Picturing women

I’ve just been writing a piece about one of the characters in my Elsa Simonetti Disneyland Paris novella, “Mistletoe and the Mouse”. The character is a lady in her early sixties. She’s tall, grey, stern and forbidding. Think of Mrs. Danvers in Rebecca and you won’t go far wrong. She was a fascinating character to write, she sprang to life without much input from me at all. However, my problems started when I tried to find some pictures from Pixabay to illustrate her story.

I found that searching for an image of someone like Mrs. Buchan was … difficult. It says a lot about how we picture women over the age of, say, thirty. This is what I found.

Search 1: “Woman”

Inevitably, a very general search returns thousands and thousands of picures of women. However, most of them are also tagged “girl” and they all seem to look like this:

Image by Rondell Melling from Pixabay 

This one had the tags “woman pretty girl hair” which says it all, doesn’t it? Most “women” are well under the age of thirty, it seems.

This wouldn’t do for Mrs. Buchan. I got more specific.

Search 2: “Old woman”

I thought I’d try and remove the “girls” from my search. So I tried “Old Woman” next. Pixabay tells me that old women are either figures of fun:

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Or else they’re ancient and tragic:

Image by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay 

And they’re inevitably in their eighties at the least. Mrs. Buchan is none of these. I’ll be honest, there were the odd pictures of ordinary women who hadn’t quite reached the age of eighty amongst the “old woman” category, but they tended to be smiling and happy which isn’t the picture I wanted to paint of Mrs. Buchan.

Search 3: “Middle-aged woman”

I should have known better! Mrs. Buchan is too young for “old woman”, so I tried “middle aged”. It’s obviously not an American term, because this is what I overwhelmingly found:

Image by press 👍 and ⭐ from Pixabay 

Yes, it’s a woman from the “Middle Ages.”

Search 4: “Older woman”

Okay, so she’s not “old” and she’s not from the Middle Ages. What term might an American use to describe a woman who isn’t in her twenties, but isn’t in her eighties either? How about “older woman”? Well, there was one page of results. Two of them were women who were older than thirty but younger than eighty. I rather liked this image:

Image by kalhh from Pixabay 

She’s serious-looking, and between the ages of thirty and eighty, but sadly she’s way too glamorous to represent my character. But at least I found one image that wasn’t entirely unacceptable to me as a representation of an older woman. There was also one smiling woman with a dog who might have been in a similar age group, but my character doesn’t have a dog.

Search 5: “Mother and son”

However, the woman-and-dog image gave me another idea. Perhaps I’m barking up the wrong tree … Perhaps rather than a single image of a woman, I should be trying to picture my character in her role as a mother and picture her with her adult son. Well, I think you know how that search ended.

Image by Victoria Al-Taie from Pixabay

Search 6: “Grey woman”

Now I tried thinking laterally. I started by searching for adjectives that described my character. “Stern” provided many pictures of ships, “Forbidding” of roadsigns. I tried something less specific – grey. I describe her clothes, her hair and her house as grey at various points, so what about “grey woman”? That might provide something that provided the right kind of mood and atmosphere, even if the woman is too young. Perhaps if I could find a “grey woman” with her back to the camera, or in silhouette, that might do?

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay 

Well, it’s a great image, but it doesn’t sum up my character. It did nicely sum up how I felt about the search by this point.

Search 7: Doors

So, this is where I gave up. I realised that I wasn’t going to find a suitable picture easily and I didnt have time to spend hours on a blog post that I should have finished last week. So, I decided that as Mrs. Buchan greets James and Belle for the first time at her front door, that I’d look for images of doors instead. And so, Mrs. Buchan came to be represented by this image:

Image by Momentmal from Pixabay

Apparently it’s the best you can hope for if you’re a female aged between thirty and eighty.

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