Mind and Body

Striking a pose at age 70 something

A reflection on what it takes to become visible again

Photo by Kayla Clough

Toby Simon at the fashion photo shoot.

By Toby Simon
Posted 8/26/19
Toby Simon shares her experience on being invited to be a “mature model” on a photo shoot in New York City.
How would perceptions change if mature women were given a starring role as talent in promoting and marketing the innovation economy in Rhode Island? What are the opportunities for mature women to be validated as peers, as entrepreneurs, as leaders in both mind and body? Why do the efforts to build health equity around community investments often involve strengthening connections around women leaders?
As a regular contributor to ConvergenceRI, Toby Simon provides a valuable voice that is all too often missing from most news media outlets: how her young granddaughter learned the word “unconscionable”; her exploits in becoming a paddle board instructor at age 70; her efforts to promote Haitian roots music by Lakou Mizik; and her reflections on the intergenerational struggle to protect women’s health rights.
In Simon’s story about being a “mature model” for a fashion shoot, she reveals an insightful perspective around the ways that mature women can become more visible.

WELLFLEET, Mass. – Two weeks ago, on a whim, my daughter answered an email blast from a “Women in Media” listserv she is on. She responded to the video producer who was seeking a “mature model” for a photo shoot, that her mother, who is not a model, might be a good person for the shoot. And she included a picture of me in her email. The producer concurred.

A few days ago, I entered a very cool space in Queens in New York City, a former warehouse where the photo shoot featuring the work of Indigo Apparel NYC, a small fashion designer, would take place. En route to the gig, I definitely felt a bit nervous. When I entered the studio and saw the cameras, lights, white walls, and staging area, I felt intimidated. But that lasted about a New York minute.

There were two other models for this project; one was 25 and the other 29. The 25-year-old was an extremely perky, energetic aspiring actress – and absolutely adorable. The other woman was stunning. She worked as a digital news editor in the city, but was interested in possibly pursuing modeling and wanted to check it out.

The crew consisted of two video producers, one video director, a couple guys helping the director, a stylist and her assistant. The stylist was delightful – warm, positive, upbeat. She’s committed to designing clothes using eco-friendly materials and often avails herself of used fabric donated by major fashion companies. Her designs are quite stunning.

A supportive crew
Everyone – from the video director Anthony Prince to the video producer Irina Dvalidze – was incredibly welcoming, chill, unbelievably positive and utterly supportive. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I’ve watched enough TV and movies in my time to think that fashion shoots are often tense, intense, prone to hysterics, and not at all chill.

We modeled four outfits each. Very cool stuff. Sometimes we walked on the set alone, taking direction from Anthony who was filming and talking quietly to us. Other times we were together either being filmed or photographed. The aspiring actress had some experience modeling so she seemed quite relaxed strutting and posing. She also didn’t avail herself of the dressing room provided. [Both the digital editor and “mature model” did.]

The other woman and I needed more direction but we caught on quickly and received wonderful accolades after our individual shots. After one of mine, Anthony gave me a “thumbs up” and then said quietly to me: “Girl, you've got it.”


Here are my takeaways from the day. It has mostly to do with aging.

The first is that the women’s fashion world could use more “mature models” or “senior models.” The same is true for men’s fashion.

Since the older end of the Baby Boomers are big consumers, it would be nice if the ads on TV showed us – in all our glory, au naturel.

And, how about modeling agencies consider using mature women to advertise not just drugs and Depends, but fabulous fashion as well? Even the Cialis and Viagra ads use women in their 40s or possibly 50s, making a strong statement about women’s sexuality.

The other takeaway is about imperceptibility. As women age, we become more and more invisible and, to a certain extent, asexual.

Perhaps men feel that way too. In spite of what some claim that this is now the age of the older woman, my experience, and that of many of my peers, is that we do not find this to be the case.

Imperceptibility – being invisible – rears its ugly head in a variety of ways but certainly in new social situations, it’s often most pronounced.

At weddings and parties, younger people often don’t seem particularly interested in talking to you. At the local produce market, it’s not uncommon for the young cashier to wait on someone else [younger] because even though you’re standing in front of them, they just don’t see you.

Moving to the beat
At this shoot, all of the production crew and “talent” were easily 40 years younger than me. Yet at this shoot, none of that invisibility factor was present. I was a peer, a co-model, a participant, a valued member of the shoot. And it felt really good. In fact, it felt delightful.

When the production crew asked me what music I wanted to hear while I was being filmed alone, I had them use my favorite Haitian band, Lakou Mizik. This was new music to everyone in the room, and everyone started smiling listening to it. And, some of them were even moving to the beat.

The experience left me feeling validated. Who could ask for anything more? And of course, if offered another opportunity to be a “mature model,” I’ll gladly say yes.


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Marilyn Guisbond

As always, Toby Simon, you are an outlier and a role model. The invisibility of the older woman in particular has been felt by many f us, even when we weren’t “that old” yet. Thanks for always blazing a trail for us to follow. You know, there’s an episode of Grace and Frankie where Jane Fonda has the store experience you describe. Jane Fonda! As far as I’m concerned you’re in her league. Thanks! #represent #notforsissies

| Wednesday, August 28

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