I was on the phone with my friend Marly Rusoff the other day, debriefing after this year’s Pat Conroy Literary Festival. Marly was Pat’s agent throughout most of his career, and as a founding board member of the Conroy Center who’s now also a parttime Beaufort resident, she was very involved in this year’s festival – which, in case you missed it, was absolutely amazing.
Marly told me she was headed to NYC the next day for the book launch of her longtime client and friend, Paulina Porizkova. Maybe you remember Paulina? 1980s super model? Married to the late Rick Ocasek, lead singer of The Cars? Drop-dead gorgeous?
I’d almost forgotten that Marly was Paulina’s literary agent. She’d sent me an essay Paulina wrote back in March, soon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – a reflection on her own childhood in Soviet-occupied Czechoslovakia. The essay had stunned me. Who knew this Sports Illustrated cover girl could write with such beauty and insight? Almost didn’t seem fair.
But lately, I’ve gotten to “know” and like Paulina on Instagram, where we are engaged in a common pursuit – she at the superstar level, and I at the level of . . . well, me. I’ve hesitated to mention that pursuit here in my column because it feels a bit unseemly. Or maybe just unserious. But it’s starting to feel like I’m hiding something, and I’m an over-sharer, not a hider, so it’s time to come clean.
Y’all, I’ve become an influencer.
Okay, I can literally hear you laughing. I can also hear you saying, “But wait, influencers are young. They’re hip and cool and at least semi-famous. And, again . . . young.”
That’s what I thought, too! But there’s a movement afoot in the country – the world, actually – and it’s happening on Instagram. It goes by names like “Pro-Age Revolution” and “Silver Sisters” and it’s made up of thousands of older women encouraging other older women to stop pursuing the fountain of youth and embrace their age.
I have been waiting to join this movement all my adult life. Except, for most of my adult life, it didn’t exist.
I remember writing a column lamenting the prevalence of cosmetic surgery when I was in my 30s, which was so long ago now that I can’t even find it, because Lowcountry Weekly didn’t have a website then. Looking back, I realize it was pretty damn cheeky of me – no pun intended – since a 30-something woman has no real idea what it’s like to age in our youth-obsessed culture. I regret that past arrogance, but at 58, my feelings about cosmetic surgery haven’t really changed. At this age, I’ve learned never to say never – and most of all, never to judge others for their different choices – but my hope today is that I won’t succumb to the pressure to stick knives – or needles – in my face. Ever.
My entree into the world of “influence” came via an old enemy turned friend – my gray hair. On Instagram, they call it “silver” hair – silver being a substance of value – and it’s something I’d been battling since a gray (um, silver) streak first appeared in the middle of my head at the tender age of 22. Imagine my horror at the time! I colored my streak for decades, but as anybody with gray hair knows, it doesn’t hold color very well and, more importantly, it always grows back. Fast. By my late 40s, I’d begun to grudgingly accept my streak – to think of it as a “natural highlight” – but I still felt the need to lighten the rest of my dirty blond/mousy brown hair so the streak wasn’t so flagrantly… streaky. Then the streak began to expand, and I could no longer pretend I was “prematurely gray.” This was full-on middle age and I was only gonna get grayer. When the pandemic rolled around, I joined the thousands of women nation-wide who stopped coloring their hair entirely. For most of them, it started by necessity – their salons had closed – but since I had always colored my own oddball hair, for me, it was just a giving in. An exhale. A relief.
And here I am almost three years later, loving my silver hair and encouraging other women to embrace theirs. But only if they want to.
That’s the great thing about the Pro-Age movement. It’s not about telling women how they should age. It’s about relieving the social pressure to age in any particular way at all. I’m not judging women who take a different approach from mine. Do what you gotta do, ladies! Whatever feels right. I’m just trying to open up a space for those of us who have a natural inclination to age . . . naturally. I believe deep in my soul that aging naturally should be completely acceptable. Commonplace, even. I want to banish the popular notion that women who don’t go the cosmetic surgery route – or use Botox or fillers – are “letting themselves go.” I find that idea appalling and always have.
I’ll never forget an interview I read with Joan Rivers, many years ago, after she’d attended her 50th college reunion. She told the interviewer how stunned she was that some of her classmates had gray hair and wrinkles. “They looked like a bunch of grandmothers!” she said, horrified. I remember thinking at the time, “Well, at age 72, they probably are a bunch of grandmothers! Why shouldn’t they look like what they are?”
Fortunately, there are women with far more “influence” than I beginning to take up the cause of natural aging. Actresses like Helen Mirren and Emma Thompson – and people like Paulina Porizkova, who is leading the way on Instagram, and in her new book of essays, No Filter. These women have real skin in the game. (Pun intended.) It’s easy for a small-town journalist to grow old naturally. But a super model? A movie star? The pressure on these women to stay young-looking is beyond intense, and they are heroes to me.
What’s weird about Instagram is that, in order to have “influence,” you kind of have to turn yourself into a brand. My brand is all about natural aging. This includes natural skincare, natural hair, natural wellness, and spending lots of time in the natural world. These are all things I sincerely believe in, so it’s not like I’m lying or selling out in any way. But I’m posting a lot of photos of my aging face and body – Instagram is all about images – and for someone who’s more comfortable revealing herself through words, it’s a little unsettling.
But I’ll keep doing it – for a while, anyway – because this matters to me. It feels important. I want my daughter to grow old in a world that allows her to do so honestly, joyfully, and without any shame. A world where there’s no stigma attached to aging. Where it’s okay for grandmothers to look like grandmothers. I want that for all our daughters. I want it for myself.
Also, I’ll be honest: I’m totally loving the free skincare products, haircare products, makeup, and clothes that companies are sending me to promote. I may be an older woman, but I enjoy being a girl.