In one of her recent posts, Joan MacDonald spins around on the beach and beams for the camera. In another, the 77-year-old exhales deeply as she squats under a barbell at a gym.
Among the so-called “granfluencers” on social media, the Cobourg, Ontario native is something of a heavyweight who says she’s still getting used to flexing her muscles on social media, noting that “not in 1,000 years” had she seen herself. her becoming an influencer at age 70.
“For me it wasn’t on the horizon at all,” said MacDonald, whose journey began four years ago when her daughter encouraged her to recover and share her transformation online. At first she was reluctant.
“Who’s going to listen to an old woman?” she wondered.
It turns out that a lot of people.
His journey from being overweight and unhealthy to muscular and strong has earned MacDonald nearly two million followers on Instagram and tens of millions of views on TikTok.
She says she’s still overwhelmed by how many of her followers, many of them decades younger, say she gives them hope to change their own lives.
“It’s life changing,” MacDonald said during a recent visit to Toronto. “A lot of people say, ‘I love your smile. It makes me feel happy when I see any of your posts.'”
Among those followers is Jodi Echakowitz, a resident of Thornhill, Ontario, who has also become a friend. Echakowitz, in her 50s, followed MacDonald’s lead and transformed her own physical health. She and MacDonald spent a recent weekend together that included working out.
Echakowitz says that following MacDonald’s journey taught him that there are no limits to what is possible.
“What can you do, how can you live your life and how can you turn your life around,” he said. “It’s like, I want what she has, you know? I want to do what she’s done. And yeah, it’s amazing.”
TikTok boom boom
MacDonald’s cross-demographic appeal has not only inspired her followers, but has also made her and other older influencers a marketer’s dream.
She promotes a fitness line, has a fitness app, co-authored a book with her daughter, and has other deals in the works.
“It’s new but it will be normal,” said Sabaa Quao, creative director of Toronto-based marketing and communications agency Cossette.
As platforms like TikTok gain traction with older users, brands follow them there, and Quao says that’s because boomers are such a huge market.
“When we think about the size of that boomer population, when we think about their economic impact in terms of purchasing power or disposable income, the market can’t ignore them.”
You can’t ignore its everlasting influence, either, Quao says.
“It’s an implicit trust factor,” which he says comes with experience and wisdom.
‘Life can get better’
Gym Tan, 63, is drawing on her own life experience to take on a new role as a style influencer.
The former San Francisco-based fashion executive has deals with dozens of big-name brands and says she’s “baffled” by her accidental new career.
“I feel like, wow, my 60s are the best time of my life. Definitely as an older woman in this space. I think I love the fact that, you know, we’re actually proving there’s no expiration date.”
Tan’s daughter and regular online fashion twin was the one who convinced her to share her outfit of the day (OOTD in social media parlance) on TikTok.
In the past year and a half, Tan’s quick style tips, which usually end with a snap of the fingers, have earned her hundreds of thousands of followers. She now has a talent agent and is part of Sephora’s latest team, a year-long paid partnership designed to showcase content creators. She also appeared in a global ad campaign for Clairol.
“In terms of partnerships, this is a very lucrative business,” Tan said, noting that she is first and foremost a content creator who wants to help make fashion accessible to all women.
“I’m older and I have all this experience, so why not show people how easy it really is?” he said. “I want to give people the message that you don’t have to be afraid of getting old because life is still wonderful. In fact, life can get better.”
While older influencers have older followers, their biggest following is those in their 20s and 30s who make up the majority of social media users and who often identify with older influencers on a nostalgic level.
‘A grandmother for all’
Elda Sirizzotti, or Nonna Elda to her followers, looks like she could be everyone’s Italian grandmother. The 83-year-old’s posts sharing traditional family recipes and cooking tips get millions of views on TikTok.
Her granddaughter, Allessandra Requena, encouraged her to share her passion for cooking last year, but she was surprised at how strongly it resonated with young people.
“We have a TikTok that went very viral,” Requena said. “It has 14 million views. And it’s just, ‘This is how you open a box of pasta.’ And he slams it against the counter. Yeah. And it really took off.”
Sirizzotti also has a few collaborations and has published his own cookbook. She says that she is still getting used to being recognized at the supermarket in her Toronto neighborhood.
One follower even called her at home and told her that he cried when he saw her post because it made him miss his late grandmother.
“I tell her, ‘Okay, I’ll be your grandmother,'” Sirizzotti told her. “Now I’m a grandmother to everyone!”
MacDonald says his multigenerational influence hasn’t been easy, but he’s proving it’s about much more than his following.
She says she’s gone from being overweight, depressed and taking various medications to being drug free and happier than ever in her own skin.
But she says her newfound fame isn’t even so much about her as it is about not accepting the idea that “when you get to a certain age, life is over.”
MacDonald says she understands that a lot of people don’t love themselves. For a long time she says that she doesn’t either. But that has changed, as has her motivation.
“It’s a great feeling to be able to help someone live life happier.