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Three images of GranfluencersDaniel Virin / Lucy Alcorn / @magdalife57

The rise of the 'granfluencer'

Meet the seniors who are better at social media than you

Lisa Harvey

Anyone who still thinks Instagram is reserved for young people is as dated as the social network was before it brought in Snapchat-style Stories.

Because a new type of influencer is emerging - one that has more style, lols and life inspo than you can shake a selfie (or walking) stick at.

Enter: the 'granfluencer'. As in, grandparents or simply older people who are better at social media than you.

While it's true that almost three-quarters of Instagram influencers are thought to be under-35 (with 42% aged 18-24), that doesn't mean there isn't space for these age-defying internet icons. Last year, an influencer marketing agency claimed that the accounts they identified as the top 10 senior influencers on Instagram had seen a 24% increase in followers since September 2017.

And why wouldn’t they catch on? “Our collective understanding of what later life looks likes remains woefully outdated,” said Marie Stafford, the European Director of a UK marketing agency that produced a 2018 report into the lifestyle attitudes of British women aged 53 to 72. “In the future, ageless living will become the norm for all of us, as continuing advances in longevity make extended healthy lives a reality.”

Right now, there’s already a whole host of Insta-stars from the baby boomer generation and upwards smashing hashtags – and stereotypes. They’re living, and posting, with attitude, while teaching us to embrace our differences, and dress or be who we want to be at any age.

Consider the following seven examples a guide to granfluencing:

The badass queen

Followers: 3.8 million

Bio: “Stealing your man since 1928”

Best caption: “Is this a filter or IRL because damn I look good”

If you haven’t heard of Baddie by now, you’ve been missing out. Formally known as Helen Ruth Elam van Winkle from Kentucky, the nearly 91-year-old worked in a factory for 28 years before shooting to Insta-fame in 2014 after her great-granddaughter posted a photo of her in cut-off denim shorts and a tie-dyed top while giving a peace sign. “I think [people] saw a great-grandmother that didn't care what anybody thought about her," Baddie told US radio station, NPR.

Her rebel vibes went viral and today, her feed is as engaging as her ‘screw being age-appropriate’ attitude. In-between lip-syncing to Drake, posting selfies with Diplo at music festivals, slaying red carpets and travelling the world for her #badassbucketlist, Baddie is known for her humour, and what she describes as, “serving looks” – one out-there outfit (and sassy caption) at a time. Think neon swimwear, pleather miniskirts, eye-popping tracksuits and and “bad bitch club” t-shirts. All accessorized with her bedazzled pink and jewelled cane, of course.

In her posts, Baddie talks openly about health issues, including her recent hip replacement, as well as the loss of her husband and son. In February, she captioned one post: “Thank you guys for always wanting to support me. I’m so undeniably grateful… Instagram has changed my life completely.” 

#MrStealYourGrandma

Irvin RandleGetty Images
Irvin Randle

Followers: 254,000

Bio: “Too grown”

Best caption: “Sunday funday… catching flights not fever”

“I just want to inspire people to feel sexy after 50,” Irvin Randle, 57, a primary school teacher from Houston says in a video on his Instagram. The self-described “sharp dresser” and granddad-of-two became an overnight celebrity in 2016 after photos of him looking stylish (requested by a stranger who saw his Facebook page) sent the internet into a frenzy. He even sparked his own hashtag - #MrStealYourGrandma. When his daughter phoned him to say he was trending, Irvin had no idea what that meant. “I thought I was in trouble,” he said in one interview for Voyage Houston.

Three years on and his fashion-forward feed is full of pictures of him wearing tailored suits and urban fashion, complete with swagger-filled captions. When he’s not doing photoshoots and walking Fashion Week runways, he’s being asked to walk brides down the aisle (or even divorce his wife because of his ‘sex symbol’ looks). “I exercise five days of the week, let my body rest for two days – and I feel better now than I did at 27,” he says. “So many guys have approached me about their self-esteem. I tell them, ‘only you can change, no one can do that for you. Love you first.’”

And while Irvin’s journey has been “wild”, and his followers give him “so much love”, he says he was initially upset at being dubbed a grandma-stealer. "I kind of got upset for a minute," Irvin told Cosmopolitan. "I don't want anybody's grandma."

The boho activist

Sarah Jane AdamsRichard Hedger
Sarah Jane Adams

Followers: 182,000

Bio: “The day you start believing your own bullshit is the beginning of the end”

Best caption: “Be bold and old”

What started as an account for 63-year-old Sarah Jane Adams to promote her jewellery business is now flooded with colourful posts championing her feminist and age-positive message. Since 2015, she has been hashtagging all her posts with #mywrinklesaremystripes after, she says, a makeup artist asked if she would like her wrinkles covered. She says, “I have no desire to get rid of them. It’s ridiculous that we’re living in a world where showing an unfilled, makeup-free face is considered ‘brave!’”

It’s why Sarah, who was born in the UK and now lives in Sydney, is on a mission to create more diversity, and her eclectic style reflects that. But she’s not here for the #OOTD (Outfit of the Day) likes. “I don't think people are following me because of my clothes or jewellery – it's my attitude,” she told Today Extra.

“I was a punk,” she also told The Independent, “and before that I was a hippie. Now I’ve merged the two cultures. I’m part of the Germaine Greer generation. But in the world of social media, I’m lumped with all the over-60s.”

That said, landing representation from one of the world’s biggest modelling agencies in 2016 isn’t a bad result to come from the ‘gram. So how does it feel to have a six-figure following? “It comes with a sense of responsibility,” says Sarah. “This tempers the way I can voice my opinions, which is one reason I use visuals rather than words to express myself.”

She’s not afraid to call out the haters, though. Most importantly, she knows when to take a breather. Last summer, she uploaded a post saying: “Instagram is a tool… it is essential to understand nothing beats face to face connection with another human being.”

The Frida fan

Followers: 20,000

Bio: “Age is an illusion. People call me a fashionista, I call myself an artist”

Best caption: “Just be you”

Spanish artist Magda Llohis de Gutierrez, 76, is actually living her best life – and she’s got the beaming posts to prove it. In fact, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a picture where she isn’t smiling. “I feel gratitude and great power to be able to share my feelings, give happiness to others with my smile, and show how a 76-year-old woman can do Instagram,” says Magda, even though she never intended to join the platform.

It all started when fashion blog founder Ari Seth Cohen spotted her Frida Kahlo-esque vibes on the streets of New York. “He took my photographs and told me I had to have an Instagram account,” she says. “I laugh now as I had no clue what he was talking about. Yet here I am with more than 20,000 followers. I still remember when I celebrated my first 3,000. I was in shock!”

And her free-spirited outlook continues to attract followers. How to #bemoreMagda? “Many people say to me: ‘How can we be like you?’ and I say, ‘Just go for it!’ Take those garments hiding in your closet and make a combination between the old and the new; the vintage and the modern. With more and more colour and accessories, you can be fashion.”

The lols photographer

Kimiko NishimotoKimiko Nishimoto
Kimiko Nishimoto

Followers: 215,000

Bio: [Translated] “Kimiko Nishimoto”

Best caption: [Translated] “Will you play?”

Kimiko Nishimoto is proof that it’s never too late to learn something new – and that humour gets better with age. At 72, she picked up a camera for the first time and joined a photography class run by her son. Fast-forward 18 years, and the 90-year-old grandma is one of Japan’s biggest social media stars, posting slapstick-style self-portraits.

“I just want to do something funny,” Kimiko told the Japan Times.“Life is all about being playful.” A quick scroll on her Insta, which she apparently manages herself, shows various edited photos of her flying on a broomstick, downing beers in fancy dress, slamming doors on people and crashing scooters. Her son helps her set up some of the shots, and while a few might seem to put her safety at risk – in one post it looks like she’s being run over by a car - it's just further evidence of her editing skill.

She might enjoy making herself the butt of the joke but amassing a worldwide following since joining Instagram less than two years ago, and landing several gallery exhibitions in Japan – one of which struggled to cope with the crowds – is no small feat.

But Kimiko, who credits photography with helping her cope with the death of her husband in 2012, appears to take it all in her stride. “I just want to try and bring joy to people," she told The Phuket News. "Taking photos is the secret of my happiness. I’ll keep doing it for as long as I’m alive.”

The fruit seller fashionista

Lance WalshBen Awin
Lance Walsh

Followers: 52,200

Bio: None

Best caption: “There is nothing here worth dying for”

Lance Walsh, a 58-year-old fruit seller from London, is a big deal in the streetwear community. But he earned his fashion fame by accident. Before his online profile blew up, people would take pictures of the dad-of-three working on his London Soho stall – where he’s been for over 30 years – dressed in his colourful clobber. Then, in 2016, Lance caught the eye of street culture photographer Ben Awin, and his staple look was soon all over the internet.

An Instagram followed, as did being featured in Vogue, and today (with the help of friends who help look after his account) Lance’s following continues to grow. But you won’t find hundreds of fashion hashtags or captions about ageless style here – Lance’s pictures do the talking. Wearing hoodies, emblazoned tees, camo trousers, checked shorts, and a rotating assortment of headgear, his youthful aesthetic regularly earns him thousands of likes.

Not that he’s fussed. “People were taking photographs before Ben, people were coming up with their kids ‘cause I had the gear on,” Lance told Dazed. “I just used to wear it, and people would take photos, and it started from there. It is funny when the parents come down [to the stall] though. The dads are the funniest actually. They can’t work it out!”

So how did it feel to go viral? “I don’t mind having a photo here [at work]. But I don’t like it if I’m in the pub or something. It gets too much.” Adding that some of his Asian fans “cry” when they see him, Lance said overall he doesn’t mind the attention. “It makes them happy don't it? So it don't bother me."

As for the comments online: “I don’t ever read ‘em. I can’t even turn a computer on.”

The academic icon

Followers: 662,000

Bio: “Cultural influencer, professor, content creator, consultant, speaker and model”

Best caption: “Nothing like a few wrinkles to make life more interesting. Heading out.”

“All rules are meant to be broken,” says 65-year-old Lyn Slater. And she’s certainly helping to re-write them. As well as her masters in criminal justice and PhD in social welfare, she’s a university professor who’s been praised as “possibly the most stylish grandmother you’ve ever seen". Five years ago, photographers mistook her for a fashion insider at New York Fashion Week, and she’s been building a striking presence online through her fashion blog and Instagram ever since.

"I had a big imagination as a kid, which is how I established my relationship with clothes,” she told one fashion site. “I saw them as costumes that allowed me to perform different identities, especially since I was living a pretty working-class life in New York.”

As well as her fashion sense, Lyn doesn’t hold back from sharing her opinions of the industry, such as believing that clothes should be forever, and shining a light on lesser known brands. She told Disrupt Aging: “I am in my 60s, and I am the most visible I have ever been in my entire life.”

Her 662,000 followers seem to suggest she's right – not that’s she counting. "I try not to engage with numbers on Instagram,” she says. “My only intention is to express myself creatively, and create interesting content.”

And perhaps therein lies why she has become something of an "anti" anti-aging symbol, especially for young people who don’t want to get old in traditional ways. One 21-year-old recently commented: “Keep it up, wonderful sister!”

And in an interview with The New York Times, Lyn said her Insta following “skews young,” but that’s not deliberate. “I’m not 20. I don’t want to be 20, but I’m really freaking cool.”

This article was originally published on 30 May 2019