Friends Karen Wagner and Erica Baird both had successful careers as lawyers in New York City. But when they retired, they faced a whole culture of negative stereotypes surrounding retired women. They have set out to change that with their online platform, Lustre, a site dedicated to presenting an authentic image of modern retired women which challenges old attitudes and reflects their power, style, energy and engagement.
Wagner and Baird’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
When we first retired, we were surprised by the negative images associated with older women. Retirement connotes old and done. Retired women face a double whammy — we are perceived as not only unglamorous but also in retreat. We didn’t see ourselves, or anyone we knew, in those representations. Just as we had actively fought against stereotypes during our careers, we decided that we needed to take on this fight, too. We created Lustre as a platform for change. Older women are invisible, hidden behind outdated notions of what age and retirement used to look like. Through Lustre, we want to show that today’s retired women are engaged, vibrant people who are not done and continue to have much to offer.
When we were working as lawyers in the corporate world, our definitions of success centered largely on providing valuable advice and helping clients achieve successful outcomes. As co-founders of Lustre, our long-term definition of success is a society that recognizes retired career women as a national asset whose experience and perspective enrich our social, economic and political discourse and decision-making.
“Older women are invisible, hidden behind outdated notions of what age and retirement used to look like.”
– Karen Wagner, Co-Founder of Lustre
Our biggest Lustre success is getting our website and related social media up and running and getting traction, both in our generation and beyond to the women coming after us. Our goals for Lustre are to change society’s attitudes about older women and retirement so that society recognizes this demographic as a valuable national asset that can and should be put to good use. Put more simply, we are not old and done, we’re vibrant and engaged. We have skills, experience and tested judgment. We should not be put out to pasture. We want to break down barriers based on age and sex and continue to be productive members of society.
Our biggest challenge is being first movers in building the movement to change the way people think about older women and retirement. We are addressing it by doing the thinking and the research, building a website, speaking to influential people whenever we can, and generally using all the tools available to get our voices out there. On a personal level, we have both experienced the premature death of a parent. We both learned from those tragedies to recognize that there are some things you cannot change but that there are others you can “fix” and make better. In our working lives, that meant we had perspective when things went wrong. We’re corporate lawyers. No matter how bad it gets, nobody was going to die.
We have always looked up to Nora Ephron as a woman who worked, faced down sexism, faced age gracefully and wrote beautifully. She worked and lived life well, all with a sense of humor.