Jean Ketcham is 83 but doesn't look it — or act it — between her chic bob haircut, bold jewelry and plans to hit the pickleball court.
Back in 2008, the Minneapolis grandmother co-founded Aging But Dangerous, inviting women 50+ to daring social events (skydiving!) and education sessions on taboo topics ("Hitting the Sheets After 50"). It has also taken field trips to a sex shop, a tattoo parlor and a gun range.
Post pandemic, Ketcham is relaunching the group by releasing a tastefully nude calendar featuring its members. By upping the ante on Martha Stewart's swimsuit-clad magazine cover, she's challenging the idea that women over 50 are past their prime.
We talked with Ketcham, whose site has more than 200,000 Facebook followers in 50 countries, about her grandkids' reaction to her au naturel calendar, cultivating the right attitude toward aging and the lifesaving value of Depends. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Why do you want to help women feel good about themselves?
I owned my own clothing store when I was in my 30s and women would come in and they'd be so upset and they'd say, "Jean, this arm is bigger than this arm. I can't wear a sleeveless dress." And I would stand there and look and say, "I'm sorry, I do not see that at all." And I thought, "These women need to change their whole mental attitude."
So why a nudie calendar?
One of the biggest reasons for the tastefully nude calendar was to show women that this is not about their bodies, that it's about their attitude. With the right attitude, you can conquer the world.
Your group has hosted a colonoscopy party and a fashion show. Why?
We actually saved the life of a woman who was afraid to have a colonoscopy because her mother died of colon cancer. They found cancerous polyps in her and they got it in time.
When we did our fashion show, it was to prove you can wear anything you want, no matter your age. There was an 80-year-old walking down the runway and she had on tight jeans, a little T-shirt and a jacket and my 40-year-old daughter said "Mother, I cannot believe that I want an outfit that an 80-year-old woman is wearing!" So, we proved our point.
Does your group also educate women about the aging process?
I feel like I can talk to women because I'm older than everybody else in the whole world. So I'm kind of paving the path with things that happened to me that I can share with them.
My doctor says there are three things you should do as you're aging. One is acknowledge it, and own what is happening to you. Secondly, deal with it. And third move on. I have had fecal incontinence for quite a while now. And it is disturbing. It's upsetting. But I just deal with it. I wear Depends — thank God for Depends! — and I just move on. You cannot dwell on these things, or you make them worse. It just brings your spirit all the way down. I'm just such a believer in the idea that nobody can change your life except you.
So aging dangerously is about having the right attitude?
I just think women — can I say a bad word to you? — dammit, they should get a hold of themselves and get out there and make things happen. I did not start Aging But Dangerous until I was 69. That's why I always say to women, "Don't tell me it's too late, because it isn't!"
It's clearly not too late to, say, pose nude for a calendar. Who are the models?
All these women are ABDers. Some were fashion show models and some were skydivers. We have a token 50-year-old, but then it's 70s up to 83.
Why are you donating proceeds to the American Cancer Society?
Faye, who's on the cover, has stage four colon cancer. She's 81 and has always been very feisty, very out here. I told her, "There will be women sitting at home who have cancer that will look at you and think to themselves, 'I may not look like that woman, but she's out there doing this. She's taking her clothes off and showing the world that she's still here and nothing is stopping her.' And then they'll say, 'I don't have to take off my clothes, but I need to get out there and do something.'"
How did your grandkids react to the calendar?
I found a picture of this older woman who had fresh broccoli over her boobs and I showed it to them. My 18-year-old granddaughter put her hand up and said, "Grandma, we will never judge you. No matter what you do." My 15-year-old said her friends wanted to tell me they were happy that I did something like this, because "if older women can get out there and show their bodies and not be worried about their wrinkles, or how their body looks, then we shouldn't worry about how our bodies look."
How do you hope the calendar is received?
It could be taken as flaunting nudity. It could be taken as a joke: a bunch of old ladies posing nude, with all their fat. I really want people to see the purpose of this calendar and what it stands for. This is having fun. This is showing your spirit and style. It's women being authentic and being themselves.
You maintain the calendar is less about skin than soul. How so?
The other day, my banker said to me, "Jean, I just can't believe your age — you don't look it." And I said, "I don't think it has anything to do with looks. I think what you're seeing is my energy."
If we feel good about ourselves, then people see that. I think Aging But Dangerous has made a difference in the way women see themselves and it's changing the whole stereotype.