If you’ve scrolled through Instagram recently, you may have noticed a new type of woman emerging. She’s gorgeous, bold and stylish — and she has gray hair.
Thanks to sites like Advanced Style, the popular blog-turned-book-turned-hashtag, and women like 64-year-old Accidental Icon Lyn Slater (she of the nearly 500,000 followers), these “older” Instagram stars are staking out territory on the site and getting noticed.
Although 18- to 29-year-olds still dominate Instagram, the rise of the #over50 influencer may be indicative of a wider trend. According to the latest data from Pew Research Center, 21 percent of Americans age 50 to 64 and 10 percent of those 65 and older are Instagram users. They’re posting pics of themselves working out, traveling and showing off their own unique style (no housedresses here).
To find out more, we talked to Slater along with a few other mid- to late-life Instagrammers about getting older, fighting ageism (not aging) and how they’re taking on Instagram’s youth-obsessed ideals.
Move Over, 20-Somethings
It’s something of a truism that women begin to feel invisible as they age. In a study published just last year on body image and aging in women over 50, more than half of respondents said they experienced a sense of invisibility and irrelevance. And a lack of representation in the media is at least partly to blame, according to the study authors.
While traditional outlets — think film and television — may be slower to show older women, Instagram offers a platform for them to be seen and heard on their own terms. Just ask 83-year-old Dorrie Jacobson of Senior Style Bible. “If someone doesn’t want to invite me to the party because I’m too old, I am kicking that door down and coming anyway — metaphorically speaking, of course,” she says.
The former Playboy bunny created her Instagram account in March of 2014, around the same time the words “selfie” and “hashtag” were added to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Jacobson’s motivation for joining the millennial-dominated site was simple: “There’s too much pressure on social media for women to be perfect, and I wanted to challenge that.”
Like Jacobson, Beth Djalali, 59, wanted to shake up the norms of Instagram. “I figured if 20-year-olds are sharing fashion and style tips, why can’t I? I have years of experience, so why not utilize it?” says the blogger behind Style at a Certain Age. She adds, “Hopefully, when women of any age stop by my page, they’ll realize there’s no expiration date when it comes to style.”
Slater takes that thinking a step further. For her, age is simply irrelevant. One of her go-to hashtags? Age is not a variable. It doesn’t influence how she dresses, and it’s not how she wants to be defined. On the topic of using advertisers on her blog, the university professor and model told W Magazine, “I would rather pressure MAC Cosmetics to think of me as a consumer than help promote a separate over-50 makeup brand.”
Of course, it’s not just style bloggers showing up on Instagram and challenging our ideas about getting older. Gym owner and creator of Black Girls Workout Too Ellen Ector, 65, says of joining Instagram: “The main reason I started is because I wanted more women to understand that age is nothing but a number.” The fitness guru especially wanted to reach African-American women, four out of five of whom are overweight or obese, she tells us. Her message: “Working out and eating healthy is the fountain of youth.”
Older and (Definitely) Wiser
Instagram isn’t generally celebrated for being a boon to women’s self-esteem. In fact, when it comes to teens and 20-somethings, it ranks as the worst social media platform for mental health, according to a 2017 survey. The researchers behind the survey found that Instagram was associated with anxiety and depression as well as negative body image.
All of this makes Instagram seem like an unlikely space for women over 50 looking to feel empowered. But older users may benefit from some much-needed self-acceptance that guards against the potential pitfalls of Instagram. In fact, the same body image and aging study mentioned earlier also found that, for some older women, there was “a transition from being appearance-focused when younger to becoming more functionality-focused with age.” Translation? Women appreciated what their bodies could do rather than simply how they looked.
That’s certainly the case for Ector, who admits, “I had skinny legs [when I was younger], so I was really self-conscious about them. Now I’m 65 and I can still run a 9-minute mile. I’m beating women in their 30s to the finish line. These little legs help me run so fast!”
Jacobson’s relationship to her body has also changed over the years. “Like most women, I have some jiggly bits around my middle that I’ve learned to embrace as I’ve gotten older,” she tells us. In more than a few Instagram posts, Jacobson boldly poses in lingerie or a bathing suit. The message in one of her captions says it all: “For a woman in her 80s, stripping down to her knickers in public is the ultimate lesson in body positivity and self-acceptance.”
She finishes off her post by adding, “Let’s create a new definition of beauty that allows us to be who we are, not who the media tells us we should be.”
Djalali is even more defiant, saying, “Maybe aging would bother me more if I were caught in the trap of thinking that I need to look 40 when, in reality, I’m almost 60. Who fed us that lie anyway? I’ve earned every wrinkle and gray hair! Why not embrace them?”
Getting Over Getting Older
One of the realities of getting older is that it can be tough to reconcile your chronological age (and appearance) with how you feel inside. “Sometimes when I look in the mirror, I’m surprised a 36-year-old isn’t staring back,” says Djalali. Of course, she adds, “Once I get over that shock, I think, ‘Not bad, not bad at all.’ Which is a good thing, because I’m just getting started.”
It may be that Instagram gives Djalali and other women her age a chance to get used to their appearance, to see and embrace themselves as they are today.
We run this idea by Pamela Rutledge, Ph.D. director of the Media Psychology Research Center, who says, depending on the person's mindset, it's possible that Instagram could indeed help them more comfortable in their own skin. However, she adds that's, "if your outlook is such that you are embracing who you are versus looking for shortcomings."
That seems to be the case for Jacobson, who admits, “I don’t always recognize the face I see staring back at me because I still feel so young inside.” But at 83, she says that ultimately she still likes what she sees.
Even the unflappable Slater concedes that, “When I first began to age and saw changes in my body, it was somewhat disruptive.” But she didn’t dwell on those changes. “I read something about aging being inevitable. It actually starts the moment you are born, so I accepted that fact as I am a pragmatist.”
For others, the idea of getting older isn’t as easy to accept. As Jacobson says, “Aging is a scary prospect for a lot of people because they think it means losing everything they value: their looks, their mobility, their jobs and their purpose.”
She continues, “But you know what? That’s not the case. We all have the ability to decide how we’re going to age.”
And that’s exactly what she and her #over50 cohort are doing: redefining aging on their own terms and providing others with proof that you can be relevant and seen at any age.
Rutledge adds that these women empower others by showing their own sense of commitment to living. "They have not 'gone quietly into the night,' but are still active in body and mind — committed to health, wellness and a bold attitude."
About the Author
Dana Meltzer Zepeda is a freelance writer and editor based in Orange County, California. She is a graduate of the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University and has written about health and fitness for Women’s Health, Self and Runner’s World and is a former editor at TV Guide, Yoga Journal and Teen People.
Check out LIVESTRONG's Stronger Women series to get more inspiration and actionable life tips from female leaders and changemakers in wellness, fitness, entertainment, sports and business.