The Fabulous Fashionistas Challenge Women to Believe that Aging Naturally is Powerfully Sexy
By Sarah Zinn
At 75 years old, Bridget Sojourner refuses to become invisible. “Most older women are not noticed, so in turn they become invisible,” she said. “I am visible.”
With her daring fashion style, Sojourner is not only seen, but also marveled at.
“I have been stopped on the streets for my style,” Sojourner said. “People are amazed.”
English director Sue Borne followed Sojourner, along with five other women, in her documentary Fabulous Fashionistas for the UK’s Channel Four. She interviewed them about their lives and their opinions on fashion, women and growing old. Homemade clothes, sassy outfits and statement jewelry clutter these women’s closets — a dedication to their lifelong love affair with fashion and fun.
Many of these women are somewhere around 80 and their fearless style is redefining what it means to “dress your age”. Radhika Parameswaran, professor of journalism at Indiana University, specializes in women in the media. She said the fashionistas are challenging what society considers appropriate for older women. “Older women can be loved and understood as mothers and grandmothers, and not much else,” said Parameswaran. “We have ideas of modesty for older women being proper.”
Sue Kreitzman, another fashionista, doesn’t really care about what is considered proper. “Most people tell me I look terrific,” she said. ”Except for the ones who run screaming back to their beige habitats.”
As an artist and curator, 73-year-old Kreitzman said being surrounded by art — the clothes on her body included — every moment of her life is what makes her happy. “I wear my art and my art collections on my back,” she said. “When people enjoy it I am happy. If they don’t like it, that is their prerogative. It really doesn’t bother me.”
The fashionistas’ wear not only their lively outfits with pride, they also body flaunt their age. In a culture where women hide signs of aging with Botox and hair dye, the fashionistas embrace the physical evidence of their years. “Botox is just nuts,” Kreitzman said. “It’s a poison and it freezes your face so all of the character is leached out of it. My hair turned the most amazing shade of silver all by itself. Covering it up would be a crime against nature.”
Beauty seems to be contingent on a youthful look in standards for women, but not in men. Its acceptable and often considered distinguished for men to “go gray”, while women scarcely let their hair show this sign of aging. Consequently, older men are much less likely to sign up for plastic surgery. “Historically women have been valued such a great deal for their appearance,” said Parameswaran. “We give men greater permission to let go.”
While the fashionistas have far from “let go” of their appearance, they assert the quite radical idea that older women can be dazzling naturally.
“Not only are they not afraid to reveal their age, but they want to combine that with beauty,” Parameswaran said. “They are saying that you can be a beautiful older woman.”
Sojourner said she particularly enjoys the high percentage of young women inspired by the documentary because she has been challenging ageism for years. “We need to challenge the preferred wisdom and have a huge educative movement,” she said. “There needs to be a revolution in this aspect.”
Kreitzman said women such as Fran Liebowitz and Mary Beard encourage her to believe that things are changing for older women. “We are what we want to be,” she said. “Growing old is an adventure and a privilege.”
ABOUT THE WRITER
Sarah Zinn is currently a student at Indiana University studying Journalism. She’s a creative, passionate writer with a compulsion for wit. In her free time, she enjoys venturing outdoors, eating ethnic food, painting and on the rare occasion, sleeping. She is very interested in civil rights, the environment, public policy, and the arts. She has a curiosity for most things, excluding only finite math and stressfully dramatic shows such as CSI and 90210. She is a diehard fan of Seinfeld and most girl bands of the indie rock persuasion. The daughter of an expat, Sarah has called the state of Indiana, Athens GR, and London England home within the 19 years of her life. Sarah writes for her university’s newspaper the Indiana Daily Student, and has been published in Indianapolis Monthly Magazine. Follow her on Twitter @sarah_zinn.
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