Carolyn Doelling is a model and activist who eschews the word “retirement.” Her notion that it’s never too late to reboot or reinvent one’s life and career is a total inspiration to us (she’s recently taken up kickboxing and piano in addition to being a model). Read on to learn about Carolyn’s meaningful path, as well as her philosophies on activism, aging, style, and self-expression. She is one of the coolest people we know!
1. First, can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you got into modelling?
I recently turned 74 years old and each day I hope to use my age and my new modeling career as a positive influence on others. My goal is to inspire the fashion industry (and all of us ) to reassess the standards of beauty imposed upon us and to encourage older women to embrace fashion, style and color as tools for social engagement.
2. You have given us a totally new outlook on “retirement” and how to reboot your life after the end of a traditional career—or even in the middle of one when feeling stuck. What is your advice to those who feel it’s too late to pursue a new passion?
Just start! There is always time for another chance. I love the quote from C.S. Lewis. “You cannot go back and change the beginning but you can start now and change the ending.”
I’ve learned the value of allocating time each day to what I want to accomplish. It’s incredible how just focusing for 30 minutes can make a difference.
3. At Seek, we value style as a tool for creativity and self-expression. How do you use style to express yourself, and how has your style evolved over time?
In the 60’s my style was more patterned after both the tailored looks of women I saw on TV— blazers and suits with shoulder pads—classic styling. Or the elegant, luxurious, feminine looks showcased in the Ebony Fashion Fair.
Today my style is still classic and I love elegance but comfort and versatility play a more prominent role in what I choose to wear.
4. We believe clothing should be timeless and ageless, and we’re so inspired by your mission to push back against age standards in fashion. What is your advice for those who have alienated from fashion as they’ve grown older?
Fashion is a powerful tool you can use to exert your influence. Older women have more independence to dress and be whoever we want to be. Why not use your power?
5. In addition to modelling, you’ve picked up kickboxing and cycling just in the past few years.
Can you tell us a little bit about your philosophy of embracing new activities?
I have always been curious. My siblings often recount how I would miss playing in the neighborhood softball game because I was inside reading the World Book encyclopedia. Neuroscientists encourage us to add new activities as we get older to enhance brain elasticity.
Earlier this year at a Commonwealth Club seminar, I asked Daniel Levitin, the author of Successful Aging and This Is Your Brain on Music”, if older people should be listening to classical, rock or hip hop music to stay sharp.. His response was “Try new things.. your brain will thank you for it.” I adhere to that message.
6. Are there any additional new hobbies or adventures that you have set your sights on?
Yes, I started taking piano lessons several years ago. My piano teacher passed away in July and I am practicing and preparing for a piano recital in his honor.
7. What do you do when you’re seeking inspiration?
My inspiration comes from observations of younger people who without any guarantee of success, launch their ideas anyway. Many of my IG followers are in their 30’s and 40’s. Their encouragement of my mission inspires me daily.
8. What do you wear to feel the most free and confident?
When I wear bright colors, I walk more confidently with a “kick” in my step. Even though I am in jeans or exercise gear a great deal of the time, I feel most free in dresses or flowing pieces- the swishier the skirt, the better.
9. How do you incorporate sustainability into your life?
I attended London Fashion week in 2019 and learned through various seminars the importance of purchasing clothing for sustainability. I had never really thought about this issue with clothing. I have always preferred natural fibers, still do. I mostly buy styles that I can live with for many years to come.
10. What’s the most recent book you’ve read and felt moved by?
After the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the ensuing protests, I was intent on reading more for a better understanding of “the why”. I read Ta’Nahisi Coates, Eight Years We Were in Power, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. I have also ventured into Hamilton by Ron Chernow for a better grasp about the related “founding” of the country. It’s a lot to take in but clearly there is much to learn and be moved by.
11. What is the best advice you’ve received so far and who did it come from?
I once heard the dancer, Debbie Allen say, “Sweat a little bit every day”. Just that simple advice makes fitness easier to accommodate. Another piece of advice I cherish came from my mother, “You never need to worry about getting revenge. Revenge takes care of itself.” This really reduces any stress you might experience dealing with being wronged” by someone.
12. You have participated in protests and advocacy throughout your life, including the Civil Rights movements—in this moment of new movements for justice, how do you think we effect change and transformation in our communities?
Understanding the past and how we got to where we are is critical to knowing the next steps crucial to change. I have learned so much during the past few months now that our conversations regarding race relations have bubbled up and become more intentional.
13. What are you seeking more of this year?
Clarity and focus. I am seeking opportunities where I might play a major role in eradicating racial and economic inequality.