08 September 2021
Joan MacDonald's health was suffering. At age 71, she was overweight and on several medications. She had high cholesterol, rising blood pressure and kidney trouble.
Her daughter is a fitness trainer. She warned that MacDonald would become severely unwell if she did not make big changes.
So she did. She went to the fitness center for the first time and learned to eat healthy with the help of a new tool: an iPhone.
Now age 75, MacDonald promotes fitness on social media. She has 1.4 million followers on Instagram.
She is part of a growing number of "grandfluencers" – people over the age of 70 who have huge numbers of social media followers.
Many of their fans are several years younger.
"It's so rare to find someone her age being able to do all these things," said 18-year-old follower Marianne Zapata.
MacDonald and other older social media influencers are turning their popularity into a profit.
MacDonald has paid partnerships, including with the sportswear and nutrition company Women's Best. She also just launched her own health and fitness app.
On TikTok, four friends who go by the handle @oldgays have 2.2 million followers. The four men, who are gay, are all age 65 or older. They use TikTok to humor fans with their incorrect answers to popular culture questions. They have a paid promoting deal with Grindr, a gay dating app.
Lagetta Wayne, who is 78, is another grandfluencer. She has young people asking her to be their grandmother. Online, she attends to and cooks vegetables from her garden. She goes by @msgrandmasgarden on TikTok.
Wayne, who is based in Suison City, California, has gained nearly 131,000 followers since June 2020. She owes her social media success to her young granddaughter. Her very first video, a garden walk-through, got 37,600 likes.
"One day my garden was very pretty and I got all excited about that and I asked her if she would take some pictures of me," Wayne recalled. "She said she was going to put me on TikTok and I said, ‘Well, what is TikTok?' I had never heard of it."
Since the pandemic, grandfluencers have expanded their social media use beyond Facebook.
Jessay Martin is the second youngest of the of the Old Gays. He is 68 years old and lives in the California desert town of Cathedral City.
Like MacDonald, the men who are part of the Old Gays fight against mistruths about what is possible in older age.
"They're showing...that you don't have to be afraid of aging. The 20 and 30 somethings don't often think about that," Alison Bryant said. She is an executive with AARP, an interest group for older Americans.
Sandra Sallin, a writer and artist, has slowly built her following to 25,300 on Instagram. Her reach recently grew to include the British Olympic gold-winning swimmer Tom Daley after he tried one of her family recipes. Sallin's social media centers around cooking and beauty. She also shares pictures from her past and travels.
"I wanted to expand my world. I felt that I was older, that my world was shrinking. People were moving" and people were sick, Sallin said. She started her blog because she wanted to reach people.
Sallin said it was hard to learn how to use Instagram. She said she is surprised that many of her followers are 30 to 40 years younger than she is.
Toby Bloomberg, who is 69, is a Sallin supporter. She found Sallin after Sallin competed on the Food Network television show "Clash of the Grandmas."
"She talks a lot about aging," Bloomberg said. That is unusual on social media since it is controlled by young people, Bloomberg added.
Grace Maier, who is 32, stays home full time with her two young children. She follows Barbara Costello, a 72-year-old Connecticut grandmother, who uses the handle @brunchwithbabs.
"She does these posts, ‘Did your mom ever tell you?' and I followed her immediately on Instagram," Maier said. Costello has many suggestions for living life that remind Maier of her own grandmother. And Costello "seems like the kind of person who would welcome you into her home," she said.
Mae Karwowski is founder and chief executive of the influencer marketing agency Obviously. She has more than 100 influencers in her network between the ages of 60 and 80.
Karwowski said people like young fashion influencers often have whole teams of people helping to run their social media accounts. But a lot of 70-plus aged influencers are doing everything themselves.
Karwowski said most media news "presents a really narrow viewpoint on this age group. What's great about social media is you can follow a really cool 75-year-old woman who is just doing her thing in Florida and that's fun, she said. "That's different."
I'm Anna Matteo. And I'm Alice Bryant.
The Associated Press reported this story. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.
Words in This Story
cholesterol –n. a substance produced in the bodies of people and animals which the body uses to produce biological chemicals
promote –v. to bring attention to something through advertising; to make something more popular or well-known
app (application) –n. a computer program that carries out a specific job
gay –adj. a person who identifies themselves as being sexually attracted to the same sex
recipe –n. a set of directions for making food
post –n. a message on an online message service
fashion –n. a popular way of dressing during a particular time or among a particular group of people
viewpoint –n. a way of looking at or thinking about something