Well Being

The ’30 Project’: What Turning 30 Really Looks Like Today

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"By now, I thought I'd be wildly successful, own a nicely decorated house, well traveled and financially stable. Instead, I have a shit ton of student loans and credit card debt."

A few weeks ago, a friend posted on Facebook that she’d just been told she looked good for her age. She does, in fact, look good–but what was this “for her age” business? She (like me) recently turned 30. What the heck do people think 30 looks like? This whole sordid tale may have ended there except that the following week, another 30-year-old woman I know reported receiving the same comment. And then another! This was clearly not an isolated incident but an epidemic of people who believe 30-year-olds — or 30-year-old women, at least – generally look like the Cryptkeeper.

As chance would have it, I’d compiled a list of celebrity 30-year-olds a few weeks prior for a post that never worked out. So what struck me was how people could have such a negative idea about what 30 looked like when so many celebs famed for beauty and sex appeal – Sienna Miller, Lizzy Caplan, Anna Paquin — had recently left their twenties behind. A Facebook rant to this effect and a bevy of “likes” from female friends later, and 1. the ThisIs30 tumblr was born (are you around 30? go! submit your photo!);  2. I was introduced to the work of Corina Marie Howell.

Howell, a Los Angeles-based photographer, makes a living shooting campaigns for the likes of Bare Escentuals, Sephora and JBrand Jeans. But she was recently inspired to embark on something a little different: A series of portraits of 30-year-old women, accompanied by interviews with the women about being 30. She calls it, aptly, the ‘30 Project.’

You can check out all the portraits–which will also be exhibited at Los Angeles’ I Art U DTLA in November–on Howell’s website. I chatted with Howell last week about what inspired her project, where cultural ideas about 30 come from, city aging versus small-town aging, mom hair, and coming to terms with your convictions about ‘adulthood’ changing.

ENB: What is the idea behind your 30 Project?

CMH: The year to six months before you turn 30 you start getting more and more nervous about it — but I really do think it’s just manufactured pressure. I found (this same anxiety) after talking to a lot of my friends who were also turning 30, and I thought it would be interesting to not just do portraits of other women turning 30 but also talk to them and just hear about their feelings. I did entire interviews with everybody — I had an entire sheet with very simple, open-ended questions. They would come into my studio and the first thing they would do would be fill out this interview sheet, and then we’d sort of go over it together and we’d figure out a really good quote that we would base the portrait on. The portrait process was fun, but I ended up talking with some of these women for two or three hours afterwards, too.

Another thing that influenced me is that a lot of the work that I do is for the beauty industry, like for Bare Escentuals and Sephora. There’s been a big push recently to use real women, and less retouching, so I thought it would be interesting to do a portrait project on real women.

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"It's just the beginning."

How did you find the women?

A bunch of things — it was friends, and friends of friends, and I put ads up on Craigslist. I still want to do a few more portraits, as well; I’m not totally done with the project yet.

The photos are so interesting because if I were to look at any one photo individually, I might guess some people in their mid-20s, some people in their mid-30s, and everything in between. But when you look at them all together knowing everyone’s the same age – I mean, you really see that there are disparities in how old or young individuals look at thirty, that thirty isn’t really A Thing you can define. 

It’s really true. People have said to me, ‘Really, that girl’s 30? She looks 25,’ or ‘Really? She looks 35.’ It was a big deal to me to not really retouch the photos, too.

You’re 30 yourself, correct?

Yeah, I turned 30 in June.

Oh, me too!

Don’t you kind of feel like once it’s over, the pressure goes away really quickly?

Yes! I feel like a lot of people said funny things to me when I was about to turn 30, like, ‘ohhhh, watch out, it’s all downhill from here,’ that kind of stuff. It was weird. And I had several friends who had just turned 30 have people tell them they looked good for their age — also weird. What do people think 30 is supposed to look like?

I feel like the average age for women in beauty campaigns is right around 30, versus fashion campaigns where it’s more like 16 or whatever. I get kind of offended when people are like, ‘Oh, you look good for your age!’ No one would ever say that to a man.


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