We met with Yan Ong, an unstoppable multifaceted talent, to talk about why going headfirst into exciting new endeavours can be done at any age.

Yan Ong is a model, entrepreneur, and social media influencer who uses her platform to empower seniors and prove that age is no barrier to pursuing new ambitions.

You’re a model and influencer, but only recently began doing both in your older years. How did you get started?

A local fashion designer noticed my silver hair and wanted variation in her range of models to showcase her clothing. Until this moment, it never crossed my mind to be a model. Especially during the time when I was young, a model had to be slim and tall, and I’m none of that. She approached me and I immediately said “yes” despite the fact that I was a little concerned about my age of 63, and having wrinkles and fine lines. Her trust in me gave me the confidence to step away from the doubts I have about myself and just go in front of the camera. That’s how I ventured into modelling, and I have since become an influencer in addition to what I’m doing with modelling.

“Modelling boosted myself-confidence. But in order to get here, I created an alter ego named Anna.”

In what ways has this experience impacted you?

It boosted my self-confidence. But in order to get here, I created an alter ego named Anna. When you are made up so beautifully and your hair is done properly, you subconsciously become another person. She helped me to move away from the idea that I can’t do it, and that led me to be a more confident Yan too. I guess over time she will overpower Anna. But importantly, my modelling career made me realise that there’s no such thing as age-appropriate for being a model, and there’s so much you still can do at this age. I think that a lot of seniors feel that they can no longer do certain things, or that they aren’t model-quality or not good enough to try something new. Hopefully, I’m an example for others: if I can do it, they can do it too. And there’s no harm in giving it a try.

What excites you the most about your work?

I think there are a few reasons. One is that it gives me the opportunity to pay it forward. The money that I earn from my engagements, I’m donating to animal rescues and other charity projects that I’m passionate about. The other thing is that it also keeps me active and I love how I get to meet new people and learn new things. With modelling, it’s a whole new adventure every time I go to a new shoot. But mostly, modelling and being on social media serves as a platform for me to constantly remind seniors that anyone at any age has the potential to do anything they want. Also, it helps me to create awareness for everyone to be reminded that seniors are important.

Why is it important for you to stay active and keep challenging yourself?

My family has a history of dementia, and both my mom and my sister had it. I had to look after my mom for six months before she passed away. That was very painful for me to see, especially when she reached a point of not recognising me. So I told myself, I’m not going to let my children experience the same sort of pain that I went through. And for me
to do that, I had to tell myself that I have to keep being active physically and mentally, doing everything I can to avoid that pain. And if it comes, my children or my spouse can say I made a genuine effort to prevent it from happening. The spaces that you’re active in—fashion, modelling, social media, and entrepreneurship—are normally dominated by young people.

Have you experienced any pushback as an older person in a young person’s game?

Not really. In terms of being in a “young people’s game”, I feel that we are competent in our own ways. I never felt that between young and old people, there’s no contest. Actually, I feel more confident ever since I’ve been working with and learning from millennials. It really challenged me to get more out of my comfort zone. I think the only pushback I experienced was a moment when I just started a coldbrew coffee business, together with my husband. I was 60 at the time and it didn’t occur to me at that time that we were selling a millennial drink. Surprsingly another senior advised us that we shouldn’t be the face of the brand. Her reason was that millennials weren’t able to relate to us. She even recommended that my son had to be the face of the brand. We persisted to not do it and we proved her wrong.

“I feel more confident ever since I’ve been working with and learning from millennials. It really challenged me to get more out of my comfort zone.”

What are the reactions you get from older people when they see what keeps you busy?

When it comes to what type of reactions I receive, there are two camps of older people. One camp gets inspired and gets the urge to challenge themselves more often, like trying out new things or facing their fears. But there’s also another camp who says, “Look, I know who I am. I just want to retire and enjoy my time off.” They don’t want to keep themselves busy. And I think that’s good, that we as older people can do whatever we want that makes us happy, and nobody can tell you what you should do in terms of
your age.

“It’s incredibly important to remember that it’s never too late to learn new things.”

Given everything you’ve shared, what advice would you offer to individuals who are hesitant to try new things because they believe it’s not age appropriate for them?

I think you should not feel constrained by society’s expectations of you. Don’t let society dictate how you should or should not live your life. It’s incredibly important to remember that it’s never too late to learn new things. There are so many new hobbies and crafts that are relevant in the market. It’s easy to start your home-based business, like soap-making, candle-making, or jewellery-making for that matter. You can gain income or not, as long as it’s something you’re passionate about. I’ve actually signed up for an English course because I wanted to improve that and I’ve just signed up. I thought, why not, right?

If you want to see more of Yan and all the things that she’s up to, you can follow her on Instagram, @Grey_Evolution.