in the media and beyond so they can make genuine connections. 

I also run Salt & Chilli PR with another fabulous over 50-something woman. We teach people how to do their own PR through workshops and one-to-one training and mentoring sessions. 

My real passion also is helping women over 40 get more seen and heard in the media – telling their stories and sharing their wisdom so that we’re no longer invisible.  I’d love to help more women achieve this so follow me on Twitter where I share opportunities when I spot them! 

Bonamy Waddell, 44

I’m Bonamy, I’m 44 – and I help organisations use research and data to make smarter decisions. I’m a mum of two girls – and an all-round advocate of the power of women working together and supporting each other to do great things!

Sarah Duguid, 44

I’m Sarah Duguid, I’m 44 and I run Duguid Communications. I offer PR, Marketing and Social strategy and support to small and medium sized businesses.  

Rachel Vogeleisen, 55

I’m Rachel Vogeleisen a photographer specialising in Women Portraiture, helping Women get their mojo back in front of the camera.

I also worked on a personal project about Women Over 50 who Reinvented Themselves. You can read about it here.

Suzanne Taylor, 50

I’m a freelance graphic designer based in East London. I specialise in brand identity and marketing design for small and medium sized businesses. 

I’ve turned 50 only recently and I see it as a gift in time to care (even) less about the silly stuff and to concentrate (even more) on the true stuff. 

Elisabeth Hancock, 50

I’m just turning 50 and I’m a business consultant and coach helping entrepreneurs to grow a more successful business through mindset, energy and strategy. Which I call Popping Bubbles! I have a new book coming out in 2020 and a podcast entitled ‘Energetic Business’ which aims to bring strategy, mind, energy and soul together.  

For me, life really did start at 40! I met my husband and we were married nine months later (a few months before my 40th birthday), I had my first child just before my 41st birthday, and my second just before my 43rd birthday.

Having children inspired me to finally realise my long held dreams of having a successful, meaningful and sustainable business and also to write a book. Things that I would never have had the confidence to do in my 30’s. 

We’d love to add your face to our collection

If you’d like to add your face to this collection just email us with your photo, age and a brief description of what you do.

And finally, it won’t surprise you to learn that it’s not just in stock photos that women are overlooked and underrepresented. As Caroline Criado Perez reveals in her book Invisible Women, we live in a world designed for men.