Choi Soon-hwa was 72 years old when she was working long hours as a caregiver in hospitals.
Ever since her twenties, she had aspired to become a model. Unfortunately, she had experienced hardship for most of her adult life.
She was abandoned by her husband and was forced to become a single mother. For decades, she had to work full-time in order to support herself and her children.
But unfortunately, in her elderly years, she found herself in debt, having to use her income to pay off her loans.
During my years as a single parent of two kids, I would wear the same clothes for as long as 20 years
In a country with one of the world’s highest poverty rates for senior citizens, Choi often had to take long shifts, sometimes even working seven days a week.
But by complete chance, Choi was inspired to change her life when she saw a senior model on TV.
After seeing a silver model on a TV talk show, I signed up for a modelling class right away.
In a risky but courageous move, Choi quit her job and began practising her catwalk.
After only a few modelling classes, Choi was signed to agency The Show Project.
In South Korea, it is common for people to continue dying their hair black past the age of 70 to look younger.
But Choi decided that as a model, she needed something to make her stand out, so she decided to sport her natural grey hair.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise as dying her hair actually caused Choi to have some health problems. As a caregiver, it was all part of the job, as patients were less likely to want to be cared for by someone who looked older.
Constantly dying my hair, my eyes were always dry, requiring eye drops six times a day, but now I am perfectly fine.
Now, Choi has embraced her age with confidence and what better way to showcase this than on the runway.
In a country often criticised for its rigid beauty standards, Choi has stunned with her beauty and confidence.
Becoming a modelling sensation in South Korea for several years, at 77 she is still going strong.
This year, she was invited to walk the runway at the prestigious Seoul Fashion Week.
She confessed that as an elderly woman, she still faces some obstacles in her career as a professional model.
Choi is hopeful that progressively, this may change as the modelling industry becomes more accommodating of models like her.
Designers prefer young models. I hope designers can appreciate the beauty of aged people. And put them on the catwalk, showing that aging can be a beautiful process.
Regardless, having gone through so many challenges in her life, Choi reveals that this is now the time for her to try and live her own life.
She notes that her generation has a tendency to be too frugal and withdrawn, due to the hardships they have endured in the country’s history.
Thankfully, Choi has been supported in her new modelling career by her children, and also by designer Kim Hee-Jin who hired Choi for the Seoul Fashion Week show in 2018.
There is something very unique about Choi – she has a quality that is different from anyone else and I think it goes well with the kind of originality I strive to achieve when making clothes.
Still, Choi is grateful for this opportunity, and has even described it as a miracle.
Currently, at 77 years old, Choi is the oldest professional model in South Korea, and she is still going strong!