Creative seniors share their lives online
Diverse range of activities taken up in retirement
Tang Ziyan”s eyes sparkled with joy when he watched several short videos on social media of Chinese college students staging mock fashion shows in the corridors of their dormitories.
The students stepped out of their rooms and strutted along the corridors to the accompaniment of fast-paced electronic dance music. A computerized voice announced the names of different fashion brands in English.
After striking poses in front of the cameras, the students turned around and returned to their rooms, where they matched their clothes with accessories such as hats, sunglasses and handbags. Some even posed with everyday items — such as water bottles, computer keyboards and pillows — during their “catwalk” appearances, which made Tang laugh.
“These students are not professional models, but they walk and pose like models. It all seems to be great fun and creative,” Tang said.
The videos inspired Tang to organize a similar fashion show at his workplace — Summer Life, a nursing home in Yichun, Jiangxi province.
On the morning of Oct 20, six silver-haired men with an average age of 75 staged a fashion show in a corridor at the nursing home. They walked out of their rooms to the same music used by the college students for their shows.
One of the men wore a long, black woolen coat matched with a trilby hat, pants and leather shoes — all in black. Another donned a beige jacket, white shirt, navy blue khaki pants and sunglasses.
The men posed in front of the camera before returning to their rooms. One of them ended his show by holding a red rose in his mouth. Another displayed a book, while a third removed his cap, and waved to the camera.
Next morning, a female version of the show was held in the corridor. To the same music, the women wore their favorite clothes and accessories, including a deep-red velvet qipao, a silk scarf and a white feather fan, as they walked the corridor to strike poses in front of the camera.
The videos lasted less than 30 seconds, but after being shared online, they went viral — attracting a total of more than 2 million views.
Viewers said the footage shattered their perceptions of nursing home residents.
One netizen said: “Although these residents live in a nursing home, their lives are not boring at all. They pose just like models on the catwalk in Paris.” Another said: “This is exactly what I hope to do when I am in my 70s or even older. It’s not scary to grow old at all. Just look at these senior models.”
Tang, who has worked at Summer Life since 2016, where he is mainly responsible for seniors’ daily lives, especially arranging activities for them, said: “A fashion show is a new form of entertainment for these residents. As it is not difficult or physically challenging, we decided to give it a try.
“About 20 seniors take part in the shows. The youngest is 67 and the eldest is 99. The joy of such shows is that they celebrate beauty at any age.”
Before recording the shows, three rehearsals were staged in an activity room at the nursing home. The models, who selected their clothes and accessories, were coached by staff members at the home.
Tang said, “It’s pure joy for these senior models, and I’m impressed that they have their own sense of style. Fashion is also important for seniors. They get out their old clothes, some of which they have not worn for years. They take the shows very seriously and try their best to match their clothes with the right accessories.
“Unlike the traditional activities we offer them, such as sports, singing contests, computer training and calligraphy classes, the fashion shows bring seniors a sense of freshness and confidence.”
Zhang Xinwen, 89, said: “It’s a very interesting experience for all of us, who have never modeled before. We do lots of walking each day to keep fit. When we practice walking like models, we try very hard to stand up straight and take long strides.”
Initially, the seniors were a little shy about walking like models, but they quickly felt comfortable and confident in their new roles, Zhang said.
“Our families, who watched the videos of our shows, were very surprised and supportive,” said Zhang, who moved into the nursing home in 2019 with his wife.
“Seniors in China are now seeing some changes. We still want to try to learn new things. We keep socially active and healthy, both physically and mentally. Although we are no longer young, we want to make the best use of our lives,” Zhang added.
Many seniors are sharing their lives on social media outlets, especially on platforms that are popular among young people. Taking up a diverse range of activities, seniors enjoy life in retirement, sending a message to the young that it’s never too late to be creative.
Since February, Liu Cuilian, 65, has recorded herself learning and practicing surfskating, a type of skating performed on a board.
Liu’s videos shared on social media platforms have attracted hundreds of thousands of views, earning her a loyal following eager to see her surfskating in parks in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province.
She said: “I love the feeling of moving in the wind. I have lots of friends, both young and old. We practice surfskating together, and I have a great time with them. It feels really beautiful.”
Surfskaters use a specially designed board, which gives them the feeling of surfing on land. As they shift their weight, the board turns sharply and helps generate momentum, pushing the riders forward and changing direction.
This summer, the sport gained popularity in China, with a rising number of people from different age groups taking it up.
Liu became interested in the activity early this year after she visited a shop selling surfskate boards in Chengdu. She was impressed by the colorful designs of the boards, but asked herself if surfskating was for seniors.
“I saw some young people surfskating, and I was eager to give it a try,” said Liu, who worked in a factory before she retired.
When she was younger, she took part in a range of activities, including table tennis, badminton, shuttlecock kicking and rope skipping.
Encouraged by her son, Liu spent 1,650 yuan ($230) on her first board, and started practicing by observing and learning from other surfskaters.
She began filming short videos of her progress, which she posted on social media, through which she met a new group of people to surfskate with.
“I received many messages after sharing my videos. Some people were impressed by my courage to learn new things. Some thought it was too dangerous for seniors to surfskate, and others shared their experiences of surfskating with me,” Liu said.
She added that she was excited when teenagers watched her videos and made friends with her. “There are also people asking about my outfits, including my sneakers,” she added.
Liu said the sport is accessible for beginners, who don’t need much equipment to take it up.
“I overcame my fear and have made progress every day. Standing on the board makes me feel young again,” said Liu, who usually practices surfskating for one or two hours in a square near her home.
During weekends, she surfskates for at least three hours in parks with friends — bonding to practice with five women of a similar age to herself.
Liu’s son, who also loves sport, surfskates with her during weekends. His friends also encourage their parents to practice the sport, which helps them build an active social life.
The support retired parents receive from their children helps the seniors enjoy a better quality of life.
In September, a young man calling himself Gou Ge shared his story of helping his mother and her friends, who are retired, fulfill their dream of remaking the popular television drama Empresses in the Palace. His posts on social media went viral, along with the 16 retired women. Their average age is 62, with the eldest being in her 70s.
Gou Ge said in an interview on the social media platform Xiaohongshu, or Little Red Book: “My mother was very bored after she retired. She hung out with her friends each day, and they all loved traveling and watching TV dramas. A friend of mine worked at Hengdian World Studios in Dongyang, Zhejiang province, so I asked if my mother and her friends could rent the location to shoot their version of Empresses in the Palace.”
The group traveled from Shanghai to Hengdian, China’s largest film and TV production base, to remake the drama. One of the women even got her husband to play the emperor. In addition to hiring a professional film crew, the women were given a quick acting lesson before shooting began.
Their short videos of the show have attracted more than 1 million views since being released on Sept 27.
Peng Kai, who was in charge of the shooting, told Shanghai online media platform ThePaper that the women drew lots on the bus to Hengdian to decide their roles in the production.
They wore rented costumes for the show, and a professional makeup artist was also hired.
Shooting began on Sept 7, with the five scenes filmed taking about six hours to complete. Each participant paid about 4,000 yuan for the entire experience, including the accommodations and three days of shooting.
Peng, who runs a company in Shanghai offering services to retirees, such as tourism and training courses for models, said, “The production offered an immersive acting experience, and the performers also made new friends on the set.
“Although it was an amateur production, they were committed and worked hard to prepare themselves for the roles, from memorizing lines to acting.”
Peng said the idea of launching a company for retirees was inspired by his mother, who wanted a chance to try new things after she retired as a civil servant several years ago.
“Seniors and their lives are associated with certain stereotypes that have been around for a long time, such as fishing, square dancing and taking care of grandchildren. But the older generation can be as cool as many young people,” Peng added.
Peng Huamao, a member of the psychology department at Beijing Normal University, who holds a doctorate from that institute in developmental psychology, said, “There are many negative stereotypes about seniors, such as physical weakness, memory loss, and slow reaction.
“A fear of aging has contributed to these stereotypes. The good news is that a growing number of active seniors are giving a new definition to aging, and stereotypes are being redefined.”
In 2015, Peng Huamao and colleagues from the university launched Aging Lab, a social media platform, on which they share articles about the latest research into seniors’ emotions, psychology, social relationships and lifestyles.
Peng Huamao co-wrote a book titled Hello, My Later Life Psychology and Life in the Age of Longevity, which was published in June by China Machine Press. The book explores the issues seniors face, such as aging, loneliness after retirement, and relationships with their families. It also shows how seniors develop new lifestyles.
“Various lifestyle factors are strongly associated with cognitive functions for seniors, who enrich their cognitive skills by taking on a new dynamic pursuit that demands learning, such as reading, photography, dancing, or playing a musical instrument,” Peng Huamao said.