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The ‘I Am’ Project Showcases Ageless Beauty

Angelika Buettner is on a crusade to celebrate the natural beauty of women of all ages. 

The German-born artist has worked as an advertising, fashion, and beauty photographer for decades, but about seven years ago she “came to a point not exactly of frustration but of realization that something is missing, something is wrong. All of these overly retouched images have nothing to do with the truth.” 

That’s when she launched the “I Am …” project, which now comprises scores of nude images of and forthright statements from women ages 40 to 99. The women are of many ethnicities, weights, shapes, and stages of life. The images are both edgy and elegant, raw and refined — but above all they are authentic depictions of female bodies that have born children, survived illness, been admired, and withstood rejection. And every single one is stunning in its own way.

What follows is a small sampling from the project, which Buettner intends to publish as a coffee table book. The text each woman wrote to accompany her photo follows it. Their words, too, are unedited. You will not find any woman’s age highlighted, unless the woman has written it herself. That is the artist’s intention. “I see age as a stamp,” Buettner says. “I don’t want people judging the women based on their ages. I’ve always hated that when you open a newspaper the age [of a person] is like a stamp. Why? What does it mean? We are all ageless beings. We are spiritual beings. What does it matter? All women, no matter how young or old, deserve to feel naturally beautiful throughout their lives.”

For more from Angelika Buettner’s “I Am” project, follow @iam_by_angelikabuettner. You can see more of her professional work at @angelikabuettner and angelikabuettner.com, where you can also find out how to book a private portrait session.

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

My 40s for me is first of all a continuous search for myself. I have rediscovered myself. It is a harmony between my personality, my family, and my professional life. It is rising and fathoming of who I am. 

Being in my 40s is first of all finding true love. This love that accepts me for who I am, considering my personality as the main value of the romance. It is also my third and desired pregnancy, the most peaceful experience after my two previous angels. 

My 40s is finally freedom: my freedom to be, to love, to accompany, to choose, to listen to, to do, or to repeat all these things without fear or insecurity. 

My 40s, I pursued them with serenity, joy, and people I love around me. People who love me and care about me are with me. Finally, I feel that I am a master of my life.

My 40s, I am enjoying them like a delicious candy without remorse. It is a date made with this beautiful life a long time ago. The long-awaited honorable date!

BENEDIKTE

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

This wasn’t my plan. 

At the age of 42 I found a lump in my breast and had chemotherapy, radiation, a double mastectomy, breast implants, and eventually a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis. 

As a young woman I felt detached from my body, having been taught it was dirty. I rebelled through cutting, an eating disorder, drug and alcohol addiction, and abusive relationships, including the one with my self. 

But at university I studied dance and choreography; I learned to be present in my body, aware of how I exist in relation to what’s around me and how I move through space. Via movement and touch I discovered I could use my body as a vehicle of expression. 

You can imagine everything that felt threatened when I was told of the inner molecular change. I felt devastated, betrayed by my physical form.

After seven painful breast implant infections I chose to remain flat. After the surgery, I was terrified of looking in the mirror. Would I still be womanly without a female silhouette? To my surprise, the expression on my face showed great relief: I saw myself again! I questioned why I had ever put myself through numerous painful surgeries in an attempt to keep the female form for acceptance from myself and from others. 

Ironically, now that I’ve been disfigured I observe myself in the mirror after showers more, so as to get used to the new map of my body. My story is written on my skin, via scars. My chest is the canvas for my story. I’m rediscovering and redefining my body and merging with the new one.  

How do I want my body to be in this world? How do I relate to my surroundings? What can I do with this new body? What are my new pleasures? What are my limits? How far can I reach — and then can I reach further?

Am I still a woman without breasts? The rest of my body is female, and I identify with being a woman. I’m not less than anyone because I have fewer body parts. I accept myself as a woman without breasts. But am I still sexy as a woman without breasts? I’m the same person inside, and I believe we shine from the inside out, so sexy and beautiful is how I feel about myself.

My hair has grown back from chemotherapy its natural gray color; at first, I wasn’t ready for one more change. But I am a visual person, and so I sought images of women who own themselves unapologetically to help me transition into my new normal. Standing in the beautiful acceptance of the body-positivity movement is a deeply gratifying feeling. I thank the women who have come before me for their courage in speaking out and breaking stereotypes, it empowers me to do the same.

Every (birth) day is rejoiced, as I’m honored to be growing older by the second.

CHIARA

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

I am Knowledge:
Missteps,
False starts,
Lessons learned yielding to grace incarnate.

I am Healing:
Hands that see,
Eyes that feel,
A heart that expands equally when touched and when broken.

I am Hope:
Dreams fueled by desires;
A light that connects to infinity.

I am Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter.
Timeless,
Perfectly imperfect,
Simply complex,
Firmly dynamic;
An embrace of endless contradictions.

I am a Mirror
Reflecting you, her, him, us, we.

KAREN

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

I like to think of aging as a bit of a dare. Can I continue to get stronger as I get older? Can I become healthier than I am today? I’m 46 now, but if I continue to work hard at my goals in conjunction with refining my diet, what will I be capable of at 50?

I wasn’t always like this. I battled with my weight as a kid and was often a good 15 or 20 pounds overweight. I went to the gym here and there in my 20s and often kept my weight down, but I wasn’t making the healthiest of choices.

When I hit my mid-30s I started to have a lot of health problems. I struggled with anxiety for most of my life, and it came to a head after I had my first daughter. I spent most of my time worrying and had terrible insomnia. My blood pressure began to rise, and I started showing early signs of heart disease.

Although I was already practicing yoga — and to a certain extent it helped — I knew I would be in trouble if I didn’t begin to make some dietary changes. I started cleaning up my diet and eating what I thought was a healthy diet at the time. My health improved a little but not significantly.

It wasn’t until I watched the documentary Forks Over Knives and read The China Study that I was able to start making the right dietary changes to become healthy and strong. I began to eat a whole-foods plant-based diet and everything start changing for the better.

This set me on a trajectory to where I am now. I look at the diet as an experiment and get excited about how it affects me mentally, physically, and spiritually. I work on strengthening my physical weaknesses and take notice of how the foods I eat affect my practice.

I think it’s a mistake to not embrace age. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to be amazing. What I mean is that we should enjoy who we are and lead by example. If you don’t like where you are today, start making changes now. Look at aging as playing the long game.

HOLLY

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

I surrender to my soul. Take me where you desire.  

KASSIE

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

A woman’s beauty has nothing to do with looks, clothes, size, status, or age;
It’s the inner beauty that makes a woman radiant!
Inner beauty contains self-love, confidence, and happiness.
The joy to truly live life to the fullest and
Not needing validation from outside.
Women are so beautiful. I wish more would dare to let go of their insecurity
And show and carry their pure beauty with grace!

ANGELA

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

When I was 10 years old, one of the boys in my class came over to me and said that the only reason all the boys liked me was because I had long hair. I was stunned, crushed, hurt, and felt very diminished. I was much more than a long-haired strawberry blonde. In that moment, in some way, I felt almost invisible as a person.

I never put much stock in my being very pretty/beautiful, even though men were always paying attention to me. And because there was always an awareness of my being noticed, of being very visible physically, I experienced feelings of self-consciousness … a sense of how I was being seen, behaving, and being.

Those admiring glances and flirtations started to shift to my lovely teenage daughter and, over the years, slowly disappeared, and now I am truly invisible to men … but not to women. I think they “see” Me, who and what I am. (Although about 10 years ago, a young man said to me, “You must have been very beautiful when you were young.” The best response to that compliment was, with mock indignation, “Hey! What do you mean? I’m STILL beautiful!”)

I found the transition to becoming invisible very interesting as well as so incredibly freeing! I have done and been whatever is real for me, responding to my environment and experiences with joy, playfulness, and enthusiasm — with freedom and without feeling judged or being self-conscious! At last!

My thoughts about the aging process: I find it fascinating. I look in the mirror and study the face of the woman looking back at me, looking at all those wrinkles. It’s amazing! So interesting. The sun spots, the once-full lips fading into the face, the eyes are not so wide open, the sagging skin. How much this face has changed over the years. I search for something familiar. I’m not sure I recognize her. It’s almost amusing.

But wouldn’t I like to have a smooth, firm body again? Without the bulges and folds? Of course. That would be lovely, but how would that really serve me?  My mother was her 80s and still talking about having breast implants. A BOOB JOB! What was she going to do with them!?! My poor vain, dear little mommy. Did she really think her good looks were all she had? All she was? Who was she when she was no longer young and beautiful. It breaks my heart to think of her sense of loss. Did she feel abandoned?

Who does this to us? You know! And we let them.

I am NOT my body. I am NOT the container. I AM so much more. I AM what is contained.

LEE

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

I’ve been through an exquisite transformation this year with my divorce, and it was through that crisis and evolution that I finally feel like I became a woman. And after having three girls, it’s a wonder I hadn’t felt “in my body” until I became more spiritual. I lived most of my life in a dissociative state, so when I integrated my head with my heart, my practical mind with my instincts, I finally started to feel whole. And once I started to feel whole, my body literally started changing, too. My breasts grew, my ass more round, and my belly fuller (it was never flat). I was always so skinny, and I felt more like Lolita than Sophia Loren as an adult. As I age, I prefer Gina Lollobrigida and all the beautiful European actresses of that era. Their beauty is timeless, sensuous, and intelligent. Above all, they carry a wisdom that is earned from life’s lessons and hardships. I am thrilled my body caught up with my newfound freedom and spiritual journey.

CLAUDINE

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

Being nude is my feeling of simplicity, freedom, and happiness — being just myself.

CHRISTINE

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

It has been over a year since I revisited the pictures talented Angelika Buettner took of me riding Lenny in Easton, Connecticut. 

So much happened in my life since that late summer New England day, it truly feels like a lifetime ago.

I wanted to remember what I felt that day, and three feelings are very vivid:

Gratitude for being able to ride a horse again following a hip replacement nine months prior. Horses have always been a part of my life and have constantly given me the sense of true freedom, whether I was riding cross-country in Idaho, working cows in the Mendocino mountains in California, or hacking out in Connecticut. I feared that I might not be able to ride again, so this day was truly magical. 

The trust I placed in Angelika for shooting such beautiful pictures, the trust I put in Lenny to be a good partner, and most importantly, trust in myself to step out of my comfort zone and not let any preconceived fear cause any regrets.

I found a quote that works for this day: “It’s your road and yours alone. Others may walk it with you, but no one can walk it for you.”  — author unknown

KATIE

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

The years fly by and time passes quickly …. one day  I actually forgot my age …. in that moment I realized that it does not matter how old I am chronologically … what does matter is that I stay physically fit, mentally present, and spiritually connected.

How I choose to live my life? Continued self-examination, impacting the lives of others, going out into the world smiling regardless of what my internal mental chatter may be. Life is about constant change and self-acceptance. This is key whether I have my clothes on or not!

An important lesson I have learned about the success and joy of my life is to remain relevant … keeping up with today’s fast-paced living in both technology and physical surroundings is so important, challenging and exhausting, and necessary.

I surround myself with young energy, high-spirited individuals, and people who benefit from my words of wisdom and life experience, which I readily share when asked, especially when it comes to love.

My heart has been seduced, won over, felt care free, reassured, been open, broken, and crushed. I have survived and thrived from all  romantic disappoints, unbearable pain, and heartbreaks. I pick myself up; dust myself off; continue on as a wiser not bitter, sour, or revengeful person. If I had chosen the latter I would kill the beauty from within myself … instead I mended my heart, broke it open to allow for new possibilities, hope and true love to come, show up, recognize it, and embrace it.

For me being and feeling CHERISHED by another person is my gift of life. What is my real secret of staying vibrant and feeling young? BE sexually active! It guarantees rosy cheeks at any age!

PATRICIA

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

I was born in France in 1949, between a train coming from Austria and a boat going to the West Indies.

From my tropical youth, I have learned to take my time. I have also learned to be one with nature, to be close to her, with her, to respect her and to LISTEN to her. Listening … even to the silence … how important it is … it teaches and explains things. 

I have kept the pleasures and needs in life for smells, colors, and tastes. I hate the gray and black of our winters in Europe. Why even in fashion do we dress people in doom and gloom, pessimism? We need colors. 

I have also kept a physical freedom, which is similar to shamelessness maybe. It is this joy of the body to be free without clothes on and without the concern of the “what will they say?,” which does so much damage to our soul, with this excess of the so-called respect of appearances.

I therefore accept my white hair, my wrinkles, and my body, which has enough energy to carve stones and marbles, to do sports, to always be curious of everything with happiness, despite the constant pain going from one place to another.

I’m told I’m too spontaneous. But how could I create and invent without it? How could I keep my laughter without it? I’m told I’m not diplomatic enough. It’s true. It leads to situations sometimes stormy and difficult, but I refuse to accept the hypocrisy that our society is made of. I am born and labeled as wild, and that’s just fine with me!

If I have a message to convey, it’s that whatever age, whatever life we had or have, the most important thing is to be yourself.

To you women and men, why the need to constantly cheat with your body? Do you know that you are cheating at the same time with your soul? To deceive whom, other than yourself? In vain, isn’t it?

Things from the heart are the most important, such as the sincerity of what we think, what we say, what we do. Then the look on the world is changing and perhaps from this a real beauty is born … a beauty that comes from within and radiates.

MAUD

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

I am happy
I am busy
I am grateful
I am a woman
I am queer
I am love
I am kinky
I am a pervert
I am a friend
I am sexual
I am free
I am a slut
I am a bitch
I am loyal
I am an optimist
I am good
I am bad
I am fire
I am healthy
I am here
I am
More?

EVA

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

Looking back at the eight decades of my life, I can say I was very fortunate. That does not mean that life was not hard at times, nor was happiness always present. But I had the good fortune to always land on my feet. 

I was born before women had the choices or respect they have today. In my late teenage years I began to feel uncomfortable with the prescribed limits for girls and women in my middle-class Brooklyn upbringing. It made me feel that I just didn’t fit in or fit the mold. However, I mostly followed my heart. I moved out of my parents’ home and moved to Manhattan — unheard of in the 1950s. Opportunities seemed possible in Manhattan on my own.

College was not on my Brooklyn agenda. However, some years later I returned to school and received my degree by attending at night and working during the day. My degree helped me get into a field that was at the time a mystery to most people — computerizing the business systems of companies. Of course now, with the advent of the PC, everyone knows and works with computers. It is a part of everyday life. I spent most of my career at NBC. I very much enjoyed my career and the people I worked with. 

The years of my 20s, 30s, and 40s made me who I am today. Those years and the years after have been fulfilling and successful for me. Although I have been an artist since I was a child, in my 30s I found my passion — sculpting. I carve in stone and am still working at it. 

Eight years ago I met the love of my life, and that has made these years the happiest. 

I look forward to continuing the adventure.

DOLORES

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

On my ribs is a quote by Luciano De Crescenzo that reads: “We are, each of us angels with only one wing. And we can only fly by embracing one another.”

On this day, Angelika captured me flying nude on the Manhattan Bridge without another. It is a struggle I have yet to come to terms with, being independent as much as dependent on someone. The balance. 

A friend once told me he read, “Love your body now because every decade you will wish you had the body you had in the previous decade.” I have loved my body for a long time, though some would believe I have damaged its face with tattoos in an attempt to improve it. 

It’s been heavier and leaner. Sometimes much more toned and certainly sometimes without as many injuries and stronger. Sometimes I don’t pay as much attention to it as I should. And sometimes I think others pay too much attention to it. I know it has power, and I don’t in anyway disregard or hide the power it has. This too is a balance, to honor it, to be comfortable with the perks of feminine sexuality and to not allow it to overshadow any other component of who you are. This balance at 46, I am comfortable with. And the tattoo I have put on my body brings to the surface something within that some would never get to know of me if they are only interested in the shell. 

HOPE

Angelika Beuttner - I Am Project

That woman, lying on a couch as an odalisque was me. Eyes shut … I was blind and couldn’t imagine that a generous body could reveal sensuality. Italian Renaissance taught us the contrary, but that was my feeling at this moment. Today my mind and body have changed, my eyes are wide open, and I see beauty everywhere and in every woman. Because we are all unique.

ELSA

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