3 Crones to Watch Out For

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Stella Fosse

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Three Crones to Watch Out For

The subject of “super-agers” came up in a recent Old School Office Hours (which, in case you aren’t familiar with it, is a weekly Zoom gathering of folks interested in anti-ageism, convened by the esteemed Ashton Applewhite).

You know who we mean by “super-ager:” The eighty-year-old who climbs a mountain. The ninety-year-old who runs their first marathon. Nothing against these olders; it’s great that they are living their best lives. But when they show up in the press, they become the equivalent of what’s called “inspiration porn” in the disability community: The shining example held up to shame able bodied folks for not doing more (and, I suspect, to discourage other people with disabilities from asking for accommodations).

The super-ager in the public arena sets up an either/or stereotype: Either an older woman is exceptional, or she is “Frail, Frumpy and Forgotten” (the memorable title of a report from the Geena Davis Institute on the portrayal of older women in the media).

Missing from the public discourse about older women is the middle ground: The crone pursuing her dreams, learning new skills, building new connections. The woman over sixty who takes a new path, building on her earlier career or striking out in a totally new direction. The woman who is, per the title of the Small Potatoes Manifesto, Creative Not Famous. Yet the reality is, skads of us exist in that middle ground, doing interesting things and building Crone Culture brick by brick.

To bring that middle ground to light, I decided to highlight these Crones to Watch Out For in an occasional series in my Stella Fosse blog. We’re talking about women you probably haven’t heard of but should have. Women who bring it, every day.

So now, without further ado, here are three of my favorite Crones to Watch Out For.

Debra Benfield

In her 35-year career as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Debra has helped hundreds of women heal their relationship with food, eating, and their bodies. She believes that each woman is the expert on her own body, and she helps women reclaim that truth.

Debra has embarked on a liberating path as an elder.  This part of her story began the year she turned 60 and became a grandmother the same year.  The number of years she had lived on this planet never really concerned her until then.  These co-occurring events felt significant; she became more awake to the fact that our time here is limited. Entering this chapter of her life caused her to become curious about how to care for her aging body.

As she began researching, Debra realized that she was not that interested in longevity but more about the quality of life, maintaining her ability to live with vitality and keeping her mind sharp. But she was in for a rude awakening. She was frustrated by how difficult it was to find well-researched advice that was NOT related to managing weight or youthful appearance. She decided to create the program she was looking for.

Debra’s “Aging with Vitality and Body Liberation” group coaching weaves together the most up-to-date research in nutrition related to aging, with practices designed to help women divest from diet and wellness culture. This offering is a culmination of all that Debra has learned through years of training and experience in presence-based coaching, nutrition, yoga, somatic practices, trauma-informed mindfulness, and through research regarding aging. The same process is available in 1:1 coaching.

As Debra says, “My intention is to coach you in making choices that support your body and mind’s ability to function as well as possible. I want to help you feel vital and free of our culture’s stifling diet and movement rules. This is not the time to feel contained! This is a time to celebrate your unique capacity to live your precious life.”

Vicki DeArmon

Vicki’s publishing career spans the industry from publisher to bookseller to marketer to author and back to publisher. She has always sought to create and promote community. While at Foghorn Press, she served for three years as the President of the San Francisco Bay Area Books Festival which was attended by 35,000 readers and she helped launch the umbrella organization for the Festival, the Bay Area Book Council.

Later she became a bookseller, serving for eight years as Marketing and Events Director at Copperfield’s Books, an independent bookstore chain in Northern California. There she created their nationally recognized author events program which produced 300 plus events a year, from in-store to boutique to large scale offsite ticketed events. She founded and ran Event Lab West producing large scale author events that included the North Bay Women’s Expo and WomenTalkBiz until Covid intervened.

With her extensive background, Vicki has seen firsthand the obstacles Women of a Certain Age face in the publishing industry, and she is just the person to do something about it. Her latest venture, Sibylline Press, is a collaborative publishing company dedicated to the publication of books written by women over 50 where she happily serves as Publisher. Look for more developments as Sybelline prepares to launch an imprint of Romance novels by women over fifty. And watch this space for a guest essay coming from Vicki in April.

Susan Kiyo Ito

Susan began reading at age three and writing stories at age six. Over the years her work has appeared in The Writer, Growing Up Asian American, Choice, Hip Mama, Literary Mama, Catapult, Hyphen, The Bellevue Literary Review, and elsewhere. She has performed her solo show, The Ice Cream Gene, around the US. She is a member of The Writers’ Grotto and teaches at Mills College/Northeastern University. She was one of the co-organizers of Rooted and Written, a no-fee writing workshop for writers of color.

But Susan’s longest-standing project has been her memoir about growing up with adoptive Japanese American parents, which began as decades of journal entries. As a child, Susan knew only that her birth mother was Japanese American and her birth father was white. Finding and meeting her birth mother was only the beginning of her search for answers, history, and identity. Thirty years of chronicling that process has now led to the publication of her new book, I Would Meet You Anywhere (Ohio State University Press).

Reviewer Alice Stephens, herself a mixed race adoptee, wrote: “Susan’s memoir has earned an immediate place in the adoptee-memoir canon, with its deep exploration of the in-between spaces that adoptees and mixed-race people inhabit and the lifelong struggle for belonging in the very places we call home. Through the story of finding her birth mother and the aftermath, Susan reveals essential truths about identity, motherhood, family, and resilience.”

Susan’s memoir is now a Finalist for the 2023 National Book Critics Award for Autobiography.

Our Crone Culture is rich with women who have created anew after midlife. For future episodes, I welcome your nominees—please email me about your favorite creative-not-famous crone at: stella@stellafosse.com. It’s all part of the fun revolution in how we live and how we are seen in the wider culture.


6 Responses

  1. I loved this blog – I had never heard of “inspiration porn” and it lit up an understanding of how I was shaped by my cultural expectations of being a super- performer. Sadly now I continue in my attempt to be and envy super- agers.
    It’s hard to recognize the exceptional value of “normal “ achievements by people of any age in this hyped up celebrity society.

  2. Thanks so much Stella for this GREAT article about our fabulous crones doing great things! I agree that there are lots of women who should be lauded and who are giving all of us crones positive feelings about ourselves and the world we navigate! I am especially grateful to see your mention of Geena Davis’ study of older women’s portrayal in the media, which is abysmal as expected in our youth-and-beauty-obsessed culture. I had heard about Geena’s research and this paper, and your article has inspired me to locate that and read it! By the way, Geena Davis’ autobiography is fantastic, just mentioning that in case you have not seen it.

    I definitely agree that the super-achiever elder women are wonderful but they do put out an example that most of us could not possibly live up to and which frankly I have no desire to!

  3. Great blog post! I love the thoughts on ‘Super Agers’ and ableist perspectives. I find that although it’s easier to live a balanced life as an older vs younger woman, it still takes a lot of time and energy. It would be nice to read a blog about how we as older woman can best support and encourage one another to live our own best lives.

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