40 Over 40 Project:

Celebrating women whose power, beauty, strength, grace, and spirit do not diminish with age.


I have photographed, profiled and celebrated 40 women over the age of 40.

WHY 40 OVER 40?

I have been witness to the strength and resilience of all kinds of women in my life but the stories that get to my heart the most often, are the ones of women that society used to label as “past their prime”.

What gives me hope for the future is that I have met woman after woman that have said HELL YES! Women that refuse to be labelled or diminished, are now stepping into their own power. Personally, I feel like I am only beginning to hit my stride. Now I feel called to give a platform to 40 of these women. I want them to be seen, celebrated and have a platform to use their voice to call out to us. I want women all over to hear their stories and be inspired. Will you join me on this journey?

I would like you to meet the UNSTOPPABLE


Leslie has a magnetic smile and disarms you immediately. Like almost everyone that comes in front of my camera. Leslie was nervous. Like really nervous. Like so many of us, she was wondering if those 100’s of photos on her cell phone were a true representation of what she actually looks like. I wish there were words that could reassure people before they arrive, but I haven’t seem to have found them yet. Leslie was game to try anything in her session. It was so hard to pick just one photo!

Anita Watkins

Portrait of Leslie Damstra-Illman By Anita Watkins in her Photography Studio in London Ontario

Leslie Damstra-Illman’s Portrait taken at Anita Watkin’s Studio in London, Ontario. 

What is the one piece of advice you would give your 20 something self? 

“SHINE… now! Don’t wait for the perfect circumstance or until the time is right. The time is right now!!!”

SHINE... now!

Do the things... do ALL the things!

What gets you up in the morning?

“Life… it ain’t gonna live itself! You gotta get up, show up and participate! Do the things… do ALL the things! The only regrets you will have in life are the things you wanted to do but never found the time.”

When in your life, so far, have you felt most confident and why?

“I started feeling the most confident when I let go of other people’s perceptions of who I am and their expectations of what I am capable of achieving. It took me way too long to learn that people’s inability to see my worth does not affect my value.”

It took me way too long to learn that people's inability to see my worth does not affect my value.

Beauty's only constant is that it is constantly changing.

Have your perceptions of what being “attractive” means changed over time?

“There are many reasons why people appear attractive. Beauty is the easiest and most obvious form of ‘attractive’ but it isn’t static. Beauty’s only constant is that it is constantly changing. I wasn’t considered a beauty in my youth. Imagine being 5’9” and 175 pounds with buck teeth at 12 years old.

I tried to minimize myself to fit in. I developed bulimia in my struggles. I suffered through 5 years of braces and headgear to fix my teeth. I also developed a dry wit and a sharp sense of humour. I studied hard to have knowledge and how to use it. I learned to walk tall; eventually I developed a confident strut. These are the things people notice about me today. But not to worry… for whom beauty is all about the aesthetics, it turns out I was an ugly duckling. Today, I am a swan. I still don’t think of myself as photogenic but damn… I look good!”

Are there any myths you would like to bust about being a woman over 40? If so, can you tell us about them?

“I turned 57 the other day. If there are myths out there about women aging, I haven’t given them much thought. I had heard a rumour that you learn to slough off people’s expectations as you get older; you let go of your inhibitions too. I am all about perpetuating those myths!”


I had heard a rumour that you learn to slough off people's expectations as you get older; you let go of your inhibitions too.

Is there anything you would like to share with people in your life?

“I have a lot of grandchildren. They tell me I am pretty and beautiful. They love their Lala. I don’t think they mean it in the traditional sense. They don’t care that I am a tall blonde confident woman. They care that I get down on the floor with them to play and relate to them on their level. If you want to seem attractive to others, get down on their level and relate to them where they are… therein lies the beauty of our world.”

Do you want to learn more about working with Anita?

Portrait Photographer in London, Ontario


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