Carolyn Doelling had never had a single modeling job or even considered thinking about it until she was 70.
Now her mission is to change the fashion and advertising industries and show how people can reinvent themselves later in life, after admittedly feeling “invisible” in retirement.
“My aspiration is just to be the role model for others and say, ‘You know what, she’s 74, she rebooted and reinvented herself, and maybe I could do that too,'” Doelling told Sheinelle Jones on TODAY’s 3rd hour Friday.
Doelling had never considered modeling until two years ago, when asked if she would be interested during a visit to a California boutique. Today, she is a face of designers in print, social media and on the catwalks.
“I have to say the model was never in the picture,” she said. “In fact, you would be hard pressed to find a photo of me in advance, because I was always in the last row.”
Doelling had a long career in banking, telecommunications, and nonprofit, but when she retired at age 70, she couldn’t help but notice the change in the way the world. considered her.
“It didn’t take long for me to realize that people expected a lot less of what I could accomplish, and I also noticed that I was starting to feel invisible,” she said. “So my first thought was that I have to do something about it, because I’m not invisible.”
“I think the idea of not having the purpose and not having that kind of connection is what makes you feel invisible. And I’ve heard so many people say the same.”
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She wrote an article for the Sisters for AARP site titled “I refuse to be invisible” in which she detailed her struggles with ageism.
“My friends and family recognized me, of course, but the general public – the ‘right on the street’ public – totally ignored me,” she wrote. “No one seemed to notice or care who I was. It was as if everyone in this culture of ageism agreed: you are done, your job is done. You are no longer needed. And with the kids and the husband gone, your goal for us is questionable. “
Part of her struggle with not feeling seen was changing her wardrobe to brighter colors which have now become her signature after admittedly wearing drab outfits in her retirement. The trip to the boutique then piqued her interest in modeling, an area she never thought was for herself.
“Just wearing these clothes and the whole process is so exciting,” she said. “Learn to pose and ask the photographer to give you great feedback.”
Doelling prides itself on being the type of older model that you don’t often see in advertising. She is part of a group of women looking to redefine beauty, including Maye Musk, 73, who became a CoverGirl brand ambassador at 69, and Ernestine Stollberg, who became a fashion sensation in 2017 at 95.
“Well the comments really help,” Doelling said. “And I had read that 70% of us don’t see ourselves in print and advertisements. And even worse, it’s like only 4% of women feel beautiful.
“I really hope that the people who can make choices about who they use as role models will expand the representation of who can represent their product.”
She was able to land socially remote modeling jobs during the pandemic that kept her active, and now she aims to hike the runway for a designer in fashion capitals like New York, Paris or Milan.
“I say I’m fighting height, ageism, hair, colorism,” she said. “I have covered all the ‘isms’.”