“What I consider to be beautiful is not your hair, not your clothes, not your makeup, though that helps, it’s your energy, it’s your thoughts, it’s where you put your mind.” ~ Roxanne Gould
Most women dread the idea of letting their hair go gray. We can’t escape the feeling that time is taking a part of our identity away from us, forever changing the way we relate to the world and to ourselves. But Roxanne Gould’s modeling career only skyrocketed after she decided to stop dying her hair and let it go back to its natural shade of silver. Just a few years ago models like Roxanne were unheard of in the industry. The fashion and advertising markets were exclusively interested in youth, and everything youth-culture related. In that respect Roxanne’s silver locks represent so much more than a step towards a more natural state of being; they represent a shift in our cultural perception of beauty, diversity, and what it means to get older. High-end fashion brands and magazines have been featuring more and more mature models in their campaigns and editorials, and over the last few years silver hair has been a major color trend among women of all ages. Change is in the air, and it has brought a whole new sector in the modeling industry – the Classic Division. We sat down with Roxanne to talk about what it means to be a Classic model and authentic person in an industry that’s often all about external appearances.
Lone Wolf: How did you become a model? Take us to the moment it all began.
Roxanne Gould: My first modeling job was the year that Bayer launched Bayer Aspirin for Children. My mother was hired to act in the television commercial to promote the new product and they needed a child in the commercial, so I got the job. I was about three years old, and it’s my earliest childhood memory. I remember I was in a big studio in a bed on my back looking up at the director who was leaning over me explaining what was going to happen. He was kind. I knew my mother was there so I felt safe. Because he had such a gentle nature, the big dark studio never felt ominous, only cozy and protective. This is probably why, from a very young age and throughout my career, I have always felt comfortable and at home in studios.
LW: That’s a very early start! The fashion industry must be in your bones by now.
RG: Modeling is my earliest memory, but it took me years to really accept and become comfortable about admitting to people that I was a model. When I was younger I tried to play it down, and shrug it off. So there existed a self-made division between my life as a model and Roxanne. I was embarrassed to be identified as a model because, back then, there was a stigma that models weren’t intelligent. Modeling was generally not looked upon as an honorable and respectful career choice.
Feeling embarrassed about what others might think of me was really difficult. There was a huge opening for all sorts of judgement and criticism. But more and more in today’s world, successful models are successful mainly because they are smart. Many go on to become successful business women – Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, Kate Moss, Iman, Coco Rocha – the list is long. I’ve embraced this part of myself. I’m proud of what I have done and the life I have lived.
LW: Many people come completely undone when faced with a camera. It can be quite unnerving. Did you ever feel vulnerable in front of the camera?
Did I ever feel vulnerable in front of the camera? Sure! Nearly every time, yet a little bit less with each new experience. There’s that moment, just as you start to shoot, that you can choose to see the barrel of a camera in two ways: Like you’re it’s target (Ready! Aim! Fire!) or it can be seen as a void, ready to hold any image you care to place into it. Inside that barrel you can envision anything, and this creative element eliminates the feeling of being self-conscious and vulnerable. It helps you feel confident, and in control.
LW: Could you tell us about what modeling was like for you?
I’ve worked with some amazing artists and models during my life. Carol Alt, Paulina Porizkova, Geena Davis back when she was modeling to earn money for her acting classes, Femka Janssen before she became an actress, and Elaine Irwin. I hung out at the agency with the legendary Iman, Cheryl Tiegs and Jerry Hall.
Modeling kept me on the go for many years. I was a true jet-setter. During my twenties everything was shot on film, so jobs had to be shot in the actual location which meant non-stop world traveling. This suited my character, all this variety, changing from week to week, year after year. I had the privilege of working in places I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to see on my own. There have been so many wonderful highlights during my modeling career, from shooting in private wineries in Napa Valley in California, to the sandy deserts in Tarordant, Morocco, staying in lavish castles in Spain, dining with royalty in Europe, sunning on hot beaches at the Black Sea, riding vespas on the white washed island of Santorini, galloping bareback on stallions in Senegal, working in peaceful yoga retreats on the Ivory Coast, being on lion safaris in Kenya, cruising on elegant ships around the Caribbean, seeing exquisite sunsets over the Indian Ocean from the island of Sri Lanka, and getting paid for it all. Only thing is, I’m always solo.
LW: Traveling solo can get lonely, were there any moments when you felt vulnerable?
When I was living in Paris I auditioned for one of the big cosmetic companies. The casting for the job was held on a balcony at the top of a beautiful Parisian building. I was slightly leaning over the balcony and the wind caught my hair just right. My friend said something that made me laugh, and when I did, they snapped the photo. It was a good shot. I got the job because that perfect split second was caught on film. The photo shoot took place in a beautiful suite with French doors opening up to the seaside. Just me, the photographer and his assistant were there. It was a romantic environment. But once we started shooting, the photographer began to berate me. He told me such hurtful things – that I wasn’t good enough, that there were far better models than me, and that I had an awful expression on my face. It was terrible. Finally, I stood up for myself to make him stop. His assistant later told me that he treated all the models that way. That kind of behavior would be called abusive today, but back then ‘abuse’ wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Thankfully, things have improved over the years. Today, models have much more support, and their voices are heard if they ever feel put in harm’s way. They know to speak out and not be ashamed.
LW: Could you tell us what being authentic means to you? How does one stay internally focused in an industry that pays so much attention to outside appearances?
I think any way you express yourself creatively will help you stay internally focused, because every stage of self-expression is authentic. Experimenting with different looks can be an outlet to expressing different parts of your character. I went from short spiky hair to bangs and everything in between, my clothing style switched from hippy to classic, and every style I went through was authentic to who I was then. Life is a road of self-discovery. We are an artistic bunch, and I find that through outward self-expression I get to know my inner self better.
I don’t think that the fashion industry is about showing girls how they should be but how they could be. It can be empowering to see yourself in a beautiful outfit with professional makeup on. It’s uplifting and transformative. These things can alter not only your external look but your emotional stance and boost your confidence. Like Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” I can only speak from my experience, but I believe the industry is not telling us what we should look like and what we have to wear. I believe it hears us and has morphed into an industry that offers diversity to handle the diversity in women.
LW: Did you always feel so positive and grounded?
There were times when I didn’t feel like my truest self, particularly when my personal life dramatically changed, and I didn’t know who I was anymore. I wasn’t old, but I wasn’t young. I had gotten married, had a child, and my hair started to turn gray at the temples. I found that I couldn’t be the young model type any longer. I had to come to grips with my physical aging and how it might hurt my career. It wasn’t a comfortable time because the jobs I got were still based on me looking young, yet I knew I was maturing. I was walking into a new chapter in my life. When you take that step through the door into a new life, you still have one foot anchored in the familiar and your other foot stepping onto a new and unknown path. That creates a feeling of division. You can’t help wondering, if you leave a part of you behind forever, what is to become of you? What will the new you be? Being authentic to who I was becoming was paramount to me. I was ready to give modeling up, but because I liked working and liked my career, I tenaciously redid and updated my portfolio. Over time, this lead to the jobs from clients which resonated with me. Now, twenty-five years later, my career survived and I am working in new and limitless ways.
LW: You natural grey hair is so iconic, did you ever experience resistance to letting your natural color grow out?
Fortunately, I’ve been surrounded by very supportive people in my career. I never had anyone tell me I should keep dying my hair. When I turned 40, I got so tired of pouring chemicals my hair every three weeks that I decided to let it grow back to its natural color. It was long, nearly reaching my waist, and I chopped it off to about two inches long. I just turned my head upside down, and chopped off all my hair. It was a tremendously difficult time, and I needed to simplify my life. Cutting my hair felt like a release from old thoughts and one less thing to deal with.
After that, I thought my career was over. But being authentic was paramount to me. That’s just who I am – a simple woman who trusts nature. It was my agent at the time who begged me to take some test shots with my new hair. I resisted it. I thought there wasn’t a market for my look and it could just be a waste of my time. Who needs a grey haired model? I thought. That was about fourteen years ago and the market was much different from how it is now. Now a new area of modeling has blossomed – the Classic Division.
LW: Please tell us about your business, Image by Roxanne, and what it’s like working with young women who want to become models? What’s the one piece of advice you find yourself giving them most often?
My business, which I have run for nine years, is a modeling school for teenage girls. We cultivate the inner beauty of each student and emphasize that beauty begins from within. Students learn life skills that they can use no matter which profession they choose to pursuit. The most important piece of advice I share is how to use the power of their mind. Every situation in their life they will have two ways to look at it: either with fear or love. We discuss how important their viewpoint is in shaping their life’s path and how they are responsible for their thoughts. It’s a topic which holds so much power and is life transforming. My students grasp this message and learn very quickly. It’s a rewarding job to help mentor the next generation.
My students are all unique, beautiful, smart and highly creative. If they don’t have the height or bone structure to model, I expose them to all the tangents the industry offers them, like being a makeup artist, clothes designer, photographer, etc. My students gain skills that will help them attain their goals, pursue their dreams and take positive action in their lives. I wish I had been taught these skills when I was seventeen.