18 Elderly Share their Insecurities Before It’s “Too Late.” {What I Be Project}

Via Ben Renschen
on Jun 30, 2014
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I am not my mortality.

1. “I am not my mortality.”

In the face of death, where do you begin reflecting on life?

Steve Rosenfield, What I Be Project founder, has proven time and again that no topic is off limits. The project often focuses on younger people and their insecurities. So when the Salem Lutheran Home for assisted living called him to photograph their elderly before it was “too late,” he jumped at the chance.

2. “I am not my age.”

I am not my age.

3. “I am not my Alzheimer’s.”

I am not my Alzheimers

“I didn’t know if people were going to be totally with it,” said Steve. “Literally. I didn’t know if they’d be present with me or off in another world.”

Part of Steve’s process for the What I Be Project includes interviewing each participant to establish their insecurity and what they want to display on their skin. In this instance, he spent about 20-30 minutes with each of the 18 individuals photographed. Their ages ranged from 71 up to 100.

4. “I am not my tomorrow.”

I am not my tomorrow.

5. “I am not my anxiety.”

I am not my anxiety.

6.  “I am not my number.”

I am not my number.

90 years old at the time of image capture, Ellen (above) was the oldest participant in the project before the Salem Lutheran Home images were released.

Steve shares that “these people have so much history behind their lives. World War II. Growing up and getting married to someone who is black when you’re white during the civil rights movement.”

7. “I am not my marriage.”

I am not my marriage.

Through this process, Steve discovered a common thread among them all. As far as Steve could tell, “They just want to be okay with being themselves. They don’t want to be fake.”

8. “I am not my distress.”

I am not my distress.

Can you look at the above image and be empathetic before offended?

9. “I am not my appearance.”

I am not my appearance.

Here’s a few more on not faking it.

10. “I am not my compliments.”

I am not my compliments.

11. “I am not my criticism.”

I am not my criticism.

12. “I am not my conversations.”

I am not my conversations.

Although many of these images have to do with old age, a few are familiar to the project’s youth demographic.

13. “I am not my identity.”

I am not my identity.

14. “I am not my weight.”

I am not my weight.

“When you get that old you start to lose track of what your insecurities used to be,” says Steve. “They have more important things to worry about than what their ego might be hurt by. They don’t have patience for bullshit. They don’t want to live older because things start going. Their heart, lungs, cancer, dementia, Alzheimer’s.”

15.  “I am not my hatred.”

I am not my hatred.

16. “I am not my cane.”

I am not my cane.

17. “I am not my surgery.”

I am not my surgery.

Having recently been through a pretty difficult end of life journey with my own grandmother, I have one request–respect your elders. If the opportunity still exists, take a second to have a conversation with your nearest and dearest. Maybe a stranger. Remember that the elderly have led long lives before those lines became a prominent feature. Take your time with them and listen.

18. “I am not my pace.”

I am not my pace.


What is the What I Be Project?

Steve Rosenfield’s What I Be Project encourages millions, globally, to courageously address their insecurities. What started as an experiment in 2010 has since transformed into a full-blown, and sometimes, controversial movement. The subject of an image will share verbiage on his or her skin related to their insecurity. They accept this as part of who they are, however, acknowledging it does not define their whole being. Steve clicks the shutter and posts the photograph online.



Trigger Warning: Madison. {What I Be Project}


Powerful Photos of People Exposing their Innermost Fears & Insecurities. {Adult}


Waylon with Steve Rosenfield of What I Be Project: Photos of the Inside of Your Soul.



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Editor: Travis May

Photos: What I Be Project by Steve Rosenfield



About Ben Renschen

Ben Renschen is a Los Angeles based writer. He likes to bring emotionally complicated content to readers in a digestible format. He's globe trotted for work and play. You can check out his blog, All Things Borrowed, or follow him at Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.


16 Responses to “18 Elderly Share their Insecurities Before It’s “Too Late.” {What I Be Project}”

  1. Ari says:

    I just shed a tear. This is real, this is more real then all the thing we see telling us not to age and that beauty is youth. Beauty is the ability to embrace yourself at every age and thats what we should be teaching our kids. I want to live in a world where getting old is a level of life and self you only reach once you get there. Such a reminder to respect our elders, the world they know is one we are only beginning to experience.

  2. elephantjournal says:

    Indeed, well said Ari!

  3. Hollie Berman says:

    My father died recently. Before he passed myself and my sister emptied out his apartment. We found things he'd saved for as many as 71 years! I learned things about him I'd never known. By this time his dementia had progressed too far to have conversation with him about the things that were important to him. This article was moving. I just spoke to his 85 y.o. girlfriend of 22 years on the telephone. Sure, I have decided to call her once a week to check up on her – but an equal or greater truth is that I love and respect her and I get as much out of the conversations as she does. I would suggest that anyone that can talk to older friends and family members before it becomes too late.

  4. Chanda says:

    Caring for my father in law in his late stages of dementia – brings this very close to home. It gave me a perspective I may not have seen. I see a beautiful sense of compassion and a soul that yearns to live. Live your fullest without regret and dance to the music of your lifes passion. Im not sure everyone will see this beautiful lesson unless you take the time to spend with our wisest souls- the elderly

  5. Laura Diane Gwillim says:

    This is a wonderful! I am a physical therapist and have the privilege of working in a privately owned and operated nursing home. I have worked with the geriatric set for many years and have always enjoyed their company – learn so much from them. We give lots of hugs and encouragement to every one in the home (188 beds, its BIG) and in return we all have many "adopted" grandparents! It's called Presbyterian Home in little tiny Quitman, GA and was voted best nursing home in South Georgia~ I am proud to be a part of it!

  6. Erin says:

    It was an honor to witness the elders' process with Steve & to see their final images. It was an amazing experience for all of us. These are some wise, vibrant people.

  7. sandra says:

    this is beautiful.
    it reminds us all to be in the present.

  8. Amy E says:

    I am not my disease. It will not define me. It may control me, on occasion, but, it has made me a better person. I live and love in the present. I know it is no longer realistic to believe I will live to be nearly 100 years old, like my beloved grandmother, whom I greatly favor. I live one day at a time…getting stronger…hoping I won't relapse. I pray every day for a cure in my lifetime. I no longer fear Death. I have been through Hell, and I will go with God. The Lord is my savior and my salvation.

  9. fLow says:

    This is quite Deep!

  10. Innerfocus says:

    Nice to see something that's not youth centred and looks mortality in the eye. Bridges a gap which is presently so wide. Well done.

  11. Samantha says:


  12. Monique says:

    Wow, what a great article, what a great vision.

  13. Terri says:

    Great article.. I love it! I work with the elderly everyday in my job, trying to help them find available resources for their medical, financial and daily lives. Many times it breaks my heart to hear stories and struggles of their lives but it enlarges my heart to know I can possibly help them in some way. I love listening and learning from their life stories.They are full of gratitude, love and respect and I feel lucky and blessed to be able to be a part of their life in a small way.

  14. David says:

    Indeed, don't miss out on what the older generation can share and pass on.

  15. sem6x3ag says:

    I never understood why people make negative comments about age. With the exception of a early death, age is something that happens to all of us.

  16. Bob Webster says:

    Very interesting!