“It has always been my mission to use the modelling platform to say, actually this is what a woman of 66 looks like.”
One of our lovely classic models, Susan Walker, strives to improve body positivity in the modelling industry and promote self-care for the younger generation. We caught up with her to find out a little bit more about her modelling career and her thoughts about body image in today’s society.
What inspired you to be a model?
I suddenly realised that by wearing the clothes from the Independent boutique in which I had just got a job, at the age of 50, that people wanted ‘my look’ and therefore wanted to buy the clothes off my back almost, and this helped to boost sales. It seemed the right moment to find myself an Agent. I merely sent a few amateurish ‘ snaps’ with my application and was accepted immediately, and then to another and much to my amazement the whole thing kicked off. Within a day I was sent to 2 Castings and got both jobs. Ever since I was 10 I can remember being asked to model for a variety of things, which I did, but I never took it particularly seriously and never thought of myself as a ‘Model’ or that I might follow it as a career path. There always seemed to be so many girls of my age who were, in my eyes far more “Modelly” than me! At that time I had my mind set on a career as a Graphic Designer. I actually pursued that path, having got a degree in Art and Design, and taught as Head of Art in a big Comprehensive for 10 yrs.
What’s your greatest achievement as a model to date?
Modelling gorgeous lingerie for Marks and Spencer in my 60th year made me feel pretty good! I was the smaller boobed balcony bra athletic older woman! And just very recently I was asked to model semi naked for the extremely well-known photographer Rankin, who was doing a piece on ageism. I am now 66.
What message would you like to give the younger generation on body image?
Strive to keep your body strong. It doesn’t really matter what the proportions of your body are, just make sure it looks well-toned and achieve that by getting involved in some form of regular exercise- whether it is dancing or running, or playing a sport, and spend time with like-minded people with whom you can have an interesting rapport. Don’t be sucked into following role models that do not serve your own sense of worth and well-being. If you are young, remember you have youth on your side! You are truly beautiful for that. Maintain that beauty by learning to cook so you eat well and can discern between ‘rubbish’ and good, simple tasty food. Be proud that you have a body that is a great machine that can do all sorts of amazing things which can make your life fun and interesting. But look after it. Once you have a little stamina and strength through good exercise and eating well don’t be ‘precious’. All you need is great clean hair, regular visits to the dentist, and look after your skin ( importantly wear sunscreen) and manicure your own nails to keep them clean and tidy. Remember your smile can be your best most attractive asset and a brilliant way of communicating! Spend some time outside, whether in an organised activity or just enjoying the natural or architectural world around you. Truly look around you. When it comes to clothes it’s great to experiment and find your own special style- don’t be boring and run with the herd and the gamut of Designer Wear… be creative and keep people guessing! Avoid logos like the plague if you can- why pigeonhole yourself? Be inventive. But most importantly be proud- stand up straight like you are really confident – even when you are not! Smile, drop and relax your shoulders. In certain social situations remember that the odds are that there are others who are not too confident. By acting warmly towards them and recognising their struggle it soon becomes easy to forget your own insecurities.
What’s your top tips on keeping up with your body and self-care?
Wear sunscreen, moisturiser, and use a good cleanser. Condition your hair after using a good shampoo. You don’t have to spend a fortune on skincare or hair care that contains lots of ingredients which can sometimes irritate your skin. If you can afford it have a great haircut, it can have the same effect on your ‘look’ as some new clothes, but cheaper.
What is your opinion on skin retouching?
I think skin should look like skin in photographs. I am 66 and have always seen it as my mission to present a true and realistic image of a woman of my age. I can guarantee to any Client that I have never ever had any ‘work’ done to my face or body. As a result I have been particularly appealing to Clients who want a Model who can animate her face. I have a scar running round the base of my neck as a result of having major surgery for cancer, but no one has ever commented or done much to photoshop it out. I have a few wrinkles and a frown line between my eyebrows and it is interesting to see which Clients photoshop it out! Not many have.
I find I get more Modelling work now, especially for American Clients- who struggle to find American Models of my age who have NOT had plastic surgery, than ever before. I think when images are touched it puts people further under pressure to feel that their looks are inadequate- that they should look as perfect as the person in the picture.
What changes in society do you think could be made to make the issue of body image more positive?
Present more diversity of body shapes and colours of skin and hair in advertising. Encourage girls particularly, to focus on more interesting challenges in sport, dancing, theatre or whatever they are passionate about, instead of the latest trends in eyebrow stencils.
Bring to the fore more interesting, brave, enterprising and inspirational female role models. Encourage school children from a young age to do Yoga and bring back proper cookery lessons in schools. Children should be encouraged to have confidence and strength, but also be encouraged to be independent and to take pride in being part of ‘team family’ by having even a simple job such as clearing the table.
Children need good, kind support from adults who are consistent, but who also allow children to be a bit scared, a bit bored, and to fail a few things, and just be in the wings whilst they sort themselves out! It is through experiencing failure for example that we learn how to be resourceful and ‘grow’ in confidence.
How do you keep your mind and body healthy?
Lots of Yoga to develop my overall strength and flexibility, running, to clear the mind in order to focus and regain mental equilibrium. I like to truly appreciate the beauty of nature as I walk instead of rushing blindly through my environment to get from A to B.
Never stop daring to take on new challenges. I took up water-skiing in my 60th year and thereafter I skied on my birthday each year to prove to myself I was still ‘alive’!
In the same year I ran the half marathon Great North Run. I took up Tap dancing again recently after a gap of only 50 years! I enjoy Body Balance classes, Zumba, and Pilates, and have just started Ballet Fit at the local gym where I go every week. I love cycling, skiing and swimming- especially in the sea.
I am inclined, especially in the winter, to feel mentally ‘low’ and I find exercise helps to ‘exorcise’ those feelings.
I love cooking so to eat healthily is relatively easy, though I am mostly self-taught. Finally I feel I am mastering the art of baking! I never ever diet but eat with portion control in mind. I eat a huge variety of food- some of which is grown in our garden.
My Modelling work presents me with challenges and some financial independence. I love mixing in a creative environment and without a doubt I enjoy chatting to people a lot younger than myself- who always seem so much more confident, talented and successful, than I am sure I ever did at the same age! Their conversation always makes me feel I have learnt something new on every Shoot I am part of.
What are your thoughts on how age is presented in the modelling industry?
I get rather depressed about the way old people are represented, some Clients appear to be taking a long time to dare to represent anything other than the rather dreary stereotypical look of those who for example advertise retirement homes.
There is a certain ‘look’ which although I am the same age, I cannot for the life of me, identify with! For a long time my sharp cut natural grey shoulder length hair was very much out of kilter with the slightly more ambiguously tinted bouffant look of my contemporaries who got most of the work. I was urged to cut my hair and Clients such as L’Oreal wanted to dye my hair as an ‘improvement’.
One airline company offered me a job and simultaneously asked me to dye my hair blonde for the shoot. I refused, but happily, and to the credit of Virgin, they still hired me.
I would like to see genuinely active and visibly fit old people represented doing real stuff. Not just images of an old couple on a tandem, the guy at the front manfully peddling with his ‘wife’ flapping about on the back!
I also think the clothing provided on shoots using my age group can be incredibly dull. I personally do not aspire to dress like a teenager, I like to wear a contemporary, stylish and elegant look. It is very telling that so often when I am asked to supply wardrobe of specific items for the shoot they tend to be rather stereotypical with their demands- however I always wear my ‘own’ clothes to go to the shoot and inevitably everyone likes my outfit. Despite the suitcase of options, it is always my own clothes that they ask me to wear.