Susan Mclean, 77, was signed by top Scottish modelling agency, Colours, at the age of 63.
I hate the word old. I might be older, but I’m not old! I’m 77 now but I still want to do things with my life. Sometimes it feels as though you can be invisible in society as an older person. But I’m not prepared to sit back and be patted on the head.
I still want to have a purpose and I think I can still contribute to society. I find it odd when someone asks me if I’d like a hand packing my shopping at the supermarket and then I’m always hugely relieved when I see they are asking everyone and it’s some sort of fundraising initiative.
I retired at the age of 60. It was a point in my life I had worked towards and looked forward to but suddenly I had a lot more time on my hands than I was used to. When you’re older and you reach retirement there’s this feeling of ‘where do I go, what do I do now?’. There’s this big expanse of time stretching out in front of you which can be difficult when you aren’t used to it.
Before I retired I had always worked in the social care sector. Then at the age of 49 I decided to move more into community care and home care services and few years later I set up a management consultancy. When I eventually retired I realised that I’d spent most of my working life caring for other people and at that point I wanted to do something for myself.
You spend most of your days working towards retirement and I was glad when I reached mine. But nothing quite prepares you for just how different your life suddenly becomes. I realised that retirement actually bothered me a little and I wanted to find something to do. I decided to try voluntary work, but unfortunately I found it surprisingly hard to get into. I have lots of grandchildren who I babysit for sometimes, but I wanted to try something out my comfort zone.
I thought I would try drama classes and much to my surprise I really enjoyed it. Even more surprisingly, the teacher told me I was really good and that I should think about registering with an agency. Which I duly did and, although I didn’t expect to hear back from them, before I knew it they began booking me on jobs.
I’ve worked on photoshoots, big advertising campaigns and I’ve had filming jobs too. Initially, it was very daunting –but I couldn’t believe how friendly and encouraging everyone was. I had never really been one for a lot of make-up in my normal life but thankfully most of the clients I’ve worked for haven’t wanted me to look too different from myself.
It’s funny how excited everyone gets about people like Iris Apfel attending fashion shows at the age of 95. I can’t help thinking it’s a big fuss about nothing – why is it so shocking that she’s interested in fashion at her age? You don’t suddenly become a different person and lose interest in things you’ve cared about your whole life, just because you are older. Why wouldn’t she be interested in fashion just because of her age? She used to work for a fashion journal, she had her own textile firm, so of course fashion is important to her. There’s nothing special about older women going to fashion shows. When you read about women like Daphne Selfe modelling at 88 it shows that the fashion and beauty industry is starting to realise that older people can put on an outfit and still look good.
I realise now that the main thing for older people is to have a purpose in life and if you don’t it can be a real downer. It’s important to realise the difference between being lonely and just being alone.
My advice to others in a similar situation would be to look at what your abilities are. You might have things wrong with you – I do, but it’s not about what you can’t do it’s about what you can do. When I went to drama class I didn’t expect to be encouraged but I was and now I life coach for voluntary organisations. Remember, just because you are older doesn’t mean you are old – you are still an important part of society – you can still contribute to society.
Photos: Eve Conroy, MUA: KELLY CRIPPS @ Colours Agency; With thanks to Debenhams Silverburn.
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