South Korea has found an unlikely fashion star in 77-year-old (Korean age) Choi Soon-Hwa, the oldest professional model in the country.
As a former care worker who was used to working 20 hours a day in a hospital, Choi shared how her current job is “a miracle.”
“It was hard to even get myself lunch. The stress was excruciating – it was as if a volcano was about to erupt inside me,” she told Agence France-Presse.
South Korea has been seeing a trend in seniors becoming social media and fashion celebrities in recent years. The country’s weak social safety net has resulted in nearly 45% of seniors living in relative poverty.
A few years ago, Choi herself was in debt and ended up using all her earnings to pay off loans. According to Choi, she found an opportunity to change her life after seeing a TV commercial about senior models by pure chance.
After enrolling in a few modeling classes, she was soon picked up by agency The Show Project. It didn’t take long for her to make her catwalk debut.
She used to dye her hair when she worked in hospitals as patients didn’t want someone who “looked too old” to look after them. But now, she no longer needs to do so as her distinctly gray hair has become a feature many new designers look for.
Kim Hee-jin, a 32-year-old designer who makes clothes for young adults, shared that she hired Choi for her Seoul Fashion Week show last year for her unique looks.
“There is something very unique about Choi – she has a quality that is different from anyone else [in her generation], and I thought it goes well with the kind of originality that I strive to achieve when making clothes,” Kim noted.
Choi has faced hardship throughout most of her adult life. Having been abandoned by her husband, she was forced to juggle being a single parent to her two children while maintaining a full-time job.
“During my years as a single parent of two kids I would wear the same clothes for as long as 20 years,” she recalled.
Choi lamented that her generation had been “forcing themselves to be too frugal” while the younger ones spend three times as much on clothes and shoes. She says now is the time for her to try and live her own life.