65-year-old Kim Chil-doo became South Korea’s first senior fashion model after debuting in Seoul Fashion Week last year.
“This was what I wanted to do when I was young, but gave up to make money, and I thought maybe it’s worth trying even now,” Kim told Reuters in a report about aging South Koreans. “And I’m glad I did it - being a model is really fun. Senior? It’s just a label.”
Joining Kim are many other Baby Boomers who have found a late unconventional career change to keep up with the times. Former salarymen and wage workers are turning to more exciting jobs, like modeling, teaching Korean to K-pop fans from other countries, and even becoming YouTube stars.
The trend reflects the rapidly growing senior citizen population in the country. South Korea’s elderly market has expanded five times between 2002 and 2010, according to the Korea Health Industry Development Institute. In a 2016 Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) economic survey, half of South Korea’s elderly population over the age of 65 live in poverty.
Today’s elderly were at the peak of their careers during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. According to Channel News Asia, an estimated 2 million people were out of jobs because of the financial crisis or were replaced by a younger workforce because of age discrimination.
Professor Lee Ho-Sun from the Korea Soongsil Cyber University in Seoul told Channel News Asia that social welfare is a foreign concept to South Korea’s elderly: “They don’t know how to ask for help, how much help they can get, or even who can help.”
For these senior citizens, this career change isn’t only a second chance at living life, it’s also a way of making a living without having to sacrifice their dignity. And their audiences seem to love it.
South Korean social media were quick to call 77-year-old Ji Byung-Soo “the next K-pop star” after he performed a famous k-pop song on live television. “This level of sexy [is] only possible at double 7,” says one of the comments on the video.
As for model Kim Chil-Doo, his social media fans have taken to his rugged look. “He must’ve aged without any beauty care but his face can beat an average middle-aged actor,” says one of the comments in a forum discussing Chil-Doo’s look.”
The trend sure puts a whole new meaning in the saying, “It’s never too late to start over.”