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Red Hat Society Challenges the Conventional Perception of Older Women

Aging is often perceived negatively and treated as something undesirable in America where the popular culture is dominated by the young and beautiful. The Red Hat Society is working to change that by reshaping the way aging women are viewed by society.

Sporting their signature red hats and purple clothing, more than 1,000 women recently gathered in St. Louis Missouri for the Red Hat Society's international convention. Their only goal, to prove aging can be fun.

It all began nine years ago with a red hat and a poem.

In 1997 founder Sue Ellen gave her friend Linda Murphy a bright red fedora and a poem that begins with, "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple with a red hat which doesn't go and doesn't suit me."

The dashing red hats began to spread among their friends and the Red Hat Society was born. "My original idea was to do this with 5 people. I didn't realize the kind of the thing, the fun we had, the giggly little girl dress-up whole thing, would appeal to everybody in that age group."

The Society now has thousands of chapters worldwide, with more than 110,000 members, creating a truly international sisterhood. Founding member Linda Murphy. "Many times we almost pinch ourselves and say how did this happen, how did this go so fast, it's overwhelming, sometimes it's perplexing, and when you start to think about it, we are now speaking for many, many women."

Sabrina Contreras is a mother of three and a businesswoman. She identifies with the Society's mission. "I am a part of Red Hat Society. I have been for over 4 years. What I really was interested in is the message that is making a difference for women, changing the perception of aging,

What do the red hatters do at the conventions and other events? The official answer is nothing, except have fun.

Dr. Maxine adds, "Shake it, shake it. Come on. So we are going to laugh tonight, you will feel so, so, so good after you do. So first thing I want to tell you, children laugh about 400 times a day. We have it honed down to five, 10, 15...and it is kind (of) like this. We are gonna laugh tonight though --hahahahahahah...OK, grab it (big tummy), let me see, shake it up, shake it...shake it, doesn't that feel good, you have just done internal jogging.

Dr. Maxine is a semi-famous laughter therapist as she calls herself. Her prescription for people's day-to-day woes is a healthy dose of humor.

Calling itself a dis-organization, the Red Hat Society is almost free of any rules except one: donning the red hat.

One members says she created her own hat. “Now this hat I made and I brought it here today. Isn't that wonderful? And you must remember to wear your hat with "hattitude."

The Society is achieving its mission to gain visibility for aging women. President Bush and Laura Bush signed a letter of congratulations for the convention. There is even a musical theater production about this unique group.

Sue Ellen is looking forward to continued growth. "I just hope that it continues to grow across the world and unites the women. It is a great way to connect with women from other countries. We have got women here from other countries. We have got Internet now, and we have got ways to find each other. I just hope it continues to be a really positive force."

Watching Sue Ellen and these red hat daughters, mothers and grandmothers hit the dance floor people may have reason to anticipate old age with excitement after all.