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Women Who Inspire: Marcelle Karp

Marcelle Karp is a quote machine. Few moments pass in our conversation when I’m not vigorously jotting down something she said: the secret to raising teenage girls, or why men in their 50s don’t understand women in their 50s, or the lessons of third wave feminism.

A lot of this has to do with the simple fact that Karp is, and always has been, an eloquent, opinionated societal provocateur. In the early 1990s, she and a friend started Bust magazine, which found an audience of disenfranchised women in the age of Anita Hill and Riot Grrrl. But there’s also something of a maturity to Karp, a sense of a woman who has grown only more comfortable with age and the things she has come to value.

“There are a lot of ladies like us who feel vibrant and vital and alive and beautiful and sexy and tired and pissed … like kind of the way we did in our 20s, but even more so now,” she says. “We are a huge network of women. There’s still so many of us who listen to Bikini Kill. There’s still so many of us who want to see Courtney Love succeed!”


I look in the mirror, and I don’t see a 53-year-old woman. I see my best self.


For that community, she recently started her second publishing project, Barb magazine. With it, she hopes to offer a voice for those for whom age doesn’t totally apply. Count her daughter among those: 16-year-old Ruby is already a published author, who wrote a book called Earth Hates Me from the point of view of the teenager whom she, in fact, is. Karp has a fantastic relationship with Ruby, something she attributes to single motherhood and being persistent with her curiosity: “Ask specific questions where the answer is going to be longer than a sentence, and just remember what it was like to be a teenager.”

As for men in her age bracket, Karp is looking for some understanding as well. Until she found someone recently, Karp was on dating apps where she met younger men almost exclusively. The reason? They didn’t judge nearly as much as men in their 50s.

“I look in the mirror, and I don’t see a 53-year-old woman. I see my best self,” she says. “When a man my age looks at me, he’s not looking at someone he’s going to connect with — he’s thinking, ‘Oh, she’s too old.’”

Karp’s father passed away a few years ago after a lifetime of less-than-ideal eating habits and almost no physical activity. His death forced a change not only in her own eating habits and workout schedule, but it also encouraged her to double down on the toolkit that has been working for her in her 50s.

“I’m using my intellect all the time. My brain is running on seven cylinders,” she says. “I feel really comfortable as a sexual being. I don’t feel inhibited physically or sexually.”


Sound Advice from Marcelle Karp

Sex is different, embrace it.

“Women need to hold onto their lust, nurture it. That, to me, is tantamount. To not lose that sense of sexiness, of desire, of pleasure. Men experience physical changes too. The way sex unfolds for them as they age — things slow down for them. And so, as they confront these changes, what would be helpful is to roll with it. Not to get anxious. When the nerves come, allow them. Having empathy allows for the partners to not have anxiety about sex.”

Be more open, not less.

“We can’t allow ourselves to fall into the trap of bitterness. That will eat you up from the inside. Yes, joy and all that other shit is important. But having the ability to put yourself in the other’s shoes — from dating to ordering a cup of coffee to handing in an assignment to your supervisor — allows for you to be kinder, more open, more full. What a gift that is, at this point in our lives.”

Help a fella out.

In fact, says Karp, it’s older men who often need a reality check in every facet: looks, fashion, but especially health. “Men have to approach eating in a healthy way,” she says. “It’s not about being skinny or fat. It’s having a lifestyle that keeps them going past 60.”

This story originally appeared on AGEIST. Check it out and sign up for the publication’s newsletter

Photo: David Harry Stewart for The AGEIST

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