Crow's Feet Podcast

Lyn Slater, the Accidental Icon, Reinvents Herself

April 10, 2024 Crow's Feet Season 3 Episode 7
Lyn Slater, the Accidental Icon, Reinvents Herself
Crow's Feet Podcast
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Crow's Feet Podcast
Lyn Slater, the Accidental Icon, Reinvents Herself
Apr 10, 2024 Season 3 Episode 7
Crow's Feet

At 61, Lyn Slater, a seasoned social welfare professional and social work academic at Fordham University, combined her passions for clothing and writing by launching an  Instagram blog in 2014. The Accidental Icon was born. 

Modeling  Valentino eyewear thrust her into the spotlight of the fashion industry, global notoriety, and unexpected opportunities. The Accidental Icon transformed into a social influencer with a million followers and became a brand in its own right. 

In 2020, Lyn pivoted her blog away from fashion blogging and sponsored posts to writing about aging and advocating for pro-aging public policy. Her Stubstack newsletter gave rise to her first non-academic book, How To Grow Old,  published in 2024. 

Lyn Slater holds a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from The Graduate Center, City University of New York. 






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Show Notes Transcript

At 61, Lyn Slater, a seasoned social welfare professional and social work academic at Fordham University, combined her passions for clothing and writing by launching an  Instagram blog in 2014. The Accidental Icon was born. 

Modeling  Valentino eyewear thrust her into the spotlight of the fashion industry, global notoriety, and unexpected opportunities. The Accidental Icon transformed into a social influencer with a million followers and became a brand in its own right. 

In 2020, Lyn pivoted her blog away from fashion blogging and sponsored posts to writing about aging and advocating for pro-aging public policy. Her Stubstack newsletter gave rise to her first non-academic book, How To Grow Old,  published in 2024. 

Lyn Slater holds a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from The Graduate Center, City University of New York. 






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Lyn Slater  00:00

I have always wanted to be a writer, then you start having a family, and having to develop your career, and it gets put on the shelf. I wish that I had not been so distant from my older self when I was a young woman. If I had known, or I had a vision of who I could be when I was seventy. I could have used that as a comfort in that moment.

Jane Trombley  00:27

That's writer Lynn Slater. You may know her as the Accidental Icon, a legendary fashion blogger, a social media influencer, and a luxury brand ambassador. Almost single handedly, in a few short years, Lyn put style in the lexicon of older women. But that wasn't her intention. It was, she says, a blip on the screen. Her chosen profession was very different. By 2020, it was time for another reinvention. This is the voice of Lyn Slater you haven't heard.

Voice Over  01:02

This is Crow's Feet. A place where we ponder the question. Are these our golden years? Or does aging just suck? Well, yes, getting older is not for the faint hearted. But aging also brings wisdom and humor, a finely tuned perspective on life. In our podcast, you'll meet writers and others rethinking our later years, people who inspire us to reimagine our future.

Jane Trombley  01:30

I'm Jane Trombley. My conversation with Lyn begins with her career as a social worker, layered with years as a Professor of Social Work and the law at Fordham University. In 2014, at sixty-one, she wanted a creative outlet, she started posting on Instagram, blending her twin passions of clothing and writing. Lyn chose the handle “accidental icon”, it changed the trajectory of her life. Lyn, welcome to Crow's Feet, you are the accidental icon. But the backstory is decidedly not fashion.

Lyn Slater  02:05

I think what's really interesting, I have lived a life of caring for others and service. I am the oldest of six children, the oldest daughter, and I have been a social worker for forty-seven years and then became an academic. And during my lifetime in those careers. And in that life, I was able to have the privilege of both the witnessing, and in some occasions, sort of helping people to make a change that made their life better. 

Because in my career as a social worker, I worked pretty extensively in the child welfare system, I worked with literally thousands of people who had experienced trauma. And I had seen in my work that people made so many assumptions about my clients based on what they wore, and what they looked like. Decisions that had huge power attached, like removing your child. And so that was my initial impulse. I was going to research and write and study about this. 

Jane Trombley  03:20

But blogging is more creative than academic writing. That's for sure. And you started your blog in, oh, 2014, about ten years ago, can you tell us how that came about?

Lyn Slater  03:31

It really began as a way of self care. Because in my career as a social worker, one of the ways that I was able to maintain that, for all of those years, was that when I would become burnt out. I would step out and do something where I could express my creativity. And it might mean taking a class in improvisation, or just something very unrelated or seemingly unrelated, because what I've found over time is that these newer skills and newer perspectives found their way back into my work, and actually made it more creative and bearable than it had been, you know, before. 

So I found myself feeling a little burnt out as a way of reinforcing social norms, clothing with power attached. So it was really not at all much about fashion. It was really sort of how clothing made me think about larger issues. And many of these issues were what I was dealing with in social welfare. It's just that I was entering into them, you know, from another perspective. 

And so my partner, who’s a photographer by night, he had a day job. He took photos of me and these were photos that were very much on the street in New York City, you know, not in rich hotels or, you know, famous places. And because I think of the fact that I was just an ordinary woman, who was kind of putting myself into the world of Instagram and social media and blogging, that it was an interrupt. People started to notice me. 

Jane Trombley  05:28

You know, I started following the accidental icon around, oh, 2016. Certainly my discovering you on Instagram isn't quite the same as a fashion editor.

Lyn Slater  05:38

I think my most favorite time of being “accidental icon” was 2014 to 2017, where I was sort of getting attention, but it was on my own terms. And at this point, too, I had no intention of making money from this, I had no goals about it. I was just putting myself in a space where I was meeting new people learning new things. 

During that time, I worked with independent magazines, fashion design students, emerging designers, and it was just like an adventure. Then sort of the popular media caught hold of it, because I had been in a Valentino eyewear ad. And again, that was a fluke, because a friend of mine said, “Oh, I heard about this casting. I have no idea what brand it is, but show up in Tompkins Square Park.” And so I did, and they said, Okay, you're picked. And I really didn't think much more about it. I didn't know what would come of it. 

And a few months later, they said, we're going to use one of your pictures, we're going to send you a check. And then a couple of months after that all my friends started texting me and saying, “You're in every major fashion magazine and a full page Valentino eyewear ad.” And so, this actually brought me to the attention of the modeling agency. And I was signed by this agent who I actually liked, because she said, “I'm not going to promote you as a traditional model, I'm going to promote you as a really interesting personality.” And that was our original intent. But of course, then the media kind of gets a hold of it. And you completely lose control of your narrative. And so from 2017 to 2019, is when I was living the high life, right, that everybody thinks I've lived my whole life and continue to live. It was a blip on the screen. And I was paid more money than I ever made in my entire career, which actually was fortunate because as a social worker, I worked many jobs that didn't have a pension. And so I was entering all day to a, not a very good, nice day. 

Jane Trombley  08:18

And you were also on the faculty at Fordham at this time, right? 

Lyn Slater  08:22

Yes. People are under the impression that you're making big bucks as a professor, which is not true. And, I was a clinical professor, which meant that I was, you know, not a tenure track. It really wasn't until I started teaching at Fordham that I began to actively have the structure to save for retirement, and I was in my 50s when that happened. 

So this unbelievable amount of money that was coming in front of me during this three year period. It was very seductive. And I feel like it played upon that vulnerability, that you're not going to be okay in retirement. And I kind of lost myself and became this Instagram person who was selling things on Instagram. And I was starting progressively in 2019. And it really hit me in 2020. I was feeling unhappy. I was burned out. I was, you know, not really enjoying the day today of having to be her. 

One of the things I most enjoyed about that time was being able to travel because in my everyday life, I didn't have unlimited funds to spend then on traveling and so I’m grateful to her for giving me that opportunity, but it was at the expense of my values. 

Jane Trombley  10:00

So, it seems there was this duality at that point. On the one hand, you're a social worker and professor at Fordham. But that's combined with a high-flying, highly visible public persona, right?

Lyn Slater  10:11

Since 2019, the other thing that happened is, it became a bit overwhelming to do it all. And I decided to retire from Fordham. I had 20 years in, but my loss of self is in direct correlation with me leaving Fordham and the world of social work, and just being in this digital online world 24 hours a day. 

Jane Trombley  10:42

Okay, so 2017 it starts to build. By 2019 you're just all in. And you're really kind of swept into this, well, in some ways, and lead a glamorous life that turns out to be, that has another side to it. 

Lyn Slater  10:58

Yes, you know, everything stopped. Because when you're living a digital life, you become like a digital body, you become very disconnected from yourself. Because you're conducting business that way, you're on Instagram constantly. You lose your grip on the real world in some ways. 

And so the pandemic again, put everything at a stop, so I got to reflect. I started to write again on my blog, which I had moved away from. I started to microblog on Instagram. And I just found a lot of people responding really positively to that. And so I realized, this is what I missed. This is what I really want to be doing. 

And during the time that, you know, that 2017 to 2019 period, because I had almost a million followers across all my platforms, I also got a literary agent. And you know, this is sort of the way of publishing now is that if you have a really big following on social media, that makes you marketable. 

And so the sort of vision for the book would be me being this badass older woman, jumping around the world and, you know, challenging stereotypes. And I just couldn't write that book during that time, because that's not how I felt. And I did a few sponsored posts, but it was really, in my mind, I knew it was done. So, I haven't done any of that work in over two years. 

And so, during the pandemic, and not being able to see my mom or my daughter and grandchildren and the rest of my family, because of the quarantine, I was able to finally put together a book proposal. That was the book I wanted to write. At the end of it, we started talking, my partner and I, and we kind of said, What are we waiting for, like this retirement thing? And why don’t we use some of our bounty from this experience, and really find a place to settle into as we’re getting older. That is close to family. So now we’re ten minutes away from my daughter and my grandchildren. 

Jane Trombley  13:33

Well, the last couple of years have certainly been a whirlwind. 

Lyn Slater  13:37

I’ve gone from flying first class and being in luxury hotels for that three year period. I'm kind of back to where I was as a social worker and a professor, but I'm also back to living a much richer and engaged and just healthier life than I was living during that time. And so now my new reinvention is to be a writer.


Jane Trombley  14:15

You're listening to Crow's Feet: Life as We Age. Our guest today is writer Lyn Slater, author of the recently published How to be Old. It's available online and wherever books are sold. Links to her book, website, Substack and Instagram are all in the show notes. What catapulted Lyn to the front lines of style and fashion blogging was a fluke chain of events. What defines her now as an author is an unrelenting intellect, a rich lived experience and an understanding of aging, especially for women. The imperative of media to slot her into an ageist role, for example, as an “Instagrandma” is one of the reasons she decided to step away from the glare of social media. Lyn, you identify the woman you are addressing. A woman who lives life in her clothes that suit her, but also that suit what she’s doing in life. Does that seem accurate?

Lyn Slater

Right. And that’s who I was addressing until, you know, the media and culture hijacked the narrative. Because I never wanted this to be about age. It was not my intent to prove that older women can do anything. I was just my own self wanting to be creative, and do something new. And society made it about my age. They started to inject my age into what I was doing in a way they don’t with any younger women who were doing what I was doing. And so it became, and even in the beginning when I was interviewed, and, you know, I would be asked about my age, and how is it to be, you know, someone older doing this. And, and I would have no patience for it. I would just say, if you want to know how I feel about aging, look at my pictures. I'm performing. And then, as time went on, it became even more ageist, because they started referring to me and other older people on social media as senior influencers. Instagrandmas. And that was really another reason that I quit. I really felt like, okay, now you've completely hijacked my story, my narrative, you've exiled me off into a nursing home in the media, and I'm not having it. I'm not going to play your game. And that was part of why I quit.

Jane Trombley  16:56

Leaving the fishbowl of social media has given Lyn the time and space to think and write about aging. We talked about the predominant narratives of aging in our culture and how they affect public policy. Here's what she had to say.

Lyn Slater  17:10

How I talk about age now, is that age is very polarized. It has two polarized views right now. One is the decline narrative; that you will be ill, demented, a drain on society, ruining all the generations behind us. And you then, all of a sudden, magically become dependent in every possible way. 

The other narrative is of that person who's ninety-five, and they're running marathons and traveling the world and, you know, having crazy sex when they're eighty-five, and they're completely independent. They need nothing. 

And so for me, the danger of that view is that policymakers and innovators are going to say, “Oh, look at them. They don't need anything.” And there's probably 3% of people who are actually in nursing homes at that level of dependence. And then there are 3% that can live that way, completely independent, forever young. And the vast majority of us are in between those two positions. And so I think we have to have more honest conversations. I think a lot of us have had conversations, trying to change the narrative about all the wonderful opportunities and how great being all this, but there's lots of it. That sucks. And I think we have to be honest about that. 

Jane Trombley  18:57

So what are some examples of how with younger women, we can be honest about aging?

Lyn Slater  19:03

I think we can be honest about it in inspiring ways. I had an interview with this young woman for the Wall Street Journal; she was doing something on fitness. I was talking about what I call graceful fitness that arises from creative responses to some of the challenges of aging. Responses that stem from the pattern of your daily life that aren't of that discipline and going to a gym. And I talked about how I have arthritis in my knees, and I can no longer run. And I loved the feeling of running. It made me feel so free. My hair would glow. The wind was happening when you hit that zone of running. It's just amazing. And one of the things that I started doing is, I'm cycling now. And so I can still have that wind in my hair, I can still get in my zone, I can still have all the pleasure, but I'm not hurting my knees. And I think that's the story we have to tell. 

And there's so many young women writers now that are writing their truths about how hard motherhood is, about what being a woman means, about marriage, about so many things. They're really telling the truth about it. And I had this incredible interview the other day. It was a woman in her thirties. She had read my book, and her questions were so incredible, not anything to do with clothes or whatever. But she asked me, Are you afraid of dying? Do you think about it every day? How is that impacting you? 

And I was thinking, we have to start talking to young women about those things and stop lying to them. Right? That this is all uphill, we can do anything we want. And aging is great. And, you know, it's the best time of life. But if we don't talk about the other part, then they won't plan for it. And society won't help us. And it really to me is, how are you going to think about it, number one, and then how are you going to respond to it? And so I think we've skewed in our attempt to confront ageism, we've gone too far. So I think we really have to be honest. And that's how I see my role now. And that's how I am talking about aging, I'm going to continue to talk about aging. 

Jane Trombley  21:57

Yeah, and there can be constraints in aging. And that can be your health, or you're having to live on a fixed income and your inability to supplement that income by a society discounting your worth, or your other roles of caregiving within the family. 

Lyn Slater  22:12

A lot of younger people now are writing about financial constraints; student loans, can't buy a house, living with parents, not being able to have childcare. Caregiving is caregiving, right? Whether it's for an infant or a disabled partner, they're both highly dependent and require physical and caring labor from you. So I think we're in this terrible time where the media and society is trying to pit generations against each other. 

And I think showing more of the equal signs, a young woman and on Instagram, she put up a chart showing how mothers lose income by being a mother. So I posted her chart, but then I put up statistics about how grandmothers are losing income, because they're providing child care for their grandchildren. And so women's employment, as a mother and as a grandmother are being impacted. 

And I think the more that we can show those equal signs, right, where we might have some common interests, the better off it can be. And I think if we are more honest, that people will start preparing sooner rather than later. And we know so much about what we should be doing when we're young. To set ourselves up in terms of health for older age, we know what we should be doing in terms of saving. And so, you know, I think if we're being realistic, but aspirational. And I think that was the way that one journalist described me in my early years. She said,” She's really making a mark culturally because she's aspirational but realistic at the same time.” And I think that's how we have to be about aging. 

Jane Trombley  24:16

And then there's the other piece of this. Longevity and how that's been stretched out. Our lifespan is now into the, I don't know, late seventies. And it's very common to go into the mid-eighties. And even beyond that a long time, if you are released from your employment at sixty-five.

Lyn Slater  24:33

Right, and I think once you hit fifty-five and you're a woman, if something happens to your job, like a layoff or something like that, it's eight million times worse, trying to find another job because of discrimination in the workplace. So it's a lot of issues that people want to avoid. And I think we have to tell them that they can be managed, and that there can be creative solutions.

Jane Trombley  25:05

Well, that's the topic of another conversation. But I do want to close with just three questions. How does Lyn Slater recharge? What do you do to have fun? And where do you find joy? 

Lyn Slater  25:17

Ah, well, I find enormous joy in my grandchildren. I just have to say that. You know, I've always worked with children. And because I was the oldest, I was always around children. And I have this capacity when I'm with a child to become a child. Like I am on the ground in whatever fantasy world, my granddaughter is cooking up for us. And so when you do that, you're sort of leaving the real world and taking a little bit of the vacation, right? And really, just letting yourself go into this child's imagination. So that brings me a lot of joy. 

I am really loving my new community. I am loving meeting the new people in it, and making new friends. That's bringing me enormous joy right now. 

And I love writing. I love having the time. I am like a research nerd. I can spend hours going down rabbit holes of research. And so now officially, I have no other job to do. A lot of people don't know this, but I continued to work as a social work consultant on national grants. And I just finished up my last grant five months ago. And so now I am in all spheres. Not working for money. Right. I do other kinds of work. But yeah, so I'm excited, just having the time of my life.

Jane Trombley  27:07

Thanks for listening to Crow's Feet. Today's episode was produced by me, Jane Trombley, with help from our executive producer Nancy Peckingham and the Crow's Feet team: George “Ace” Acevedo Betsy Alan, Lee Bench, Jean Feldeisen, Jan M. Flynn, Nancy Franklin and Melinda Blau, editing and Sound Design by Rich Halten. Our original theme music was written and performed by Rand Bishop.

Voice Over  27:44

Thanks for joining us on this episode of Crow's Feet: Life as We Age. Don't miss any of our great stories. Subscribe to Crow's Feet wherever you get your podcasts. And be sure to tell your friends and family to give a listen and leave a rating or review. You can read more Crow's Feet stories online at .So, until next time, remember to savor every moment. 

As Mark Twain said, “Wrinkles should merely indicate for smiles have been friends with crow's feet.”