Elena Bowes

New York-London design & culture writer of a certain vintage looking for meaning and wholeness in life

Q&A with Lyn Slater, How to Be Old:Lessons in Living Boldly from the Accidental Icon

March 27th, 2024
Books & AuthorsPeople

Earlier this week I interviewed author Lyn Slater at Manhattan’s Cosmopolitan Club about her new book How to Be Old: Lessons in Living Boldly from the Accidental Icon.

Dressed in a frilly white Chloe blouse, black Yohji Yamamoto  trousers, an over-sized black blazer that set off her chic white bob and a fabulous lavender overcoat, this vintage hipster was just as inspiring in person as she was when I interviewed her on the phone for my blog. The 72-year-old writer talked about how to view ageing positively and creatively… and realistically.  That sometimes it’s better to let go, not have an agenda, strive less, do what you love more. In Lyn’s case, that’s writing essays on Substack or for her local paper, the Peekskill Herald, being with her longtime ponytailed partner Calvin, daughter and grandchildren and being in nature. She now lives in the Hudson Valley and loves to tend to her wild garden, cycle on car-free converted railroad tracks and go antiquing for her arts and crafts home.

But this wasn’t always the case. During her sixties, Lyn gave up her job as a social worker and professor in New York to become a full-time media influencer known as the Accidental Icon with nearly a million followers. The uber-stylish Lyn rejected age as a variable to be considered in how you dress.

She got noticed, hired, and her face was splashed across billboards and buses around the world. Both Lyn and the late Joan Didion modeled sunglasses, the former for Valentino, the latter Celine. Lyn traveled the world. It was a wild ride.

But in the end Lyn felt she’d lost her way, promoting brands she felt no connection to. So, she gave it all up, and wrote a terrific memoir about her experience.

Here’s my edited Q&A with Lyn:

In your fabulous book, which is so honest, intelligent and relatable, you say that your 60’s was a tough decade. Can you briefly explain why the 60s are harder than previous decades?

Well, I think we have a lot of societal expectations that happen to you during your 60s. You have to sign up for Medicare and 65 is a traditional retirement age. I think for me, the challenge of my 60s was, how am I going to respond to all of these things? Which of them really is sort of an old idea that is no longer relevant. I think this idea that you have to retire away from the world and not work anymore, is a very outdated. Many people are finding very vibrant second careers during their 60s. I had an experience that was such an adventure that I did not have in any of my earlier years.

 I think 60 for me is also when my body really began to change pretty dramatically. I wrote about that recently in an essay called Stranger in the Mirror. All of a sudden one day you look in the mirror and you say, who is that woman? And she’s sort of you, but unrecognizable to you. I think for me, that was a big challenge. How am I going to deal with these changes in my body.

And then I remembered that my body has always changed as a woman. You know, when you’re a child to an adolescent, you’re always losing or gaining weight when you become pregnant, when you have menopause, you know, you’re always having to figure out that question. How do I dress a changing body? So again, the more that I think about age and being older as something that I have done before, that I have, in fact, even more knowledge, skills, and experiences to respond to it, the easier It makes it for me to be more positive about it.

2) When you were the Accidental Icon media influencer you lived a life others can only dream of- travelled the world first class, modeled for Valentino and Dior, appeared in Vogue, and then you pulled back from that heady and ultimately unfulfilling experience. I ask you now, who do you really want to be visible to and why?

I think we have these two, opposite representations of ageing in the media. On one hand, we have this decline narrative where. You’re going to have dementia, you’re going to be disabled, you’re going to have chronic illnesses, you’re going to be a care burden you’re ruining the generations that are coming after you because you’re taking up all their money etc.

And then on the other hand now, we have this new version of ageing. I’ve been watching it emerge. Which is you’re kind of ageless. You’re highly resourced, you’re perfectly fit, you’re running marathons at 90, you’re doing whatever you want to do, and it’s as if you’re still young. And I think what’s dangerous about that is that the vast majority of people ageing are in the middle of those two extremes. One extreme is total dependence. The other is complete independence.

But most of us are in the middle,  probably 90 percent of us are in the middle, and I think what’s dangerous about this notion that we don’t need anything, or that everything has to be about curing our diseases, or trying to intervene in providing medical care, is that policymakers and innovators are either going to think we don’t need anything, or that all the innovation should be about our physical body. And that means that the needs of us in the middle are not going to be getting met in creative ways.

What I would like to see happen is that we’re really showing more of those people in the middle. What I’m finding is that you can be extraordinarily creative and have a very rich life without having to have the perfect body or the perfect bank account. I would really like to be visible to those people in the middle. Maybe that’s part of wearing the denim and having an ordinary life (now), I want all of those women to be seen. So that’s who I want to be visible to.

I’ve done this little experiment with younger women who I know, and who have been saying, Oh, I liked your book. I say, ‘Well, what are you doing now to prepare yourself to be old?  I want you to do me a favour and create mood boards for everything in your life. Make a mood board for who you want to be as an older woman.”

We’re never invited to fantasize about our older self. I think if I had been able to do that, like during those times in my life where I was really pressured, and I didn’t have time for me where I kind of lost myself, like in the midst of raising kids and making my career. If I had known that I was going to publish a book when I was 70, I could have comforted myself. I could have said: All right, take a breath. You’re in this now. You put your little dream up on the shelf, but it’s going to come down and it’s going to come out and you’re going to have it. And so, I’m encouraging all young women to start making mood boards of who they wish to be as an older woman in their life.

 like dreams deferred?

Right. Yes.

3) Imagine that your beloved new/old house is on fire. It’s only a pretend fire. Don’t worry. And you can grab three pieces of clothing. Which three would you grab and why?

I have this very beautiful, long, to the floor silk. Yohji Yamamoto coat. I would take that. I would take my overalls, which I am obsessed with at the moment, and I would take this piece that was especially designed for me by I’m not remembering her name, but it’s a beautiful silver brocade jacket. I would probably take those three.

Is the Yamamoto coat black?

Of course

You can read the rest of my edited written interview here on 26, or listen to the whole interview here on my new podcast Elena Meets the Author, where I get to have real conversations with the people I admire. I hope you enjoy it.

March, 2024

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