Yazemeenah Rossi arrived to our interview breathless because of a sunset. “The light was so beautiful and so I just had to get these photographs on the beach,” she says.
A day later, she posted to Instagram a photograph of darkening cloud cover creeping in on a Malibu sunset. In short order, it racked up thousands of likes. Rossi, at 62, has become something unlikely at her age — an Instagram celebrity who inspires legions every day with photographs of landscapes, simple dishes, and artful, revealing selfies.
She’s done this without any sort of calculation or brand-building plan. She doesn’t use analytics tools to inform her posting schedule or content. There are no agents or social media editors posted up in her modest, rented Malibu apartment. There’s not even much furniture.
“I’m not owning anything, but I’m free,” she tells me. “It’s a question of what are the priorities in life. For me, it’s to have a nice view in a quiet place and not to have a mortgage. You have to know what is important to you in order to make your life pleasant.”
Paramount, of course, is creating things you find beautiful and then sharing them with the world. To meet Rossi is to get to know someone who is utterly comfortable in her own skin — and we’re not just talking about those revealing photographs on her Instagram feed. We’re talking about a woman whose childhood shuttling between a small French island and a town on the mainland created in her a certain resilience and adaptability.
She’s leaned on those traits as she’s navigated motherhood at the ages of 17 and 20, the ups and downs of a career in modeling, and transitions between different cities and countries. This week, she talked to me about what that journey has taught her about the absurdity of planning — especially when it comes to later life.
Raised mostly by her grandparents, who lived the lives of simple farmers and hunters in Corsica, Rossi learned how to make do at an early age. Pieces of fabric served as her dolls and bath times took place at a nearby creek.
“When I was a child, my parents said I was stubborn because I knew what I wanted and what I didn’t want,” she says. “I’ve always been like that. I’ve always been in touch with my intuition.”
She met a police officer when she was a teenager and fell in love. When she was 17, her son was born. Three years later, her daughter. In that period, she’d moved the family to Paris. There was no definitive plan on how to get work, much less thrive in the French capital. But Rossi has always trusted closely in putting intentions out into the universe and waiting for it to return them in kind.
The first time this happened was when she applied for government benefits after her daughter was born and then forgot about it. A massive bill came which left the young couple panicking. Almost on the same day, the check from the government came as well.
“This gave me the confidence that it would always happen like that,” she says. “Gratitude is very important; to appreciate what is given. For that you have to have desire. The desire is the engine that is going to create the movement of life.”
For the next 12 years she cared for the children before starting to work as a fit model. The job was difficult — long days of being fitted for clothes while standing in high heels — but it gave her an entrée into the world of modeling. She booked gigs and continued to create art on the side, supplementing her income further by renovating and designing the apartments of friends.
In her early 40s, her hair was already getting a good amount of salt in it. The gigs in Paris started drying up, even as interest from American clients grew. Sensing a market, she moved to New York in 1999 and landed at Ford Modeling Agency.
Eight years later, needing a break from the winter, she went to LA. She moved to Malibu three months after that.
“I wanted to have a good quality of life. I wanted to enjoy nature, and I didn’t want to be in a city anymore,” she says. “And I worked less. It was 2007 when I moved to Malibu [right before the crash], and it has been not easy. But I’m here, I’m alive, and everything is fine!”
She’s right about the arc of her traditional modeling career. But if LA does anything well it’s reinvention. Her daughter told her to get on Instagram and she began posting pics of the types of things you and I post — only you and I don’t have luxuriant white hair, healthy, olive-oil rubbed skin, or look mesmerizing in a swimsuit.
Clickbait site BoredPanda picked up on her feed and wrote a piece, publishing it on September 15, 2015. “I looked at my Instagram and it was like Las Vegas with the slot machine,” she says. “I was getting followers nonstop. It was getting crazy. I had no idea why.”
Her 166,000 followers (and growing) have allowed her to travel internationally to gigs and opened her up to new experiences like public speaking. The reactions she gets from people as young as 13 on her positive image of aging are heartwarming. But her strong artistic personality has also struggled to figure out the monetization aspect of it.
“For me, it’s beautiful, and I love to create because it makes me happy,” she says. “And maybe I think it can make some people happy too. I never did these things in a way to think I could make money from it.”
But if this is a challenge at the moment, it’s also an opportunity. Rossi plans on taking it on the way she does, well, aging in general.
“I see around me people aging, and aging badly, like my mother. She’s still there mentally but she’s a couch potato,” she says. “I don’t have a couch and I don’t have a TV, so it helps. And every day I roll on my mat and I stand up before I do my yoga, and I plan on doing that for the rest of my life. I don’t have chairs, so several times a day I’m obliged to sit down and stand up and … love it! There’s no reason I can’t do it.”