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 jacqueline depaul, 48, computer engineer and fashion model

ageist EDITORS | september 12, 2017

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It was all part of the dance — at least she thought it was. She had been practicing the Paso Doble with her partner for two months, stamping her feet after every move in the tradition of the Spanish bullfighter. Then her heels began to hurt, badly. Her doctor diagnosed fractured bones and recommended several months’ rest for her battered heels. Depaul didn’t take it well.

“I was so depressed,” she says. “My artistic outlet was taken away.”

By day, she consulted companies in the complex art of procuring and designing their communications and data infrastructure. The former physics major could talk code with the nerdiest of engineers. But dance was her creative expression, her way of keeping a balance. At a loss, she began reading self-help books. And then she had a revelation that took her down a whole other path.

“I said, ‘I think I’m going to model now.’ It was like it was inserted in my brain,” she says. “And I was sitting there with my book thinking, ‘You’re gonna do what?!’

Depaul made a few rules for herself. She wouldn’t do it to prove a point to anyone but herself, and she wouldn’t get too wrapped up in her success. The entire thing should be an experience and something to enjoy. She was 38.

She volunteered to model for a photography class out in the boondocks beyond east LA. The images were awful, but she felt like she was on to something. She volunteered for editorial shoots and got work because she’d work for free. She posed all wrong and didn’t get the right images. A particular low point was four years in, when the euphoria of winning a national modeling search ended up with her on her first catalog shoot in front of a photographer who’d never worked with a model so green before. She was fired just a few moments in after her inexperience showed.

“A woman who starts modeling in their 40s is not common,” she says. “So nobody was prepared for that on set, and they expected me to know what I was doing. So I accepted that responsibility and I learned what to do.”

Fast forward six years later, and Depaul continues to book gigs and has grown her Instagram following to more than 30,000, largely on the back of a successful blog documenting her adventures in her newfound passion. She still has the day job of course, where she relishes solving technical problems with engineers.

“People ask: ‘Don’t you want to model full time?’ The answer is actually no,” she told me. “I love the stimulation that comes from the tech career and I love the creative stimulation that comes from the modeling and social media — I wouldn’t want one to be taken away from me.”

And then there’s the fact that maybe calling herself a tech professional and a model might be too restrictive. A problem solver at heart, Depaul sees aging as nothing more than a new challenge to break down and figure out. She wants to stay active so she pays attention to what she eats and when she works out in order to have the energy to go out and try something new. And as long as she has that energy, she’s going to rage against what’s expected of her.

“I’m always looking for the next thing! Like, can I expand my tech business? Can I expand my modeling?” she says. “I just want to do things — and I think that a lot of people feel like me. As long as people are healthy and up for it, they don’t want to feel restricted. I don’t think I’m alone in that.”

No, Jacqueline, you’re not. Welcome to the club. We’re happy to have you.

ageist sound advice

I have to say, I was surprised and energized by the amount of passion Jacqueline exuded in our interview. Here are some thoughts that stuck with me.

don’t make it competitive
“Everyone comes to that moment where they want to do something different. After that moment, there’s this huge wall to get through because American culture is very competitive, especially with social media. When I started modeling I thought, ‘I’m not doing this to be Gisele Bündchen; I’m doing this to give myself an experience, and then to not be competitive about it.’ If I had criticized myself in that way — ‘I’m not good compared to the other people’ — I would’ve stopped 100,000 times.”

take the steps
“If you like to sing, go to the karaoke bar, sign up for the choir at church. Don’t think it’s too late and that you can’t do it. If you want to start a business, great! Don’t sit there and go, ‘That window has passed, I can’t do that.’ We need fulfillment and we need to stimulate ourselves and we live in a country where that’s possible, regardless of sex or race. We have the opportunity.”

stay healthy
“If physical limitations get in the way I find I no longer want to do things. That’s why I spend so much time on health. It’s like, I need to keep my car running to go to the places I need to go. I don’t want to just sit around on a beach. I don’t want to relax. I want to get more stimulation.”