At the tender age of 60, Cindy Joseph is the new poster girl for boomers re-inventing themselves around the country's fastest growing demographic. "For me a model was 18 years old, 18 feet tall and 18 pounds," Cindy jokingly told me when I caught up with her working in her garden in Yonkers, just north of New York City.
Never a model in her youth, she is defying one of the most unforgiving age barriers of any profession by acting her age and throwing away the hair dye. "I'm so happy to be done with the insecurity of youth and know who I am, know what I want, know how to handle myself," she told me between takes on a photo shoot with photographer Chuck Baker.
Her flowing gray hair and "discovery" by top fashion photographer Steven Meisel led to a contract with New York's prestigious Ford Models. They've launched an entire division called "Classic" for accommodating the rush of advertising clients trying to catch the age wave and silver tsunami sweeping over the youth market. Seventy-eight million boomers control more that 70 percent of the country's discretionary income, according to recent marketing surveys.
"Particularly with the economy we've experienced," Paulete Ellson added while surrounded by headshots and fielding calls in Ford Models' cavernous booking and operations room in New York City. She books only the "Classic" models like Cindy whose ranks have more than quadrupled the past 10 years as "gray" increasingly becomes the "new blonde." According to the U.S. Census 2010 figures, nearly 10,000 Americans are turning 65 every day.
"It's not about aspiring to youth anymore," claims Cindy who is a head-turning example of why "gray" is increasingly becoming the "new blonde" for advertisers. "We're people enjoying who we are and what we are. We're enjoying our lives and so we'd like to see peers in ads."
Cindy is leveraging her new found success into yet another new career in the cosmetics business. She is literally betting her modeling fees on a new line of organic cosmetics, appropriately called BOOM. She created them to enhance rather than cover up the more confident look she believes comes with age. "I thought wow, wouldn't it be awesome to make a cosmetic line that was pro-age instead of anti-age."
Granted, not many of Cindy's contemporaries have the natural beauty to re-invent themselves as top models in New York, irregardless of their age. What attracted me most to Cindy's story for my Nextracks series about boomers re-inventing their lifestyles and careers, is how naturally it came about after she was "discovered" while emerging from a New York subway station and looking for work.
"The very day I cut off the last bit of hair dye I was using to hide my gray hair, I was approached by a casting agent in New York," she told me while showing off her first magazine ad for Dolce & Gabbana.
She also shared with me how she didn't have the self-confidence when she was in her twenties and thirties to deal with the rejection that is the more common outcome of the almost daily casting calls she has to go on.
"I go in and what you see is what you get," she says sarcastically before starting to laugh at herself. "I tell them I'm happy with it. If you want it, I'll sell it to you."
From a four-story billboard in Times Square for Target to Oil of Olay magazine ads, more advertisers are buying Cindy's look of experience and confidence. "If you look at the baby boomer generation, every single decade of our lives we have re-invented what's gone on before. We're not sitting on the front porch knitting and rocking ourselves away."
To see and learn more about Cindy's story and follow Mike Cerre's Nextracks, go to:
This story is the first in a Nextracks series of reports from former ABC News Correspondent Mike Cerre on what's next for boomers. The series will continue on ABC7 News over the next few weeks.