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upworthy
Identity

She became a model in retirement— redefining what beauty and fulfillment really look like

74 year old model carolyn doelling

Fashion isn't just for the young.

Why should we view growing older as the end of all new experiences? What if we gave ourselves permission to view the later part in life as an adventure, equally as exciting and full of opportunities as our younger years?

I find myself falling into this “aging = decline” mentality quite easily as of late, even though I never previously considered aging to be particularly dreadful. I can say without a doubt that things have indeed gotten better for me with age; I have no desire to revisit my 20s. And yet, I still will catch myself thinking of all the things I’m now “too old” to even begin, let alone accomplish. The splits? At 33? What’s the point? Move to London? I can’t, my life is set in Los Angeles. And so on.

Despite my determined focus on those “40 Over 40” lists and repeated affirmations of "things continually get better for me,” and knowing full well that 30s are not even close to over the hill, I can still sense now that there is a hill. And that makes me anticipate the decline, to the exclusion of many paths that could be enjoyable. And isn’t that a major point of life … no matter what stage of it we’re in?

It’s recovering pessimists like me that inspired Carolyn Doelling to share her story.


Doelling completely reinvented herself, and now lives life as an in-demand fashion model. Her Instagram is filled with magazine-worthy photos wearing kickboxing attire, glamorous silk sets and luxurious dresses. She embodies style and grace so effortlessly, it’s hard to believe that she didn’t start this fabulous career until retirement.

Doelling had a long and varied career in banking, telecommunications and nonprofit sectors. Though she immersed herself in left-brained industries, Doelling still found ways to put her heart into philanthropy as well.

During that time, she had never even considered posing for the camera.

She told the TODAY show, “I have to say that modeling was never in the picture. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a picture of me beforehand, because I was always on the back row."

Once she retired at 70, Doelling found that the back row was getting less comfortable. In fact, retired life made her feel “invisible,” especially without a career to tie her self-worth to.

“So much of our identity is tied with what our titles are and what our work is,” she told Grow Acorns. “‘I am a development officer. I am a marketing strategist.’ Then when you let that go, you have to find a different ‘I am.’ But saying ‘I am retired,’ well, that’s really not work. Both internally and externally you begin to feel like a different person.”

Doelling noticed this feeling reflected in her outer world, often being “underestimated” and “overlooked.”

She shared with TODAY, "It was as if everyone in this culture of ageism had agreed: You are done, your work is done. You are no longer needed. And with the kids and husband gone, your purpose to us is questionable."

For Doelling, fashion became an outlet for feeling seen again. And following her creative instincts took her down a completely unexpected path.

In a story worthy of Gisele Bündchen, Doelling was discovered in broad daylight. While attending an event for luxury boutique McMullen, she was noticed by the store's owner Sherri McMullen, who was taken aback by Doelling's bold and confident style. But it was Doelling’s mission to “inspire other women to add more style and swagger to their life,” that really drew McMullen in. Doelling was quickly whisked away for a photoshoot.

The pictures received a ton of positive feedback, attention from other designers and even an offer from a New York modeling agency. Doelling was invisible no more.

Though Doelling is grateful for the gig, she is more interested in exploring other parts of her ‘I am,” rather than stick to one. Been there, done that, after all.

“I write, I am taking piano lessons. I’m just making a well-rounded life,” she tells Grow Acorns. “I could let modeling go tomorrow and be happy doing something else. Being a cyclist, maybe.”

Doelling certainly helped me remember that our life path might contain a few forks in the road, but never a true dead end. I hope she did the same for you. Revisit those old childhood dreams you deemed impossible. Take on a hobby simply because it enriches your soul. Look forward to 70 the same way you did for 20. Who knows what fun twists and turns your ‘I am’ can take as long as you’re open.

It’s never too late to enjoy all of life’s goodness.

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