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International Women's Day: These entrepreneurs believe no woman is ever 'past their prime'
March 08 2023, 08:00

At what age do women peak?

Those considering the biological definition of the word may already know that women tend to outlive men. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the average woman in America will live to age 81. Conversely, the average American man will live to only 76.

There's been much discussion over the years surrounding womanhood in the modern age, and at which age women are considered to be "past their prime."


In a recent CNBC article, for instance, the author alleged women hit their peak earning years in their 40s. According to PayScale data cited by the article, as women reach their late 30s and early 40s, their wages start to flatline. Contrarily, men will continue to see their salaries grow, as most don't hit their respective peaks until the age of 55.

The debate underscoring this discrepancy was heightened last month when CNN's Don Lemon made on-air comments that even his own network dubbed "sexist." When discussing 51-year-old Nikki Haley's 2024 GOP presidential bid, he outraged viewers and colleagues when he described her as being no longer "in her prime." 

Lemon doubled down, subsequently arguing a woman is only "considered to be in their prime in [their] 20s and 30s and maybe 40s," according to Google. Lemon ultimately apologized and took an extended vacation before returning to the air the following week.

The comments drove media headlines for a week, but they also served to further the discussion surrounding men's perception of women's value in the workplace.


In recognition of International Women's Day, Fox News Digital spoke with women classified as middle-aged and even elderly, who've defied stereotypes and made and continue to make major strides in their industries.

Marlene Wallach, 68, is the former president and owner of the Wilhelmina Kids & Teens modeling and talent agency, past clients of which include actresses Natalie Portman, Katherine Heigl and Amanda Seyfried.

In 1998, after a seven-year stint producing small films in Los Angeles, the Bayside, Queens native returned to New York City and purchased the kids' agency and talent arm from Wilhelmina Models, widely regarded as one of the top agencies in the world.

But from her first discussion with the then-owner, a man, Wallach felt like she was on a different playing field.


Wallach, who had attended the business meeting with her then-boyfriend and "advisor of sorts," told Fox News Digital she was initially left out of her own conversation.

"I went in there with an idea of taking over the kids and teen division and starting a talent arm in the company… [The then-owner] was sitting on one side of the desk and the two of us [Wallach and her then-boyfriend] were sitting on the other, and he was talking to [my boyfriend]. It was as if I wasn't there."

"I just stood up and said, 'I'm the one with the money. Talk to me!'" Wallach recounted.

Wallach said it was her enthusiasm that made the then-owner immediately flip the switch and show her respect.

"He looked at me and he said, 'I like you. Let's do a deal.' And really, he was my biggest supporter and invited me to do other deals," Wallach said.

Proving that primetime for working women can come later in life, at 65 years old, Wallach founded her own company: Gleem Beauty. 

With over 32,000 Instagram followers to date, the organic aloe vera skincare product line will see its QVC debut on May 16. It's an offshoot of sorts for Wallach, having managed models for decades and encountered "skin issues" her whole career at Wilhelmina.


While a recent survey suggested men are actually more emotional than women at work, stereotypes regarding a woman's proclivity towards being the more emotional gender persist. 

So how does someone like Wallach reconcile this? For her, the answer is simple.

"For me, it's not aggressiveness. It's enthusiasm," Wallach told Fox News Digital. "And I am told that my enthusiasm is infectious. And if you want to call that aggression, we'll call it aggression. But I don't care what you call it. Just, like they say, call me for dinner."

Marlene Wallach isn't the only successful woman to have started a company during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to a pandemic-induced increase in at-home alcoholic consumption, 45-year-old Jen Morales recently co-created Mixicles, a line of botanically infused ice cubes for both cocktail and mocktail creation.


Morales, a native of Puerto Rico, told Fox News Digital that it hasn't always been easy walking that aforementioned thin line – whether it's been in the courtroom, or in business – and that it's up to women to widen the line for other women.

"I think that the solution here, or at least a solution here, is to better mentor other women. There's this sense sometimes when there are not a lot of women in leadership in a particular organization or company that there's this one seat at the table. And so that particular woman will, for whatever reason, appear to be threatened by younger talent that's coming up the ranks," Morales told Fox News Digital. 

"You can see this play out in a couple of ways, and one of them is the sort of pull-the-ladder-up behind you thing," she said. "And so that's their way of sort of keeping this sense of like, 'I'm the one here. I hold the power and I'm not going to let anybody else in.' And I have to say, I'm not excusing those women, but I can also see where if you buy into this mentality of like, 'Well, there's only room for one of us at the top because there isn't anybody else around,' that's part of the problem, too. It's systemic."

Morales went on to address Lemon's comments, arguing the CNN host "said the quiet part out loud" and explaining that remarks like his help further men's perception that women can easily "be dismissed."

And not just women, or women of a certain age – but, as Morales pointedly remarked, women of a certain race.

"You hear it mostly, too, with African-American women. Oh, the angry black woman. They're just expressing a view that you don't like, right? So you're going to marginalize that voice by just being like, ‘oh, whatever.’ Or, 'I've figured out she's PMS eating or menopausal,' or whatever the things they think," Morales said. "It's just a way to be really dismissive. And then it's very inherently sexist or racist."

Morales echoed the aforementioned survey's findings, arguing that, in her experience, it's been men who've historically taken on the more negative traits commonly associated with women.

"I actually found that, in general, men have been more easily threatened and thrown off balance emotionally than a lot of the women I worked with. And they kind of gossip more behind people's backs and have… much more fragile egos to protect."

Morales told Fox News Digital it's why she believes she's been told to "keep her head down" by both men and women alike. She went on to assert that, in order to address and ultimately fix the problem, women must better understand the plights of everyone involved.

It's all part of creating a united society that isn't so quick to dismiss others, Morales maintained, in an effort to achieve true equality.

That path to equality is one that Gayle Keller, 44 - author, motivational speaker, and former Microsoft sales executive - is working tirelessly to help pave.

"I saw the path to parity. That gap [between men and women] still exists," Keller told Fox News Digital. "And I thought, ‘what can I do to help pave the way?’ I'm not going to close it on my own, but it's my duty to help other women out."

Keller, whose new book Full S.T.E.A.M Ahead illuminates common issues women face in the workplace - such as lack of confidence, competition from colleagues, workplace bullying, sexual harassment, and mental health issues - described wanting to create a singular camp of industry women. While many might be familiar with the acronym S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics), the new inclusion of the letter "A" is meant to appeal to young women looking to join the Arts. 

Because, as Keller noted, closing the gender gap starts with women closing the gap between themselves and other women first.

Keller cited a recent LinkedIn post from The Washington Post, which served to provide insight into the very gap Keller has made it her mission to fight:

"There's a job posting and a woman looks at it, and she maybe has 70% of the skill sets that the qualification requires of the job," Keller paraphrased. "'I only have 70%. I'm not applying. I'm not worthy enough. Doesn't apply.' Hmm. But a man reads it and goes, 'I only have 70%. I'm going to learn the other thing when I get that job and I'm applying.' So we're counting ourselves out," she said.


Keller went on to stress the need for women to be more honest about their experiences, even and especially the negative ones.

"We never see the steps of the fear and the steps back; it's two steps back to take one step forward. But we don't see them. And if we could be more authentic in our journeys and share those stories, it'll just help other people. Because, yes, some men uplift women; but women need to uplift women."

Keller explained the five-pillar system on which her book is predicated: courage, decisiveness, clarity, competence, and balance, telling Fox News Digital she hopes to instill these values in women of all ages. 

When asked to comment on whether she believes women are ever "past their prime," Keller stressed that it's women's age and experience that breeds the very wisdom necessary to make them effective leaders.

"To me, everything comes down to experience… I'm a Chief Reinvention Officer. Reinvention has no age limitations. And the people that I work with are 30-plus-plus, because, to me, you need to have [the] experience to understand what you like, what you don't like, what you want and what you don't want in life, your job, career, and how you give back to the community. That experience is so important," Keller told Fox News Digital.

"You talk to women that are 50-plus and they say, ‘you know, when you hit your fifties, you become invisible to society.’ But you're still you, and you feel like you're at your best in your life."

"And so that's why I want to do the work I do to hit all those different age ranges. Because it's so important to educate people at a young age that life isn't over after you have kids, where men sort of get a break there," she argued.

Keller, too, commented on Lemon's remarks, saying there's a systemic issue at play.

All three women argue it begins with righting our social system — and Wallach, Morales, and Keller all said that starts with women.