How I Became An ‘Accidental Icon’
“Thanks for helping me feel better about getting older. I’m still pretty young but was starting to feel that everything after my 20’s was going to be sad. I now realize it only has to be that way if I let it.” -Instagram Follower
“I’m 67 next month and spent years hating getting older. My daughter suggested I follow you. How glad I am that I did! I’m learning to enjoy and embrace my age!” -Instagram Follower
“You always inspire me to feel young, beautiful and free again. I even feel like I want to sing and dance like I did when I was young. That’s why I always go over your posts to keep me feeling happy and well.” -Facebook Follower
A few years ago, I started a blog and Instagram feed called “Accidental Icon.” As a professor of social welfare, I felt limited in how creative I could be in representing issues I was interested in and passionate about. Exploring possibilities, I took some continuing ed classes in a fashion school. Whether the class was about social media or jewelry making, I was frequently told I should start a fashion blog. My university colleagues asked, with eyeballs rolling, what fashion blogging had to do with social change. I had no answer then.
I’ve entertained the thought that unconsciously, as my aging body began to change in ways not always pleasing or in my control, my response was to focus more on what I was covering it with. Since I tend to be oppositional, putting myself on the Internet was perhaps my “giving the finger” to the notion I should start becoming invisible.
Instead of a fashion icon, I became a fashionable iconoclast, someone perceived as tearing down cultural images of what life should be like as an older person. In my photos (since I rarely talk about age) followers seem to see new possibilities. They write and tell me they find the courage to resist stereotypes and expectations. In a media so saturated with perfect images (and the resulting depression and anxiety that ensues), the characteristic that seems to make me a “badass” in my followers’ eyes is that I’ve simply accepted who I am, grey hair, wrinkles, no retouching and all. Horrifying some, pleasing many, I put a very imperfect woman into the fashion space along with the attitude she belonged there.
When I began the blog, I rejected advice telling me to target a certain demographic, preferably my age group. By not restricting who I engaged with my following spans ages 18-95. The majority are 25-64. Having access to the concerns of such a diverse group of women has caused me to be stunned at the intractable pervasiveness of ageism and how it strikes so early in a woman’s life. I must admit given the social activism of my generation and the current one, I was surprised this form of oppression is still so deeply entrenched.
For many women, negative perceptions of aging result in years of anxiety, fear, and frantic attempts to stave off something inevitable. Research reveals that negative thoughts about aging puts us at greater risk for cardiovascular death and takes 7.5 years off our lives. The research is so strong that medical doctors are identifying changing perceptions about age as an intervention.
Comments like the ones above, signify another kind of women’s movement. One that can transcend differences because getting older and how we think about it happens to all of us. A new narrative about getting older is being written by women of all ages. Thoughts are being reframed and feelings are changing. According to science, we are increasing the likelihood we will live healthier, longer, and of course more fashionable lives. Now five years in, I have a pretty good answer to my colleagues’ cynical question, “What does fashion blogging have to do with social change?”