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The Timeless Project: 'Sometimes women, especially my age, are forgotten'

For the first time in Canadian history there are more people over the age of 65 than under the age of 15. The Timeless Project tells the stories of 10 women who refuse to let age slow them down.

Website features stories of 10 women fighting society's stereotypes of aging

Lynda Noppe, 81, poses for the Timeless Project photo shoot. (The Timeless Project)

Molly Peacock was at a counter at Toronto's St. Lawrence Market waiting to be served when she first felt the sting of invisibility that often follows women of a "certain age."

A younger woman came up to the counter, and Peacock says she was passed over and had to wait to be served.

"I began thinking, 'Wow, I've gone behind a curtain,'" the 72-year-old says.

"I'm thinking, 'Do I exist here?'"

It wouldn't be the last time Molly Peacock would have that thought, nor was it the first time an older woman has felt the same. 

Molly Peacock, a writer, poet and artist, is one of 10 women featured in the Timeless Project. (The Timeless Project)

"It's a peculiar thing," she says, "to be a vital part of society and yet feel society is rushing past you." 

Peacock is just one of the women who are part of the Timeless Project — a website that features the stories and lives of 10 women who refuse to let age slow them down. It's aimed at changing assumptions and celebrating the beauty of women in their 70s and 80s.

'We are using an old playbook'

If there is a perception that newer is better, younger is more beautiful and faster is best, it is because "we are using an old playbook," said Michelle Pannor Silver, a professor of gerontology at the University of Toronto.   

It's something Silver says many companies and our culture need to re-evaluate.

"There's just so much money that's been poured into the advertising of these sorts of ideals and I think they've gone largely unquestioned." 

Ramie Veerapann, 85, attends line dancing classes every week. (The Timeless Project)

Ironically, the Timeless Project was conceived by a millennial, Nethmie Hetti, 25, who thinks it's time to question those ideals.

Hetti works in advertising and noticed brands were ignoring older generations of women, assuming perhaps that after 65, women trade in their lives for knitting needles. But Hetti found the opposite. Yes, there are many women happy with a quieter life during the later stages of life, but not all of them are. 

65-year-old trekked in the Himalayas, became pilot

At 65, Lynda Noppe climbed Kala Patthar mountain, 1,000 feet above the base camp for Mount Everest and the viewpoint for the world's tallest mountain. (The Timeless Project)

Take Lynda Noppe, for example.

At 81, she encourages people to seize every opportunity, understanding "that fear is the thief of dreams," the Timeless Project website says.

At  65, Noppe trekked to Kala Patthar mountain, 1,000 feet above the base camp at Mount Everest and the viewpoint for the world's tallest mountain. Three years later, she earned her pilot's licence.

At 68, Lynda Noppe earned her pilot's licence. Now 81, she is one of the women featured in the Timeless Project. (The Timeless Project)

Sitting at a makeup table, with a bright yellow blazer and art-deco-style earrings dangling from her ears, she explains in the website video that becoming a pilot "took me a long time. You have to learn a lot, engines, airframes, navigation meteorology, all that." 

Ramie Veerapann, 85, left, and Molly Peacock, 72, are two women featured in the Timeless Project - a movement to challenge assumptions about what it means to age as a woman. (Paul Borkwood, CBC)

"You always have to be learning," says Ramie Veerapann. Recently, the 85-year old-joined a line dancing class. 

"Some people accept the mantle of an 'old person,' but you don't have to give up," she says.

Veerapan's thinking was instilled in her by her father growing up apartheid South Africa.

"I'm going to my dance class, there's so much to be offered [in this life]."

'We're going to see some shifts' 

Silver, the U of T professor who studies aging, warns society is making assumptions based on old demographic trends and is "not recognizing that now ... life expectancy is significantly longer than it was. 

"So I think we're going to see some shifts. It's just a matter of time and a matter of cultural norms catching up to demographic changes." 

For the first time in Canadian history, "there are now more people over 65 than there are under 15," Silver says. The combined advances in health care and a drop in birth rates are among the major causes. 

Hetti hopes the website will fuel a conversation about what it means to age, and what is considered beautiful.

And the timing is right on point, says Silver.

"I think we are starting to see that shift that people who were invisible are becoming more visible."

About the Author

Natalie Kalata

Senior Reporter, CBC News

Natalie is an award-winning senior reporter for CBC News Network and CBC The National specializing in breaking news. Whether it's a terror attack or a royal tour, she brings the stories to you. Natalie lives in Toronto with her husband and family.

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