On how to Celebrate the Gray, Stephanie O’Dell, founder of Celebrate The Gray

When my 60 year old client told me the fashion industry had forgotten her, that she felt invisible and I noticed that she had begun to dress in gray, tan and black in an effort to disappear, I knew something had to change.

I wondered why was it not okay to age, why were women told to stay young, be skinny, dye your hair and hide your wrinkles?

I didn’t know what me, a 54 year old (at the time) part time fashion stylist, mother of two could accomplish but I knew I had to try. So I started a blog, Celebrate The Gray, to speak to 100 women aged 50+ to find out the reality of aging. I remember my first interview in Trader Joe’s – “Pat with the pink hair” – it took me about 15 minutes to work up the courage to talk to her but that conversation changed my life. Not only did I feel inspired by Pat, she too was thankful for being noticed and happy someone was trying to change things. At the end of our conversation, Pat said “You made my day”. When in fact, Pat had ignited a passion in me that I had never imagined existed.

Celebrate The Gray was born

Little did I know that the first conversation with Pat would grow into Celebrate The Gray, a full service agency for and about the 50+ woman. Now almost six years later and after talking to 1,000’s of women over 50, I am one of the leaders representing the “real” older woman. Celebrate The Gray Agency is the vehicle for change and the opportunity for women to stand up and say “hey look at me, I’m older, beautiful, relevant and important.”

We represent over 200 “real” gray haired models, each with a powerful aging story. These models represent the possibilities not the limitations of aging. We are rewriting what age can look like. We work with brands to understand the 50+ customers to ensure the visuals and narratives represent how she looks, feels, and acts.

Celebrate The Gray is not your standard agency. We’re not searching for the tall, skinny, ultra chic woman over 50 but rather “real older women” like the 74 year-old ultra distance running coach, the grandmother of two who loves how she looks and wants to inspire other women, the former newscaster turned sculptor who wants to erase ageism and the 70 year old hiker who has to tell her hiking group that she is 50 so they won’t put limitations on her.

Challenges on the journey

The biggest challenge for Celebrate The Gray is getting companies to step up and use real faces and authentic stories of positive aging. Change is happening but unfortunately, women still allow advertising messages, in fact limitations, to influence how she ages.

Where is the guidebook on aging? Who is determining what is “age appropriate” to wear, say and do? We allow big companies to make us feel bad about gray hair and wrinkles. We are encouraged to be ANTI age versus PRO age. We are told NOT to CELEBRATE THE GRAY, we are told to hide it, color it or you will be OLD and not beautiful. Why was it not okay to age, why are women told to stay young, be skinny, dye your hair and hide your wrinkles?

With age comes wisdom, experience and hopefully confidence. But if you don’t hear the stories of aging with power and instead are served aging with fear, you believe that midlife is a time of sitting back, enjoying what you have done versus pushing yourself to do more, expanding your mind, stretching and pushing your body and proactively participating in how you age. You can’t be what you don’t see.

What Can Women Do

Women have the power to change how we are represented. We can support those brands that are using real faces. We can let them know what a positive difference they are making and that age inclusion matters. We can be vocal and visible on social media and show how we look, feel and act as we age. We can also have intergenerational conversations so younger people begin to see aging differently.

We are living longer and healthier and the visuals and narratives used in advertising haven’t caught up. Our time has come and we are making change for ourselves, our grandmothers/mothers/aunts and most importantly those younger women behind us.

Be part of the change! Be vocal, wear color, don’t be invisible, support brands that are age inclusive, don’t buy into what advertising is telling you, and most of all Celebrate The Gray!

Visit the Celebrate the Gray website and Instagram.

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