We asked women in their 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s to write short personal essays answering the question, What does aging gracefully mean to you? Each one is a window into the mental and physical lives of women as they grow older. This essay is by 60-year-old Teruko Burrell, a silver-haired model whom you might recognize from our launch video. Watch for more submissions all this month and submit your own essay to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aging gracefully is accepting change and, on occasion, seeking change. For me, it was quitting a secure job of 16 years (with excellent health benefits) and moving from Santa Monica, California, to New York City. The change I sought was a new career. My dream since a teen was to model. I figured better late than never — and late to the game I was!
Living in New York City was everything I expected. It was fantastically energizing, crazy hot, delightfully chilly, and, without fail, stimulating. At model castings, I became a wallflower in awe.
I quickly grew tired of covering my gray roots every time I was sent out. I was always thinking about my hair and when to get it done again. I felt I was hiding my true self beneath a patchwork of dyes and highlights. This made me uncomfortable — and the camera knew. After two years of dye-free thoughts, I happily decided to ditch the color bottle. New York is an expensive town, and trips to the salon add up! Not many models sport silver locks, so in effort to stand out in my new career, I felt it was worth a try.
Women of age are often ignored in fashion and beauty. The prevalent use of editorial and runway models in their teens and 20s tells women they are valued only when looking as young as possible. Women are not visually encouraged to embrace aging. Beauty advertisements tout anti-aging skin products or injections to deter the inevitable sag. They tell women to be youthful with creative haircuts and hair color.
I am often asked, “Do you mind if I ask how old you are?” A frank reply is liberating. It is a graceful confidence in accepting who I am and where I am going.
I’d had enough. I had one word for it: no.
I was ready to accept aging and embrace my natural hair. I had just turned 50 and, being a realist, I was comfortable with aging. Going gray let me be me, and it was a wonderful prelude to aging honestly. I understand that a crown of silver immediately reads “old,” and I am often asked, “Do you mind if I ask how old you are?” A frank reply is liberating. It is a graceful confidence in accepting who I am and where I am going.
I celebrated my 60th birthday this year. I am grateful to see advertising in fashion and beauty slowly evolving to include a diversity of ages. Take a look at the inspiring careers of Pia Gronning, Gillean Mcleod, Claudine Penedo, and Maye Musk. The phrase “aging gracefully” resonates deeply with me, and a big part of my journey was accepting my natural hair.
Our minds and emotions evolve. Age happens. Let our faces, bodies, and lifestyles reflect these gratifying changes.
Teruko Burrell lives and works part-time in Santa Monica, California. Follow her on Instagram.