As a midlife blogger, I’m regularly searching iStock and Canva for 40-something models. It’s harder than you might think. Any activity I search (examples: “woman smiling” or “midlife woman smiling” or “over-40 woman smiling”) yields either a list of 30-something or a 60-something models. Rarely do I find photos with models who actually look my age.
You may have also noticed this phenom in advertising. Earlier this year I received a luxury fashion designer catalog that could have been titled “Uncles Vacationing With Their Nieces.” Overall, advertisements don’t represent GenEx women or seem to care about us. Odd, considering we are the richest demographic on the planet and hold the biggest influence on all household purchases.
You can imagine my delight when I came across Jacqueline Depaul on social media She is a 40-something model who is the face, body, and mind behind Yellow Brick Runway. There are a number of remarkable things about Jacqueline’s story, like the fact that she didn’t decide to start modeling until she was 38. Or the fact that she designs high-security information technology networks for a living.
Jacqueline kindly agreed to answer my questions about 40-something models and what’s going on in the industry that appears to forget about our generation. Of course, I also wanted to know how she got started.
SS: You are an IT consultant with a degree in physics and decided at age 38 to try modeling. Why did you choose modeling as a creative outlet instead of going back to dance (from your youth) or painting?
JD: I help large corporations with their voice and data infrastructure. I help them design that. It’s super geeky and super fun. My creative side was fulfilled with salsa dancing and latin ballroom dancing. When I injured my feet, my doctor said “You cannot wear heels for six months.” I thought, “Now I have to give up dancing. So what am I going to do now?”
I was reading self-help books, and being morose, and then I thought, “Well, I could model.” I just thought I won’t tell anybody how old I am. I decided what the heck, I’m just going to do it for my own experience. The second you start comparing yourself or think you’re not going to fit, you just have to stop. For me it was another form of dance. I decided not to think about if I was good or if it was appropriate.
Then I won the Wilhelmina modeling contest. Macy’s in South Coast plaza was the last stop for the contest. Out of 5,000 women, I made it to the finals. Then there was 10 of us. We had to do a photo shoot, a runway, and an interview with the judges.
I had positioned myself as last. Because the power position on the runway is the back. I sat there for an hour and half. Then I thought this is a business conversation. They want to know how I’m going to make them money! So when I went in there for 10 minutes, they asked “What are you going to do if we ask you to move?” “What are you going to do if you aren’t getting jobs?” I get it, you need to make money off of me.
The last question was from the Miraclesuit guy: “Okay, you don’t need my bathing suit. How are you going to represent us?” I’m like, “Mark, look I don’t care how thin you are. If you’re a woman, you have a taperecorder running through your head saying everything that’s wrong with your body. If you can stop that recorder? I can help do that.” I unanimously won.
SS: Your first paying gig came along at age 41, and you say it failed miserably. What happened?!?
JD: They immediately booked me in a catalog. It’s a $2,000 per-day job. I waited for the photographer to help me like in the volunteer shoots. I didn’t know what a creative director was, what a line sheet is. They want you to know what you’re doing. They said, “We never want to see this girl again!” and the agency was like “We can’t book you anywhere.”
SS: What is the difference between training as a runway model and a catalog model?
JD: I naturally fit into editorial modeling. All of my practice modeling was in that vein. Lifestyle shoots are less intense. In American culture, after the age of 35, we age out of sexuality. We’re the adoring wife and loving mother. We’re happy! So after this whole fiasco, I called a photographer who was a model in the ’80s and said, “I need to pay you to teach me to model.”
There was a point for me where I was going to quit, but I had a real hangup about my face because I was like “I’m not as pretty as the other girls.” I was in tears.
She was like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I want you to take her face apart (showing a photo) like you take your face apart. They’re present with the camera, that’s what makes them beautiful.”
SS: Let’s talk ageism for a minute. In your experience, have there been any challenges that younger models don’t experience? How do you overcome them?
JD: The reason I was turned away was because I had the wrong type of pictures. I didn’t look like the happy mom; they are all editorial pictures.
I saw Ford close their classic department and their plus size and their kids department. I knew exactly why, if you want an older model, you get Julian Moore. They want to buy eyeballs. It’s no longer about a pretty person, they need to buy an audience. It’s all going to actresses. The bad thing is that the opportunity for a model is smaller. The good news: it’s wide open. You can go on the Internet and create whatever you want.
In Los Angeles, you have actors who model. There are a lot of people who are 5’6 or 5’8. Multi-ethnic sort of “girl next store.” In New York, everyone is a model who acts. Everyone is 6’0. Your upper east side, Hamptons. Modeling has changed since the advent of digital photography. Now, everyone can enhance. So what’s happened in the modeling world as a whole? The top two percent work all the time, everyone else is just trying to get something.
I feel like you feel, we’re very underrepresented. But models in their 40s are coming back to the runway! I feel like I’m in the front of the wave.
5. Are there certain brands that seem more friendly toward hiring over-40 models?
The things that we model for are for people who are older than us. I model for a senior citizen product catalog. I did a casino job where they are all retired people. Where my husband-of-the-day and I are (to them) the beautiful young people. The big ones are pharma products, older luxury brands like Mercedes, and senior products. The women who follow me on Instagram? They want to experience that wild hair, more editorial. It’s a totally different thing because they don’t see it anywhere else. It’s like “We want to play, too!”
We’re in that in-between moment. We’re not the cool old ladies yet, but we’re not young girls either.” All of us as a group has to stop waiting for someone’s approval. We just need to do it. Whoever wants to play will play. This is our opportunity. If you like singing, go sing. Go to the karaoke bar! If we share the creative energy, it all go BOOM!
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