'I'm a 55-year-old model. Here's what a shoot for jeans taught me about ageing.'

I was talking to a new friend recently about my ongoing 37-year modelling journey, and how it’s taken on this age-activism thing. 

I know she meant it kindly, but it irked me when she said what a good job I was doing for women, by 'ageing gracefully'. 

Graceful: whiffs of quaint 1900s top note, with a suspiciously permissive base. 

It's the most chosen adjective by the Western world to signal approval of mostly woman’s choices as we traverse life after 40. Interestingly, for me as a long-time yoga teacher, it’s the go-to word to describe a yogi doing asana/yoga poses. In both instances it’s used to describe seemingly effortless physical transitions. 

Image credit: Claudia Smith. 


For my 50th birthday I made the pilgrimage to Rishikesh, India, the yoga capital of the world. On a day trip into the foothills of the Himalaya, we drove past straight-backed women, carrying enormous bundles of grass on their heads. They walked regally beside the road. The image of them has etched itself into my mind. They were filled with such grace. But it has me wondering - is this how we navigate our way through the ageing process, carrying our own bundles of societal expectations in our heads?

I consistently receive the tick of graceful approval because I look ‘natural’. I don’t wear makeup when I’m not working as a model and I look like I haven’t tampered with my face and body. Breaking news people, I have 37 years, experience in marketing my brand criteria. I’ve no desire to have grey hair, my eyebrows are micro-bladed, (unfortunately fading-out to a weird salmony-pink colour), and if I feel like changing the colour of my skin, I’ll use Three Warriors tanning mist. As a model I’ve been going to job interviews several times a day, Monday to Friday, for nearly four decades. I’m a pro at self-presentation. It’s my job and frankly it’s my choice. 

I read the other day on this very website about the judgy term ‘unrecognisable’ being bandied around at record pace, to describe Madonna and other women’s choices for self-presentation/preservation. So, tell me, if we’re not gracefully ageing, recognisably, does this mean we are the opposite - disgraceful, coarse, dis-proportioned, awkward, homely, or crude?


Image credit: Claudia Smith. 

You’d think so from a jeans campaign shoot I did a couple of years back. As you can imagine selling jeans requires making great shapes with legs and bums. As a regular squatter, (not for booty shaping reasons, rather as a must for keeping my 55-year-old knees in some semblance of working order), I felt ready.

Imagine my dismay when as the 'token' mature model on set, I was given elasticised waistbands and voluminous shapeless ‘mum jeans’ (their word, not mine). My 20 and 30-year-old co-stars vogued in sexy ‘skinnies’. The message clearly was women my age have something unsightly about their legs and bums that is not hot, and needs to be camouflaged or hidden altogether.


WATCH: Model and writer Paulina Porizkova shares her thoughts on ageism. Post continues after the video.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting smelly wafts of ageism with undertones of unconscious misogyny. Everyone would agree that the esteemed scientist and conservationist 89-year-old Dr Jane Goodall is graceful, however Madonna takes a beating. It would seem women aren’t allowed to make any big moves. Our ageing must be refined, undetectable. In the period of our lives where freedom begins to percolate, trickling through our minds and hearts, liberating us to care less about what others think, thereby allowing guidance from our personal wisdom. Finally, we have time, space, and resources to express and present ourselves in new and wonderful ways, we get a societal barrage of age-appropriate ‘graceful’ standards.

Because she couldn’t give a toss, I’ve always been a huge Vivienne Westwood fan. I love that she aged sexily and sassily, interestingly and intensely. She matured powerfully and potently, boldly and brilliantly, loudly, wilfully and wildly. Graceful certainly isn’t up there with the adjectives I’d use to describe her strident campaigning for the rights of earth, while being carried down runways on the shoulders of male models, and switching hair colours from a fiery orange red to grey with pink stripes. She continued her unapologetic punk sensibility, (I’m sure rubbing-off onto her brilliant and professionally strategic, recently bare-faced friend Pamela Anderson), right up to her death at 81 last year. 


LISTEN: In this episode of Mamamia Out Loud, Mia and Claire answer the question 'Is The Act of Ageing Offensive?'. Post continues after the podcast.

Not long ago, I worked on a Toyota commercial with a spritely 83-year-old woman whose name I have disappointingly forgotten. She lived in aged-care and loved working as talent on television commercials. It’s my plan, if health permits, to stick around like her. I’ll probably be grey-haired for market appeal by then. 

I hope you’ll join me in taking Pamela's lead and give ourselves permission to age and present whatever way suits, and leave-off with the judgment of others. And as for graceful standards, the composure married with sheer determined strength of the women I saw in India, took my breath away. Their yoga, something I can only hope to aspire to, the union of mind, body and spirit, in an unfaltering quest to uphold responsibilities and provide for their families, expanded my concept of what being graceful truly means.

Feature image: Supplied.

Images in article: Claudia Smith.