Journalist, author and screenwriter Monica Corcoran Harel has written for The New York Times, Marie Claire, New York Magazine and The Hollywood Reporter, penning pieces about trying to get pregnant after 40, tackling a wilderness survival course with her husband, and traveling with her brother’s ashes, among many others.
Her latest project is even more personal. With Pretty Ripe, she is looking to become a midlife midwife to women, offering style, beauty and health advice as they approach middle age.
“Speaking of Gen X women broadly as between the ages of 40 and the late 50s or 60, they outspend Millennials and Baby Boomers by 41 percent, and 18 percent in fashion, beauty and entertainment,” said Harel, who is 53. “It’s not that this demographic is not valuable, I just don’t think they are as visible. And when Instagram and TikTok began to take precedence for marketers, advertisers and media, Gen X wasn’t represented in that way.”
She’s on a mission to change that.
Launched last year, her weekly newsletters have covered hormone replacement therapy, brain fog, the importance of weight training for middle-age women, and dispelled myths about metabolism declining after age 40.
She’s also highlighted the best tank tops that are not cropped, the $100 ribcage jeans with a cult following and the science behind rosemary oil for thinning hair — communicating it all with a cheeky wit, plenty of pop culture references, sourced research and supplemental weekly Instagram Lives with experts and personalities such as OB-GYN Dr. Sharon Malone, makeup artist Rachel Goodwin, friendship therapist Erin Falconer and “Minx” showrunner Ellen Rapaport.
Harel sold her first screenplay to Netflix after she turned 50, and she is running “Pretty Ripe” from what is arguably the most ageist city in the world, Los Angeles. Her subscriber numbers are still in the low thousands, but her engagement is high, and she’s garnered some big-name followers including Naomi Watts, Charlize Theron, Elizabeth Banks, Dita Von Teese, entertainment executives Amy Baer, Andrea Giannetti and Elishia Holmes.
Brands like St. John and Wolford are also taking notice.
They sponsored Pretty Ripe’s first in-person event last month, where Thirteen Lune beauty founder Nyakio Grieco and Hollywood stylist-turned-producer Jeanne Yang engaged in real talk about life pivots, business stumbles and hair loss.
“What she is doing with the Pretty Ripe platform is so honest, full of humor with such vulnerability,” said Marina Keiler, St. John’s senior director, global public relations and brand partnerships. “As St. John continues to expand our multigenerational approach we felt her voice was one we wanted to champion. After our initial call, we talked about the pressure of ‘doing it all’ and ’30 under 30′ lists and how so many women feel more confidant, are better networked and have more financial means after a certain age. The panel was so fresh and filled with reminders to ask for what you want, give yourself a break and that it’s never too late to try something new.”
This summer, Pretty Ripe is planning an experiential event at Malibu Village and an activation on biohacking beauty at the new Fairmont Spa in Century City in L.A. St. John and Wolford are also interested in taking the life pivot event to their boutiques nationwide.
Pretty Ripe was a pandemic project for Harel.
“I knew it would hit because people were reaching out to me, women who knew I was a journalist, asking me questions like ‘why do I wake up in the middle of the night all sweaty?’, ‘why are my jeans not fitting when I haven’t gained any weight?’ and ‘why am I suddenly anxious?’ she said.
“I realized these were things I’d pitched to magazines as stories, and my editors responded saying, ‘this a great idea, but our readership taps out in the late 30s.’”
Magazines have ‘how to dress after 40’ and ‘skin concerns in your 50s’ articles, but they are outliers, said Harel, who started to feel a change when she turned 47. “I was working on the ‘Queer Eye: Love Yourself, Love Your Life’ book and I just couldn’t focus. I didn’t know if I was going to finish the project…
“Then, one morning, I noticed I wasn’t glowing anymore. So physically, I started to notice changes. I have been covering female health for years but I didn’t put it together I was going into peri-menopause and having hormonal shifts and it was affecting every aspect of my life. Because the information wasn’t out there, it took a few visits to a gynecologist to say, oh you are 47 years old, that’s what’s happening. Once I knew, I could course correct.”
When she started writing the newsletter, it was for herself and her peers. The first post was about a product she discovered organically, Ilia Serum Tint, which brought back her glow.
“I don’t recommend skin care unless I use it for two weeks because you can’t see a difference unless you try something for a while,” she said. “I just tested five waterproof mascaras, and 10 years ago my needs were different. Now my lashes are more thin and brittle because I’m older and I can’t wear mascara I have to scrub off at the end of the night.”
She avoids using the term “antiaging.”
“I have no shame in aging, I’m really at the best point in my life, I almost feel like I’m back in my 20s, and I feel like midlife could be looked at that way. Women have been fed the story of aging is the end, but it’s really an exciting beginning for so many women, it’s just a matter of having the information you need and sometimes course correcting a little.”
Case in point? “I wrote about these Levi’s ribcage jeans that are high-waisted, and because your weight redistributes as you get older, they are the perfect course correct instead of bemoaning your body and the changes. It’s just about buying something that suits what’s happening now, it’s really that simple.”
While fashion has made strides in representation with older models in ad campaigns and on the runways, Hollywood and mainstream media have been slower to embrace the over-40 and over-50 demographic (the Nancy Meyers’ coastal grandmother trend notwithstanding).
“I’d like to see more talk shows for women over 50, more movies where there’s a meet cute at a bar instead of drunk at a club, these are all opportunities of upping visibility,” said Harel. “We don’t see a lot of talk about menopause.…There was just one mention in ‘And Just Like That.’ I’m not saying they should have devoted a whole episode to it but maybe some more time because it is a topic of deep distress for women mostly because no one talks about it.”
To grow Pretty Ripe, she’s looking for advertisers and supporters for more live events, and to develop a pop-up brand experience to be a one-stop shop for inspiration and empowerment.
“I want to bring women together. You know when you tell your partner, ‘I’m going out,’ and four hours later you haven’t reached for the check or looked at your watch? I feel like women do really share information in person, especially at this age, so I’d like to build a community.”