Oh Martha!

Jessica Novello, MS, RN, CDP

There is only one answer to the following question. Who is best friends with a rapper, grows her own organic vegetables, has served jail time (obstruction of justice in a dropped securities fraud case), and is the author of 99 cookbooks? It’s Martha Stewart. In her lifetime, she has held numerous jobs with a resume boasting titles such as model, stockbroker, caterer, author, tv show host, media company president, lifestyle products designer, and café owner. She has been in the media almost constantly for several decades, but most recently and notably is making news as a Sports Illustrated cover model- a new title and an unusual one for women in their 80s. She holds the title for “oldest cover model to date”.


She viewed the request from Sports Illustrated as a “good challenge”. Despite her age, she is incredibly active on social media- breaking stereotypes around aging and technology. She is already known as a wellness and lifestyle guru- so why not flaunt the outcome of “living well”. For their part of the deal, Sports Illustrated wanted to show that all women can “feel no boundaries”. It is notable that their other cover models included: actresses and a singer who happens to be transgender. While her pictures show her as healthy and joyful, some of the poses may cross into “objectification” territory. Also questionable is the narrative on her being “ageless” or setting an “anti-aging” standard. This view of “not aging” runs averse to the fact that our society and Martha are growing older in number of years lived. Longevity is a real phenomenon for her generation, and we should celebrate both her age and her depth of lived experiences (and notable successes). She is still relevant and highly engaged because of her outlook and long history- not due to a lack of it or “agelessness”.


Stewart is unapologetic about her age- striking both social media deals and promoting products she uses in her everyday life. She recently developed a line of easy-to-slip-on shoes for Skechers (here: https://www.marthastewart.com/8380600/martha-stewart-skechers-shoe-collection) and is the spokesperson for Silvertree (a wearable personal safety- medical alert system found here: https://silvertree.io/). She also funded two Centers for Living (offering geriatric primary care and caregiver support) at New York’s Mt. Siani hospitals providing the community with targeted healthcare resources and education geared to living long and well. She continues to cross age boundaries with an active TikTok account and was a viral “meme”. When looking at her pop culture presence one may ask- is she parodying her age or just enjoying a dynamic career avenue and taking advantage of money-making partnerships? The line is fine regarding what may be or become satirical, but she is talking that risk and making money for it.


Another issue that can’t be ignored is that she lives at a level of wealth where she can enjoy a high level of self-care and has seemingly endless resources to pour into an “ageless look” and “antiaging lifestyle”. While she denies plastic surgery, her physical appearance may set an unattainable standard for most women aging in the mainstream. She sets a standard so high that it should not become an expectation. But, even if we can’t enjoy her celebrity facials and don’t share her love of expensive green juices, we can appreciate her business acumen and her fearless mindset. Her diversity of experience and grit are rolled into a “youthful” aesthetic, but that “package” should not set a general (unattainable) standard for society. We can appreciate a piece of her success without circumscribing to her expensive lifestyle. She remains a standout who is “not afraid to age” letting some things go and engaging socially and creatively to stave off decline. We (all ages) can all share some of that outlook.


What is your take on Martha’s Sports Illustrated cover? Is it a step forward or backward for the narrative around aging? I see it a dynamic movement in both directions that reflects a general change in societal norms. Shifting mindsets, at the population level, takes time and innovators- like Martha- to start a conversation. She is a hard worker and her reputation will live on long after she does. Whether she is described as aging or ageless- she starts the talk. Martha reports that “she doesn’t act her age”- but maybe she is setting a range of new possibilities for people her age.


More food for thought from and about Martha can be found here: