No topic is off limits for Nina Lorez Collins. At 51, the founder of The Woolfer—a digital platform for women over 40—and a mother of four fledgling adults, she is as self-actualized as she is self-deprecating.
A big career as a literary agent, then as a writer for Elle and Vogue, led to Nina’s creation of The Woolfer, her highly engaged tribe of sassy, brassy women who congregate on the site or app to serve as each other’s sounding boards, friends and life coaches. Their posts, seminars and meet-ups are lively, candid, awkward and occasionally vulgar—authentic, like she is. What followed was her book, What Would Virginia Woolf Do? And Other Questions I Ask Myself as I Attempt to Age Without Apology, as well as the “Raging Gracefully” podcast.
Nina lives in Brooklyn and East Hampton, sometimes with her new boyfriend and all the time with her new poodle, Strudel. She spent a recent afternoon telling Bare Necessities about traversing that long, winding road of life while fearlessly living on-brand.
Q: So how did you get here?
A: I was born and raised in New York, and I fell into book publishing. First, I was a scout for European publishers, then I started my own company. The idea was to find books to publish in other languages and to option for film.
Eventually I wondered, is this all there is? So in my 30s, I shut it down, had kids, and started a literary agency. After about seven years, I got divorced, left publishing and took a few years to write. In my 40s, I got my Masters degree in Narrative Medicine, which is essentially how we talk about death, dying, end-of-life-care and, in a way, about women at transitional times.
My mother, Kathleen Collins, was a writer and a filmmaker, and she died of breast cancer when I was 19. She was one of the first Black women to make a feature film, Losing Ground, about the Black female experience. I brought her work back into the light and posthumously published two books by her. In the midst of this, I accidentally started a community that took over my life.
Q: Tell us more about the genesis of The Woolfer.
A: Five years ago, I started not sleeping very well and realized it was perimenopause. Suddenly all of these things were happening to me I didn’t expect. No one had ever talked to me about this.
I posted a joke about it online, which led to a bunch of my friends saying we needed a space to talk about taboo topics. I created a Facebook group called What Would Virginia Woolf Do, because she killed herself in her 50s—my friends are readers and feminists, and they were saying that if she threw in the towel, maybe we should, too. We were kidding, of course, but it struck a nerve. I thought this thing would be for me and my friends, but we ended up with 32,000 members.
Q: What’s The Woolfer all about? What’s your mission?
A: The Woolfer gives smart women room to talk about growing older: the indignities, the feelings of irrelevance, sex, divorce, living in the sandwich generation. Ultimately, we’re a club. We do a lot of events, which have moved online now. There was a session on unlearning racism; there’s a daily writers’ room, visual arts workshops, a regular sex conversation, a book club, online cocktail parties.… There’s a lot of discussion around health and sexuality, and always a lot of helpful humor.
“The idea is that there is no shame. We’re aging. We are still interesting and fabulous. We talk honestly about what we’re losing and gaining”
The idea is that there is no shame. We’re aging; this is who we are and where we are. We are still interesting and fabulous. We talk honestly about what we’re losing and what we’re gaining. It’s like always having a girlfriend in your pocket.
It’s a funny coming-together of all my interests. I’ve always been interested in women’s stories and how we deal with loss. And even though it’s hard, I like building things.
Q: What drives you?
A: Helping women feel less alone, and to know they’re normal. Secrecy is often really not good for people. I want to help others understand how much strength we can derive from each other.
Q: What does a typical day look like?
A: I’m on the app or on Facebook monitoring conversations, responding to comments, posting and creating content. I’m working on growing and developing the business, and on events like Woolfer Weekend, which we just had with Macy Gray.
I like to paddleboard in the morning or take a long walk with the puppy. After hours, my boyfriend cooks and I’ll do the Peloton or hang out with friends.
Q: How do you avoid burnout?
A: That’s part of getting older. Now that I’m post-menopausal and the kids are out of the house, I’m privileged and grateful to focus on myself. I notice a big difference now in how I approach the issues. In my 30s and 40s, I felt like I had so much to prove and more worries over what I was doing with my time. Now, I feel much more focused, with less pressure to prove myself. I’ve done a lot, and it’s good. I’m more able to take a step back and reflect. It’s easier to remember that life is always changing.
I learn a lot from the women in their 60s and 70s in the community. It makes me mindful of the fact that I continue to evolve. Yes, my body will continue to disintegrate, and I know more people who will die, but there is also greater freedom—you feel better physically and psychologically to be done with a certain part of your life. We take solace from each other. We get permission to relax a little.
Q: What challenges have you had to overcome, and how?
A: I decided to turn this concept into a business. I had to figure out how to build an app. We took a gamble walking away from Facebook, but I knew I couldn’t spend the rest of my life basically working for Mark Zuckerberg. I just had to accept that this is the way I live and that, at times, it can be uncomfortable, and that’s okay. I needed the balls and the naivety to think that I could do this, and it would be fine.
“I had to accept that this is the way I live. At times, it can be uncomfortable, and that’s okay”
At first, I resisted because I knew nothing about online, technology or marketing. I don’t like to feel like a dilettante, so I formed a team and found an investor who is a spreadsheet person. I am so not a spreadsheet person, but I’m comfortable asking for help with what I don’t know. I also trust my instincts.
Now I am intentionally balancing the way I want to live. I know I don’t have to make this a huge business. If I were younger and hungrier, I’d have made different decisions already.
Q: What have you learned along the way about how we can best support one another and ourselves?
A: For younger women, you should explore working for yourself. People are learning from Covid that they can, and it’s very satisfying. You should also have your own money.
Also: It’s so often not even about you! We spend so much time thinking about what others think about us, and most people don’t care because they’re thinking about themselves. Have integrity and do your best because all you can really control is you.
To women my age and older: You have no idea how many chapters you’re going to have! If you don’t make bold decisions to move ahead, you’ll never know what’s on the other side. Change is good.
THE WORLD ACCORDING TO NINA
Go-to bra and undies: Natori Feathers is a great bra, with a little boost, and my favorite panties are black Hanky Panky Signature Lace Retro V-Kinis.
Best way to de-stress: Pull down the shades and go to bed.
Career highlight: Making Crain’s “40 Under 40” list at 29.
Weakness for: Linen sheets. Convertibles. Arrogant men.
Secret talent: I am the best parallel parker the world has ever known.
Fear you’re trying to overcome: Dying young.
Now watching: Radha Blank’s “The 40-Year-Old Version.”
Now reading: What Are You Going Through by Sigrid Nunez.
Most useful emoji: The shrug.
Mood-boosting song: “Fire” by The Pointer Sisters.
In a word: Strong.
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