When Denise Lin turned 40 during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, she had no idea what to expect from the next decade of her life.
The Vancouver-based photographer wanted to try something new and adapt to the circumstances when she stumbled upon a '40 over 40' campaign in a photography group online, highlighting women over age 40.
Lin said she fell in love with the idea and after a bit of research, was inspired to create her own version.
Early this month, the portraits and stories of 40 women were featured in Forty Over 40, a magazine Lin curated that was unveiled at the Bravehearts Gala fundraising event supporting the B.C. Women's Health Foundation, at the Hycroft Manor in Vancouver on Dec. 8.
"This is the most uplifting experience we have ever had," Lin told CBC's The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn, referring to herself and the women featured in the campaign.
"I wanted to capture the beauty and strength these women already have. We all have our inner life that needs need to be seen and felt. I'm just there to support that."
After a year and half of planning, customizing the project to make it meaningful and positive for participants, Lin announced the campaign through a social media callout in April this year, and hired hair stylists and makeup artists for the shoot.
The former graphic designer photographed and interviewed the women in the process of putting together the magazine.
She said she teamed up with the foundation to support women across the province who have experienced violence.
Project inspired 'greater confidence'
Kathryn Murray-Hoenig of Vancouver and Esther Chou of North Vancouver are two of the 40 featured women.
For Murray-Hoenig, a mother of two and high school science teacher of 22 years, the shoot was an opportunity "to see herself in another light," she said, after years of battling endometriosis that resulted in a hysterectomy over a year ago.
Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus implants abnormally outside of it to form lesions, cysts, nodules and other growths, the Endometriosis Network Canada describes.
"I've put on 25 pounds post-surgery and my body didn't feel like my own anymore," Murray-Hoenig said. "I was somewhat adrift in alterations with my identity with the surgery."
She said the shoot inspired "a greater confidence in myself and in my appearance, and a greater value of who and what I am and of what I give in the different areas of my life."
Having had her surgery at the Women's Hospital, Murray-Hoenig said the fundraising event meant more.
She said she hopes the campaign will challenge stereotypes seemingly prevalent in the media that beauty is confined to the young and thin.
"There is still very much real beauty as we age, and sometimes a greater depth of beauty as opposed to just being pretty."
'It was so freeing'
Chou, who turned 40 in July, says the campaign was an empowering, emotional and inspiring journey.
It was also a full circle moment: Chou spent a large portion of the year at the B.C. Children's Hospital with her son.
"This is more of an emotional journey because B.C. Woman's and B.C. Children's work so closely with each other and they are beside each other and two of my kids were born there too," she said.
"It really meant a lot to me."
As a mother of three, Chou said Lin empathised with her trying to find time for herself, juggling between her personal and professional roles.
She said she was also able to connect and resonate with women with similar stories.
"Because I felt like there was something lacking, it was so freeing after I made up my mind," she said. "I was like: 'This is it, I'm going to do it.'
"And I have no regrets."
Lin said she's doing another round of '40 over 40' in 2023 for the same cause, in addition to a makeover project for members of the Downtown Eastside Women's Centre (DEWC).
She said she hopes to offer a positive experience for the women through the shoot, before they do a fashion show to raise funds for the centre.