Carolyn Doelling had never had a single modeling job or even considered the thought of it until after she turned 70.
Now she's on a mission to change the fashion and advertising industries and show how people can reinvent themselves later in life, after she admittedly felt "invisible" in retirement.
"My aspiration is just to be the role model for other people to look and say, 'You know what, she's 74 years old, she's rebooted and reinvented herself, and maybe I could do that, too,'" Doelling told Sheinelle Jones on the 3rd hour of TODAY Friday.
Doelling had never considered modeling until two years ago, when she was asked if she would be interested during a visit to a California boutique. Now she's a face of designers in print, social media and on the runway.
"I have to say that modeling was never in the picture," she said. "In fact, you'd be hard pressed to find a picture of me beforehand, because I was always on the back row."
Doelling had a long career in the banking, telecommunications and nonprofit sectors, but when she retired at 70 she couldn't help but notice the change in the way the world viewed her.
"It didn't take me long to realize that people have much lower expectations of what I could accomplish, and I also noticed that I started to feel invisible," she said. "So my first thought was I need to do something about that, because I'm not invisible."
"I think the idea of just not having the purpose and not having kind of that connection is what makes you feel invisible. And I've heard so many people say the same thing."
She wrote a post for the Sisters for AARP site called "I Refuse to Be Invisible" in which she detailed her struggles with ageism.
"My friends and family acknowledged me, of course, but the greater public — the 'just walking down the street' public — totally ignored me," she wrote. "No one seemed to notice or care who I was. It was as if everyone in this culture of ageism had agreed: You are done, your work is done. You are no longer needed. And with the kids and husband gone, your purpose to us is questionable."
Part of her fight against not feeling seen was changing her wardrobe to brighter colors that have now become her signature after admittedly wearing drab outfits in her retirement. The trip to the boutique then piqued her interest in modeling, an area she never thought would be for her.
"Just wearing those clothes, and the whole process is just so exciting," she said. "Learning how to pose and having the photographer give you great feedback."
Doelling takes pride in being the type of older model not often seen in advertising. She is part of a group of women looking to redefine beauty, including 73-year-old Maye Musk, who became a CoverGirl brand ambassador at 69, and Ernestine Stollberg, who became a fashion sensation in 2017 at 95 years old.
"Well, the feedback really helps," Doelling said. "And I had read that like 70% of us don't see ourselves in print media and advertising. And even worse, it's like only 4% of women felt that they were beautiful.
"I'm really hoping that individuals who can make choices about who they use as models will broaden the representation of who can represent their product."
She was able to land some socially-distant modeling jobs during the pandemic that kept her active, and now she has a goal of walking the runway for a designer in fashion capitals like New York, Paris or Milan.
"I say I'm bucking height-ism, ageism, hair-ism, colorism," she said. "I got all the 'isms' covered."