This is an excerpt from Please Like Me, BuzzFeed News’ newsletter about how influencers are battling for your attention. You can sign up here (and you should, ’cause we just revamped it).
Lifestyle content has flourished on TikTok, with glimpses of people’s idyllic lives being whittled down into a brightly colored, crisply decorated minute. But the genre is also overwhelming, as I swipe through videos of young adults supercutting their way through Shein hauls, 5 a.m. reset routines, and aspirational vlogs that feel unobtainable.
And as Gen Z has fallen out of love with labor, so have I lost interest in the aesthetic that tries to make us foam at the mouth for free company coffee. I’m over it, to be honest. As a result, I’ve started watching older influencers, glamorous women with their shit together who have found a niche with younger TikTok audiences.
One that I follow regularly is Gym Tan, known as California Is Too Casual on TikTok, who first joined the app in December 2021. Even though she’s 61 years old, Tan told me that her primary audience is women ages 18 to 24. A retired fashion executive, she’s gained popularity for her outfit and lifestyle tips that contributed to an Abercrombie & Fitch dress selling out in stores.
“Lots of younger girls are really looking at me going like, I want to be like you when I get older, or, You made me not afraid of aging,” Tan said. “I haven't decided what my purpose is, but I also feel that I want to impart what I've learned.”
Tan isn’t on the app to try to be “that girl.” She doesn’t share food that follows any current diet trend, and gives plenty of reassurance that her fitness journey and marriage story took off later in life. Her fashion inspiration and advice come from years of figuring out her own style, as well as a lengthy career in the clothing industry.
“I have traveled with CEOs who make millions of dollars, and they’re dressed in workout wear — like, I don’t want to sit next to you,” she said. “I grew up in Singapore. I worked in Hong Kong and New York. I just have so many stories like that. I’ve been myself for almost 62 years. I feel that if this has worked for me, after so many years, surely it's gonna work for other people too.”
Older influencers aren’t a new phenomenon in the creator economy, but their entrance into TikTok has really resonated with viewers below their peer demographic. Fashion influencer Grece Ghanem’s comments on TikTok are primarily from younger fans, in awe of her European-chic outfits or incredibly bronzed skin. “Dear God, please let me age as beautiful & graceful as this,” one wrote. “If I’m not like this when I’m older I’m not doing it right,” another said. Train With Joan, a woman who started working out at 70 and now runs a fitness program for older women, has inspired almost 2 million followers with her fitness pivot that came later in life.
There’s a comfort in seeing these older women still living their very best lives. Lifestyle content is meant to help you figure out how you want to live, so hearing from these women who have experienced long and complex lives, and are still glowy and happy and are filled to the brim with joie de vivre makes me more inclined to listen to their diet, shopping, beauty, and fitness tips — because they’ve truly lived to try it all. “For brands, the woman in her 40s, 50s, and 60s has much more money to spend,” Tan said. “And they are more discerning.”
Wendy Euler, an age positivity influencer on Instagram, told me that there isn’t really a space for middle-aged women to just exist online. “I was 49, about to turn 50, and was looking for any kind of inspiration,” she said. “But all I could find were women who were trying to be 30, or women who were curled up into a ball because of divorce or menopause.”
Euler’s content targets women who are 40 to 60, but she said she understands the growth of influencers of all ages on TikTok. “There’s so much that’s completely uninspiring,” she said. “It’s just not real — the women who are skinny and wearing a bikini and jumping off a megayacht. I mean, if I were younger, I probably would want to take the party invitations too. With age should come the knowledge to not sell yourself to brands you don’t even believe in.”
As the sausage-making of the influencer economy becomes unraveled, it will be harder for creators to sell the idea of a hypothetical perfect life to consumers who know most of it is fake anyway. That’s why y’all can keep the vlogs of the fresh college grads working at startups. I’m listening to the wise words of our very chic foremothers.