Ageism comes in many forms—and is often far from obvious. Age-based social norms tell us how older people should look, act and engage with society. But despite such images and cues (subtle and explicit), there are no hard and fast rules to dictate how anyone must live, at any age. We need more representation of authentic lives to continue breaking down these norms.
In this episode of Generations Bylines, we talk with two people who are doing just that: Ari Seth Cohen, photographer, author of multiple books and creator of the Advanced Style blog, and Judith Boyd, model and author of the blog Style Crone. Listen as Ari and Judith talk about how they view aging, what they would like society to understand about being old, and how they counteract traditional norms about how older people should look.
Photo (top) courtesy of Ari Seth Cohen
Check Out Ari & Judith's Instagram
Ari Seth Cohen on Instagram: @advancedstyle
On how Ari started Advanced Style
"I started to walk around New York and I saw really inspiring, creative, fashionable, vibrant, and vital older women walking down the streets who reminded me of my grandmother, and I started to photograph and interview them. And many of them became my close friends." -Ari Seth Cohen
On how Judith started Style Crone
"I blogged through cancer caregiving, through his death, which happened in April of 2011, through grief, and then my reinvention" -Judith Boyd
On the intersection of ageism and racism
"All the 'isms' I believe are related but ageism is the only ism that everyone, if we're lucky enough, experience. And I also see that ageism affects people of color and other marginalized groups more intensely, also women more intensely." -Judith Boyd
On the perception of aging and the impact of his work
"We're so we're bombarded by images and ideas about anti-aging and there's so much fear attached to getting older. My work kind of lessens that fear by showing people who are continuing to live really full lives and oftentimes a lot more free lives as they get older." -Ari Seth Cohen
On fashion as expression and art
"I really don't pay any attention to what the response is. It's like I have some kind of blinders on. So if it's negative, I wouldn't see it. But many times people will comment on my hat or my outfit, which feels good, but I dress for myself because it's a form of creative self expression. And I guess I would say, it's my art." -Judith Boyd
Leanne Clark-Shirley 0:47
Hello, and welcome to Generations Bylines, the podcast where we go beyond the pages and talk to authors that bring us aging related news research and books. I'm Leanne Clark-Shirley Vice President of Programs and Thought Leadership at the American Society on Aging, and also your host for today.
So we know ageism is pervasive throughout our society. It shows up in how we speak about how we portray and how we interact with older people. We usually think about ageism as negative stereotyping and discrimination against older adults. But there's another side to it too: being over accommodating, assuming someone needs help just because they look old, and using patronizing speech. These are forms of benevolent ageism, and they're also detrimental. This episode of Bylines features two people's work that is turning ageism on its head, and exploring the expression of beauty, fashion and friendships as we age.
Today I'm speaking with Ari Seth Cohen, who's the creator of Advanced Style. That's a blog that documents what you call "the fashion and wisdom of the senior set." Arii, you've written two books, I believe you have a documentary, you've shot some ad campaigns for fashion brands, and you've even published a coloring book featuring older characters. We also have Judas Boyd with us. Judith is a model that works with Ari. And Judith, you also publish Style Crone, which is a blog that celebrates the older woman in her most creative and authentic era. So Ari and Judith, welcome to Generations Bylines. It's so nice to talk with you both today.
Judith Boyd 2:26
Great to be here.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 2:30
Ari, we'll start with you. So for our listeners who are unfamiliar with your work briefly describe it for us.
Ari Seth Cohen 2:38
Sure, I started a blog in 2008 when I first moved to New York City, called Advanced Style. The purpose for the blog was for me to deal with the loss of my best friend who was my grandmother Bluma. I've always had an affinity for older people and wanted to connect to older people in a new city. So I started to walk around New York and I saw really inspiring, creative, fashionable, vibrant, and vital older women walking down the streets who reminded me of my grandmother, and I started to photograph and interview them. And many of them became my close friends. And later, I realized after I'd kind of collected a body of work, that a lot of my friends who were just beginning to enter their late 20s and 30s were already afraid of aging because of so much of what they'd seen in the media and the traditional view of aging. And I was seeing these women in their 80s and 90s, who were living these really rich, full lives. And I started the blog, which is now Instagram and Facebook and actually have three books. My latest book is called Advanced Love. I had made Advanced Style and then a follow up to that and so Advanced Love is the latest book. It's all about couples who are over 60 and different types of relationships as we get older.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 4:10
Yeah, I'm actually holding that one in my hand right now.
Ari Seth Cohen 4:15
The second one is Older and Wiser and that one is similar to the first book, except it has a lot of essays from some of the women. I think Judith wrote an essay for that.
Judith Boyd 4:26
Leanne Clark-Shirley 4:27
Well, I'll have to procure that one to complete my collection.
Ari Seth Cohen 4:34
Oh, thank you. It has really changed into a movement to really change people's perceptions on aging and get rid of that fear of getting older. I've been doing that for the past 12 years now. And Judith is one of my muses, and I have been following her blog for the longest time as well.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 5:02
So how did you meet Judith? What was that first encounter like?
Ari Seth Cohen 5:08
Well, Judith, is based in Denver, and I'm not even quite sure how I first saw her blog, the Style Crone, but for me, right away, I saw something really deep and meaningful. She can tell you the story of why she started her project. But I was really moved by her intention with what she was doing. And obviously I loved the way she dressed and I loved her attitude and her confidence and her style. She came to visit New York, because I think she had been following Advanced Style for the year or two before she started her project. And we met on upon that trip through our mutual friend Deborah Rapoport who's one of the women that I feature heavily in my books and also in my documentary. But it wasn't until recently, I mean, Judith and I have known each other for, Judith, how long now? Like maybe since 2010?
Judith Boyd 6:05
Ari Seth Cohen 6:08
She's become one of my best friends. Which is also a huge part of this project -- connecting people of all ages and showing the power of intergenerational friendships. So, yeah, Judith and I met in New York City several years ago. And then we did a conference in Chicago recently and we really bonded. She's taught me so much in the in the last few months, so it's been a great friendship. Great.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 6:37
And Ari, how would you describe the majority of your subjects and how you choose someone to invite to be part of your work?
Ari Seth Cohen 6:47
Yeah, so a lot of people ask me if I style the people that I photograph, but everyone that I photograph, this is their particular unique, personal style. I walk around the streets of whatever city I happen to be in and I ask people if I can take their photographs. There's not one particular thing I'm looking for, but I do like to photograph people who have a really strong sense of themselves and a strong sense of personal style, to kind of encourage people that you can be who you want to be an express whatever you want to express, no matter what age you are. I have heard from a lot of older women, and I've seen through my work, that at a certain age people, especially women, start to be treated as if they're invisible. And also, there's a lot of shame around expressing yourself at an older age. I've gotten comments from people saying, "I would want to dress like these women, but my grandchildren and my son or whatever it is, tell me that I need to not be so loud that they find it embarrassing," which is also a huge part of ageism. So I tend to photograph people who are really bold and strong and confident in what they're trying to express. But it can be anyone who's a very colorful dresser like I tend to photograph a lot of women who love vintage because I also really care about sustainability and all different kinds of styles a diverse range. But I would say for most people, they would probably look at my work and think that the people who I'm photographing are pretty colorful and pretty vibrant.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 8:35
Including you, Judith. I've looked at your blog and noticed you have a particular affinity for hats.
Judith Boyd 8:43
I do. I'm a hat lover.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 8:46
So tell us about Style Crone and how you got started publishing it.
Judith Boyd 8:52
I started in 2010. I found Advanced Style prior to launching my blog, and Ari and his blog really gave me the courage to begin. Because I worked in healthcare all of my life. By license and by training, I'm a psychiatric nurse. And I wore street clothes to work. So I didn't wear a uniform. So I dressed up as much as I could during those days. But in 2010, my husband had been diagnosed with a very rare cancer and had been in treatment at the time that I launched my blog for almost six years. It was really Ari and my deceased husband Nelson, who encouraged me to just leap into the abyss, so to speak, because I knew nothing about blogging. As a it turned out my husband was my first photographer, and I would dress up and one of the regular series was, what to wear to chemo. And I would get dressed up and then in the exam room prior to Nelson's treatment, he would take my photo and then I would have my computer with me and blog about what was happening in our lives while he was receiving chemo. It really offered us a different way to communicate through the lens, and also to have something light in our life during a time that was devastating. He was dying. And so I blogged through cancer caregiving, through his death, which happened in April of 2011, through grief, and then my reinvention
Leanne Clark-Shirley 10:52
So talk a little bit about that reinvention. What have he past 10 years looked like for you as you've evolved?
Judith Boyd 11:02
Well, I think part of my evolution was influenced by Advanced Style and who I met on the internet, other older women that were blogging, and then later on on Instagram, and it gave me a lifeline of sorts. And so I started blogging a bit about ageism. And this was all of course, posted with an outfit because that's what I love to do, was put together ensembles. Mostly vintage, mixed sometimes with contemporary but almost always, I guess you would say, I shop secondhand first. I too, have an interest in climate change and sustainability.
So many things happen that I had no clue would have ever happened in my life because of what my blog brought to me. I grew my hair out from red to white. My hair person encouraged me and helped me get a modeling contract. Which, by the way, I seldom get jobs which I feel is somewhat related to my age. And then I was featured on sites that I would not have imagined would have happened such as BuzzFeed and of course featured on Advanced Style, which was always thrilling. I walked for a designer in New York Fashion Week and monetized my Instagram for a while.
But at this point, I'm more interested in activism around climate change and dismantling systemic racism, which I feel is related to ageism. So I've gone through many I guess you would say eras over the past decade.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 13:18
Yeah. Talk a little bit about more more about that connection you see between racism and ageism and maybe what you know your work or you know, your your actions can do to fight against those things.
Judith Boyd 13:34
All the "isms" I believe are related but ageism is the only ism that everyone, if we're lucky enough, experience. And I also see that ageism affects people of color and other marginalized groups more intensely, also women more intensely. And I think that what we do in terms of intervention and dismantling this discrimination is a similar process.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 14:24
Ari, how about how about you? What do you think your work is doing or can do to fight against ageism?
Ari Seth Cohen 14:34
That was an interesting question to think about. Because, for me, I've always thought of aging as a really positive thing because of my grandmother. And I've always had older friends my entire life and used to engage with older people for the longest time. And so early on, when I started my project, a lot of people were telling me, "Oh, this is revolutionary. This is radical." And I was just featuring older people who were vital and vibrant. And I didn't understand why that was revolutionary. If you show something that's alternative to what people think of as aging, which a lot of it has to do with decline and there's a lot of stereotypes that go with aging. And so even that seemed kind of like an internalized ageism. To limit our perspective on what aging could look like. Like, why was my work so different? Because I was just presenting the reality of aging, which is, people age in different ways. People take care of themselves in different ways people, have different genetic makeups. There's not one view of what aging is.
But if we accept the fact that there is this idea of age that my work is alternative to that, I try to present something that is very optimistic and positive. And something that might show people something a bit different. We're so we're bombarded by images and ideas about anti-aging and there's so much fear attached to getting older. My work kind of lessens that fear by showing people who are continuing to live really full lives and oftentimes a lot more free lives as they get older.
I hear all the time from people saying, "I'm no longer afraid to become 60 because I saw this woman on your Instagram who inspired me. If she can go out and do this, then I can do that too." So it's giving examples to people who may not have those reference points. And, you know, that's probably what my books and my film and Instagram do, is give people hope and show that you don't have to stop doing the things you love just because you get older and maybe you'll have some limitations here and there. Oftentimes I hear from people, especially my friend, Ilona Roy Smith--and she just wrote a book at 100 years old, about the process of turning from 99 to 100. And I would encourage everyone to buy it. It's called 99 Straight Up No Chaser. And she talks about how her mind is fully engaged with the world, and she has limitations with her body now, but it's such a beautiful book. And I think that in itself is getting rid of the fear of dying and death. It's a huge thing that we all have to kind of rethink in our culture, because I think that stops a lot of us from being able to enjoy the process of getting older and wiser.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 18:31
Judith, you mentioned picking up on this sort of permission to embrace aging and make aging look the way you want it to look. You mentioned going red to white. Can you talk more about that and what drove that decision and maybe why you were you afraid to go white before and what changed?
Judith Boyd 18:57
I dyed my hair red, or my hair stylists dyed my hair red, over my lunch hour and nobody recognized me when I went back to work when I was 50. And so it was around the time that I was in my 70s I think it's been about four years now. I just saw so many women on Advanced Style and other bloggers and Instagramers that had natural hair and I became enthralled with it and decided to do that as well. Go cold turkey, so to speak, and I just let my hair grow out. And it's white, and I wish I would have done it earlier because I think this is my favorite hair of my entire life. It's so easy. And it makes me feel more like myself and I feel like it also models for other people, perhaps younger people and other older people, that it's fun. It's fun to experiment fun to make changes, and it's part of aging, that aging can be experimental and we can stretch and grow for our entire lifespan.
Ari Seth Cohen 20:26
I have to say, and Judith I hope you don't get mad at me, but Judith, are you 77 now?
Ari Seth Cohen 20:33
Ari Seth Cohen 20:35
And I just bought her from a dear friend of mine, a virtual burlesque class so she is definitely trying something new at 77 because she always loved dancing and has had an interest in vintage and so I'm so proud of her for doing that.
Judith Boyd 20:55
It's a generous gift and I'm thrilled about it because I think at any age we can add add to our dance moves.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 21:06
Ari Seth Cohen 21:10
We call it advanced the dance.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 21:15
Brilliant. Online burlesque. These are the times we live in. That's fantastic. So, Judith, I'm curious, it sounds like fashion has been important to you your entire life.
Judith Boyd 21:30
Well, yes. I think going back to the 60s. when I was in my 20s. And then it escalated in my 30s in the 70s. I started going to estate sales and vintage shops. And as I said, I didn't have to wear a nursing uniform to work so I started wearing 40s dresses over-sized and belted with boots. I really don't know where it came from because nobody else was dressing like that. But it was almost like a drive of some kind to dress up. I can't really describe it as anything else. But I didn't know very many other people that were doing it. So when I saw Advanced Style, I guess maybe you could say, it was so refreshing and so encouraging and I could then realize that I wasn't nuts. Because sometimes when I would go places or even when I dress to go to work, I felt like I was different, but then that really didn't bother me that much, but it was very reassuring to know that there were other people in the world that like to do the same thing.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 22:56
You found your tribe. What does it feel like to walk down the street dressed in loud, bold, stylish clothing? How do you feel?
Judith Boyd 23:10
Well, I dress for myself and I don't have any education in or background in fashion. It wasn't my area of expertise, although I did have a hat shop in the 80s and I continued to work as a psych nurse during that time. When I feel like the outfit is complete when I walk out, it just feels good. And I really don't pay any attention to what the response is. It's like I have some kind of blinders on. So if it's negative, I wouldn't see it. But many times people will comment on my hat or my outfit, which feels good, but I dress for myself because it's a form of creative self expression. And I guess I would say, it's my art. And I have collections that I draw from, that I've been collecting since the 70s. And it's fun.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 24:16
Yeah. Sounds like it. It's beautiful. It makes for incredibly beautiful imagery. It's beautiful to look at and to hear about. Thank you. So, from each of you, what what do you think is most important for society to understand about aging?
Ari Seth Cohen 24:38
I think it's being open to different interpretations of aging. And, like I said earlier, to not accept what we're being told about growing older and all this anti-aging propaganda that we're fed. Companies make a lot of money. Ageism allows for the beauty industry and a lot of different industries, to really profit off of the fear. And I think that if we widen our perspectives, make friends with older people, as a younger person, and understand that it's not like a one dimensional idea of aging. And also concentrate on a lot of the positive aspects of getting older, because so many of the women that I speak to talk about how all of a sudden they have this new sense of freedom as they've gotten older because they no longer have to worry about what other people think, and they can truly be who they are. Hopefully, you can begin to do that even as a younger person, inspired by the women that I photograph, but I think as a society, we also really need to learn how to treat older people better. And think about how to create communities and go back to the days when we respected older people for their wisdom and what they can teach us and incorporate different generations into the idea of community. I really think that's the only way that we're going to be able to survive. A lot of cultures really do do that, even within the U.S. But on a broader level, we need to care for each other. We need to love each other.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 26:50
Yeah. I agree. Judith, what do you think is most important for society to understand?
Judith Boyd 26:59
I think it's important to understand that discrimination is bad for our health. And with aging, I feel that ageism is a prejudice against our future selves. And internalized ageism -- I have my own inner ageism that I have to always be aware of and counter and self talk. And one of the most important things I read about aging is a positive mindset regarding aging adds seven and a half years on to our lives. And there's been a lot of talk about vaccines recently, and it's kind of like this is a life saving, transition to go from shame and fear and self loathing to realizing that we can enjoy any era of our life. I think having a passion and a purpose really contributes to that. I also read somewhere that people are the happiest at the beginning and the end of their lives. I know Ari has featured women that are, as he just talked about, Alona are 100 years old. So there's still a lot of living to do if I can maintain my health an I'm certainly encouraging everybody to forget about age appropriate anything such as age appropriate clothing or age appropriate activities, burlesque classes that can be taken at any age, that we it's okay to be open to new experiences. It really helps us feel energized and alive.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 28:56
Yeah, that's great. Do you have any advice for those of us who work with older adults or on behalf of older adults? What do you want us to know?
Ari Seth Cohen 29:10
I think, to kind of let go of your prejudices and realize that each generation has something to teach one another. And I think there's a certain way of speaking or a patronizing way of talking to older people that occurs a lot of times. And I think you might have mentioned it before, but that idea of benevolent ageism is a huge one. I don't look at an older person any different than I would look at a friend of my own age. I mean, Judith is one of my best friends now. It's kind of letting go of everything you think about what an older person might think, or how they may feel, and just approaching that person as a human being. I don't know if that's good advice, but that's what I do. I do it with a lot of reverence. Because I do have a lot of respect for older people, but I was taught that by my grandmother, and in my family
Leanne Clark-Shirley 30:40
Judith, anything to add any advice for those of us working with older adults?
Judith Boyd 30:50
I believe that activism is important to change how older people are seen. It needs to evolve into policy changes, which will then change the lives of all older people in our country. Somehow it needs to be a national shift. I think is important, when we think about older people, what age do we think of? I know AARP, at the age of 50, everyone gets information it seems about that organization. But when you think of all the changes that occur from age 25, to age 50, that's 25 years. And then thinking about older people from the age of 50 to 75 is 25 years. And then 75 to 100 is another 25 years. So you really can't lump all of those ages together. There's so much that happens over that period of time and many, many changes. So advocating for someone at 50 is different. Well, I'm now in that last age group that I just described 75 to 100, that there's so many changes that occur and pushing back and educating ourselves around ageism and becoming more conscious and aware. I think that's all part of what I think needs to happen.
Ari Seth Cohen 32:39
It's interesting. When I was thinking about respect, I was also thinking about how within these different generations, there's different ideas that people have. Especially everything that's going on now in the world. Some of the women who are in their 60s who I photograph, they might have a very different perspective about politically what's happening in this country than someone in their 80s. And I think it's also important, you know, to be respectful, but you can't treat someone in a precious way just because they're older. Some of my friends who are in their 80s. I challenge a lot of their ideas about race and politics and we have discussions about it. And I think that that's okay to continue to have these dialogues with people of all ages. I do try to treat people with a lot of respect, but just because someone's older doesn't mean that you can't help to make them think differently about something that you have gained knowledge about. We're all complex individuals. And our ideas about aging are all differen. Be open minded have a sense of humor. I think that's a huge one.
Judith Boyd 34:16
Ari Seth Cohen 34:18
Humor, I think is really important.
Judith Boyd 34:25
Well, I so appreciate Ari. Because as we've gotten to know each other, I love to be challenged, because it helps me grow. And that's one of the gifts that I have received from Ari, is to grow. To be challenged to grow.
Ari Seth Cohen 34:51
Thank you. Well, you've challenged me in a lot of ways too, to be a more eccentric person. To accept to my eccentricity, there are so many things in Judith wardrobe that I have my eye on. I want to borrow. I want to borrow some hats and capes.
Judith Boyd 35:15
We share a love of vintage. That's very much fun.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 35:18
Yeah, I can imagine. You're inspiring me to go out to our vintage shops around here and see what I can find.
Ari Seth Cohen 35:29
You should meet our friend Caprice if you're in Baltimore. Caprice Anne Jackson. She's on Instagram. Is she in her 60s Judith?
Judith Boyd 35:40
Yes, she is. And she's very into the fashion underground world. You can find her on Instagram. Look for her. She loves to dress in a futuristic way. It's very interesting thing.
Ari Seth Cohen 35:58
She's been talking a lot about sustainability and ageism. And so she's a good person to meet.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 36:08
I will look her up. Thank you for that. So, we can wrap up, but what I, you know, we've talked a lot about, you know, from 75 to 100, and sort of the next 25 years. So what are both of you most excited about or looking forward to for the next 25 years?
Ari Seth Cohen 36:29
It's such a strange time right now. I'm just looking forward to be able to give my mom a hug. For me, it's always my quality time with the people that I love. And hopefully, you know, I aspire to be as healthy and vital as Judith. I'm a vegan. I try to be quite healthy, but she does yoga every day. And so her her daughter, Camille, is a personal trainer. And so I just started working with her. And yeah, I hope to have as much energy as she did when I'm in. If I get to my 70s I hope I hope to have that.
Judith Boyd 37:14
Oh, you'll be great.
Ari Seth Cohen 37:16
I don't even have it now.
Judith Boyd 37:18
Yes, you do,
Ari Seth Cohen 37:19
Even in quarantine Judith is much busier than I am.
Judith Boyd 37:28
I think that for me right now, it's like the virus is directing us and I respond with my behavior. And I haven't been spending time with my grandchildren. Mostly just FaceTime. And so, you know, all these generations that are available to us enrich our lives. So health is my priority and getting through this period of time healthy is the number one goal.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 38:12
Well, this has been great. Is there anything that I didn't ask you that you wish I would have?
Ari Seth Cohen 38:18
No, I think, I think I think we've covered a lot. And I can't think of anything. Can you Judith?
Judith Boyd 38:27
No, no. It was really fun.
Ari Seth Cohen 38:31
Go out and play in your wardrobe. Have fun, to everyone who's listening. I think that it's important to remember that we should never stop having fun and playing. I think that as we get older, it's even more important to play. That's something sometimes we lose as you know, life becomes more serious. And I think it's a really vital way of of staying healthy and strong is continuing. To to be playful.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 39:03
Yeah, keeping that humor and seeing the fun and creating the fun.
Judith Boyd 39:12
Until I wear my last hat.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 39:15
Oh, that's a really good title for something.
Ari Seth Cohen 39:22
Judith, what what hat will that be?
Judith Boyd 39:24
Oh, you know, I don't know. Maybe I don't even have it yet. Always collecting. Why would I stop that?
Ari Seth Cohen 39:34
Yeah, we'll find it together hopefully.
Leanne Clark-Shirley 39:40
Thank you so much, Ari, and Judith for joining me today. To find more information and links to Ari and Judith's work please visit us at asaging.org and thank you so much for listening to this episode of Generations Bylines.