GROWING INTO BEAUTY
Photography © Clélia Odette Rochat
Clélia Odette Rochat, a Swiss/French documentary photographer, launched Belles Momes, (Beautiful Girls) during lockdown in 2020. Here, she shares how the project began and what she has learned from the experience.
“My name is Clélia Odette Rochat and I am a documentary photographer. It’s been a little more than a year now that I’ve been working on “Belles Momes,” my reflection on older (50 +) women’s representation in our society.
I meet women at their home, we have a chat, and I photograph them, often naked, without artifice, to put the spotlight on the older women’s beauty and to question our view on bodies we seem to not accept.
I only work with my beloved Rolleiflex camera which allows me to connect with these women in a more humble way. Because of the camera’s design, I have to physically bend my head to look down before taking the picture. In this way my subjects can feel more comfortable with me and the idea of being photographed naked. That aspect was really important to me.
I also love to develop the films at home and discover their intimacy – the result of hours and hours spent talking and sharing with the women. That’s the magic of analog photography.
When the project came out in the press I received hundreds of letters and emails from women personally thanking me for the work I do and sharing with me their experiences. Many express their will to participate in the project and have their portraits taken. All these messages have reinforced for me how important the project is and why I have to keep going on it.
“I want my photography to inspire, give strength and confidence, generate respect, and empower women.”
The spark that began “Belles Momes.”
I was carpooling when the idea came to me. It was winter and the heating in the car was set to maximum. In the car with me was a gynaecologist and a woman who was now retired. As we drove, I sat in the back seat listening to their conversation. The woman who was now retired had been a lawyer, and was talking about going through the menopause and how it had made her feel. She said she was afraid that her husband would no longer look at her, or desire her. And so, in order to not “look her age,” Sylvie had her wrinkles tightened and her breasts lifted. This conversation made me realise that for many women, getting older can be a source of anxiety, a burden.
I am revolted by the absence of mature women in the representation of beauty, as part of a long line of generations who have been taught that women are beautiful when they are young and that as time goes by, their beauty deteriorates. Now that the movement for gender equality challenges many aspects of our society, I would like to question the still pervasive influence of patriarchy on the perception of our bodies.
“These are great women, actresses, singers, who shine in my eyes because of their talent, their charisma, their ideas, and who today have been robbed of their smile.”
Literally, their real smile, authentic and human. So many retouches, injections or plastic surgery to be able to continue to exist.
Photographing and interviewing women is a way for me to break this taboo and the conventions — conditioning, legends, illusions and ideals. Stopping in time, through photography, allows me to immortalise them and to reveal bodies magnified by their stories and by a time that belongs to them. From a fold under a breast to the lines of their face, they reveal their sensitivity, their adventures, their wisdom, their joy, their depth, their soul.
I often ask myself, “What if they decided to age naturally and keep their charm as strong and radiant women?”