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As the saying goes, age is nothing but a number.
Park Makrye may not seem like the most logical person to be an insta-famous beauty blogger and social media influencer, but this 70-year-old women is a hit nonetheless. Her cool, genuine style keeps fans coming back for more, her audience mostly comprised of people young enough to be her grandchildren.
The septuagenarian’s adorable yet blunt personality shines through with each video she creates — her makeup tutorials showcase her wrinkles, laugh lines, and sagging skin. Where most women might feel uncomfortable parading signs of their aging on-screen, Park lives for it. “We used to think, ‘Since I’m over 70, my life is over’, but as I started doing this, I realized life starts at 71 years old.” She said, adding the extra year as is customary in South Korea and beyond.
Park’s rise to fame is surprising for a few different reasons. As a child, she was not allowed to go to school, as her parents thought she’d be of better use around the house.
“My mom and dad didn’t teach me even though we were not poor because they wanted to put me to work,” she said.
She spent her teenage years collecting firewood in the mountains, carrying it on her back all the way home. Her perfunctory reading/writing skills came from the good graces of a kind neighbor; still, she struggles to spell most words.
“As I do YouTube now, I feel sorry that I haven’t been educated.” she bemoaned.
Although her family was financially capable of providing for her, they did not come to her assistance when her husband abandoned her and their three children. Struggling to survive, Park opened up a restaurant, waking up at 4 a.m. every morning and ending her day at 9 p.m. at night. She was able to raise her three children and pay off the debts her husband had accrued in a time where many women in her situation would have been forced to give their children up for adoption. Thanks to her hard work and due diligence, she watched all three of her children graduate from high school and grow into adulthood.
The elderly in any country are not typically given a chance at earning their way into the spotlight, but Park’s road to fame was particularly difficult in South Korea, where senior citizens are commonly portrayed as angry conservatives or poverty-stricken welfare cases. And while this may have some truth to it, as South Korea has the highest elderly poverty rate of all the developed nations, it creates a stereotype that can be hard to shake.
Park unassumingly slid into the spotlight despite these challenges, and, with help from her 27-year-old acting instructor granddaughter, Kim Yura, she became everyone’s favorite grandma. “She’s real. She’s not fake,” said Lee Injae, a 31-year-old fan from Seoul. “It’s refreshing to see the world through the eyes of a grandmother.”
Her videos are unconventional, but treasured. Speaking in her local dialect, she unashamedly blurts out whatever comes to mind. When asked about her opinion on TV dramas, for example, her unfiltered comment, “those things get pregnant days and nights,” was well-received. While discussing products that claim to make women look more youthful, Park scoffed. “You just have to be born again,” she said, matter-of-factly. Even her offhand comments are met with laughter; when giving tips to viewers on how to look ten years younger, she warned the youthful viewers that they “shouldn’t do this or you’ll look like infants.”
But she also tackles issues that many young people feel uncomfortable discussing, and does so without worrying about her lack of education or what others might think of her. “The reason she is so popular is that she talks candidly without pretension about things that women feel uncomfortable about,” said culture studies professor of Kyunghee University Lee Taek Gwang. “She talks about topics that we don’t dare to talk about, especially on women’s issues.”
Her poor Korean writing skills have surprisingly charmed her fans; dubbed the “Makrye font”, fans try to decode her messages hidden in misspellings and a complete disregard for the space bar. They even compete amongst themselves to guess what she means. Park laughs at this, acknowledging that her posts often need “interpretation”.
Despite her fame and world travels, Park still works tirelessly in her restaurant. Although she uses her stardom to stave off dementia — a suggestion from her concerned granddaughter — the restaurant will remain under her watchful eye “until I die.”