The 70-year-old “grand fluencers” of social media debunk age myths
NEW YORK (AP) – Joan MacDonald’s health was in tatters at age 71. She was overweight and was taking numerous medications that caused high cholesterol, rising blood pressure, and kidney problems.
Her daughter, a fitness instructor, warned her of getting sick if she didn’t turn things around. She did, went to the gym for the first time, and learned to balance her diet with the help of a brand new tool, an iPhone.
Now 75, MacDonald is a hype beast for health with a bodybuilder body and 1.4 million loyal followers on Instagram.
She is one of a growing number of “Grand Fluencers”, people over 70 who, with the help of younger fans for decades, have amassed a considerable fan base on social media.
“It’s so rare to find someone her age who can do all of these things,” said one of her admirers, 18-year-old Marianne Zapata from Larchmont, New York. “It’s just so positive to think about it.”
Both ambitious and inspiring senior influencers are turning their digital platforms into gold.
MacDonald has partnered with sportswear and nutritional supplement brand Women’s Best and stress reliever Sensate. And she just launched her own health and fitness app, not too many years after learning to use digital technology herself.
On TikTok, four friends from @oldgays – the youngest is 65 – have 2.2 million followers, including Rihanna. They have a promotional deal with Grindr as they wow fans with their clueless answers to pop culture questions.
Others focus on beauty and style, setting up Amazon cabinets with their go-to looks, and doing live makeup tutorials. Lagetta Wayne, 78, has teenagers asking her to be her grandmother while she tends and cooks her veggies in Suisun City, California as @msgrandmasgarden on TikTok.
Wayne, who has 130,500 followers since joining in June 2020, owes her social media success to a teenage granddaughter. Her very first video, a garden tour, got 37,600 likes.
“One day my garden was very pretty and I was really excited and asked her if she would take some pictures of me,” Wayne recalls. “She said she would put me on TikTok and I said, well, what is TikTok? I had never heard of it before. ”
According to a 2019 survey by AARP, most people over the age of 50 use technology to keep in touch with friends and family. But less than half use social media for this purpose on a daily basis, relying on Facebook before other platforms.
Only 37% of people over 70 used social media on a daily basis in 2019, the study found. Since the coronavirus outbreak, older YouTubers have broadened their horizons beyond Facebook and have become more voracious, often driven by the growing number of feeds from their peers, said Alison Bryant, senior vice president of AARP.
In the Californian desert city of Cathedral City, Jessay Martin is the second youngest of the old gays at 68.
“I thought I was going to be pretty relaxed for the rest of my life and I do, but that brings us more. I had a very structured week in which I worked in the board of the senior center on Mondays, did one and a half hours of yoga on Tuesdays and Fridays, and was at the reception in the senior center on Wednesdays. I just floated by, wasn’t social, didn’t place myself in the gay community. And boy did the old gays change that, “said Martin.
Like MacDonald, they make a lot of myths about what is possible in the sixth, seventh, and eighth decades of life.
“They show that anyone can do these things, that there is no need to be afraid of aging. The 20- and 30-year-olds don’t think about it often, “said Bryant. “The authenticity that we see in some of these older influencers is really refreshing. That’s part of the complexity of their narratives. They bring other parts of their lives into it. They are grandparents and great grandparents and spouses. They feel more comfortable in their own skin. “
Sandra Sallin, a blogger and artist, has slowly increased her number of followers on Instagram to 25,300. Her reach recently extended to British Olympic gold medal diver Tom Daley, who raved about her mother’s cheesecake recipe after his trainer discovered it online and prepared it for her athletes and staff. A lipstick lover who focuses on cooking and beauty, Sallin also shares photos from her past and other adventures, including her turn in a vintage Spitfire high above the cliffs of Dover last year.
“I wanted to expand my world. I felt older, my world was shrinking. People were moving, people were sick, ”said Sallin. “So I started my blog because I wanted to reach out to myself. After that, I heard about this thing called Instagram. It was really hard to learn. I really stumbled into it. I am shocked because most of the people who follow me are 30 and 40 years younger. But there are people who are older, who have given up and say, ‘You know, I’ll start wearing lipstick.’ “
Toby Bloomberg, 69, in Atlanta is a supporter of Sallin. She discovered Sallin after Sallin took part in the short-lived Food Network show “Clash of the Grandmas”.
“She talks a lot about aging. This is a pretty unusual phenomenon on social media that is obviously dominated by people who are much younger than us, ”said Bloomberg.
MacDonald said she was initially surprised that people actually cared about what she had to say.
“Why would people want to follow an old woman,” she giggled from her home in Ontario, Canada. “My daughter Michelle cleared that up. She said it is what you are advocating, that people can do what they think they can’t, or that they are told they can’t. “
Grace Maier, 32, is at home all day with her two children, aged 6 months and 2 years. She follows Barbara Costello, a 72-year-old Connecticut grandmother who uses the handle @brunchwithbabs.
“She makes these posts, ‘Did your mother ever tell you?’ and I immediately followed her on Instagram, ”said Maier. “I enjoy your content! She has all of these life hacks and tips to remind me of things my grandma shared with me before she died. She doesn’t take herself too seriously either and just seems to be the kind of person who would welcome you into her home. “
Mae Karwowski, founder and CEO of the influencer marketing agency Obvious, has more than 100 influencers between the ages of 60 and 80 in her network. With more than a billion users on Instagram alone, she refers to the successes on this platform of 93 year old Helen Ruth Elam (baddiewinkle), 67 year old Lyn Slater (ikonaccidental) and 100 year old Iris Apfel.
There’s another aspect to seniors: grandparents and grandchildren who have teamed up to share their adventures together, from world trips to nerf cannon battles.
“Mainstream media, I would say, has a very narrow view of this age group. The great thing about social media is that you can follow a really cool 75 year old woman who’s doing her thing in Florida right now and that’s fun. That is different. And it’s funny, ”said Karwowski. “The 21-year-old model influencer is managed. She has a team. She has designers who attack themselves to give her everything. She has professional photographers. Many of these over 70 influencers do everything. “
Candace Cima, 74, taught herself how to shoot and edit videos for Instagram by watching YouTube tutorials. She jumped on the platform in February 2019 as a fresh voice on fashion and style, encouraging her audience not to be afraid of aging. Her husband sometimes helps out with photos for @ styleinyour70s.withleslieb (Leslie is her middle name).
“I’m still on this learning curve, I have to be honest. Two and a half years ago, I didn’t even know what an influencer was, ”said Cima in Ithaca, New York. “I’ve always had a lot of ideas about aging. I don’t understand why aging has such a negative connotation. “
With 37,900 followers, some of her youngest fans have told her why they care: “They don’t want to age the way they saw their relatives age,” said Cima. “You feel like you can learn something.”
Follow Leanne Italie on Twitter at http://twitter.com/litalie