Throughout the last two years, the Clearwater-based organization, Cougars of Florida, has raised more than $12,000 for the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Big Cat Rescue by publishing a calendar featuring hot women over 40. This year, their pet charity is Quantum Leap Farm, which helps people recovering from injury, or who live with mental or physical disabilities, to overcome challenges by engaging with horses. I had a chance to chat with the president of Cougars of Florida, as well as this year's Ms. October, Kathleen Slaven, about the cougar phenomenon and why Florida is such a haven for attractive, older women.
With a calendar like this that celebrates women over 40, what is your policy on airbrushing and photo shopping?
My policy on airbrushing is that we don’t do it. My photographer, Kimi Carrier, has a huge talent for photoshop, but we didn't do much photo shopping ... The model must have taken pretty good care of herself to be in the calendar, and to be someone we want representing us at signings and events.
The term "cougar" entered the lexicon of American slang about the time "MILF" did with the first American Pie movie. Why do you think our culture has suddenly become fascinated with cougars? Is it just that more women over 40 are taking better care of themselves?
I would guess it is connected with our high divorce rates ... I also think the focus on health in the last 50 years has had an impact. This has helped women’s self esteem and has allowed them to take responsibility for themselves and their appearance.
In general, would you say that women who are over 40 and single take better care of themselves than their married counterparts?
That is a tough question, but I am leaning toward yes. But, married women can be cougars too. Married women who take care of themselves are getting hit on by younger men. We are very confident and we have been around the block. Given our looks, confidence, and our funness, I think that is what makes us attractive to younger men.
Well, I lived out West and I’m a horse woman, so I probably have 10 cowgirl hats. Animal print outfits between shirts, prints, tops, dresses, and accessories, I’d say 40, easily.
Do you think the name cougar came along partially as a consequence of cougar's propensity to wear animal-prints, or do you think animal-prints became more popular because of the term?
I would have to research that ... As an animal enthusiast, I would say people are becoming more aware of our beautiful wildlife and the endangered species. Few women wear fur coats anymore. So we celebrate animals with animal-prints.
Proceeds from the three calendars you've done have been donated to animal organizations. I recently read somewhere that most Americans are more likely to help an injured or hungry animal they encounter on the streets than a human in the same condition. Do you think that is true?
I think that is fairly sad, but I think it depends. If it is a child or young person, I think most people would do the right thing and help that individual, as opposed to an adult. I think what is so scary nowadays is that people are afraid to get involved. They would rather take their phone, which is okay, and call for help. I think many people are afraid they will get themselves in trouble if they try to help out an adult, which is unfortunate.
Some of the girls in the calendar, like myself, have never had children. We love kids, but we are animal enthusiasts. I am so proud we chose Quantum Leap this year because they are so involved with helping children with their horses. There really is a wonderful ESP connection with horses and people, especially young people, and especially special needs kids. It is amazing ... With this charity, we are helping both animals and people.
There is the cliché that doing charity work is its own reward and you get more out of it than you put into it. Based on some of the photos on your website, it looks like you are having a lot of fun doing this charity. What are some of the tangible benefits of doing a charitable calendar like this: business connections, friends, events?
It is everything. There are so many layers. We do form friendships. I even used to get calls from women asking, “Are you going to have a cougar club!?” There was this whole social networking aspect that was really kind of cute ... We do have fun with the calendars, especially when we start selling them. Going out to the signings, which we are doing more this year, is a kick. And businesses love it as well. We bring people to the venues ... It is enjoyable on every level, but it is also a lot of work. Everyone is volunteering their time, which is a lot to ask, but everybody does it.
What is the average demographic of buyers: older guys, women, younger guys?
It is a mix, but we’ve sold all the way to young men in Switzerland. But, amazingly enough, and I am still shocked at this, I see more older men and women buying the calendars. I haven’t put my finger on why. I don’t know. I would like to tap into a bigger vein of young men who are intrigued by older women.
Why is there not a cool nickname for guys who are over 40, who are financially independent, who take care of themselves, and who are confident?
I don’t know. So many people have asked me, “Is next year going to be all men?” I am tempted, because I think it would be a little easier, because men don't require as much hair and makeup. We kidded around about doing this last year. We were wondering what to call them. I remember my father being called a “Silver Fox” a long time ago, so I think we were leaning toward that.
Why do you think there are so many cougars in Clearwater, or Florida in general? Even the TV show Cougar Town is based in Sarasota. Is it that Florida's endless summer requires women to stay in better shape for beach wear?
Absolutely. I’ve lived in Arizona too and it is similar. Women who live in Arizona and southern California and Florida, we have a longer portion of the year when we can wear scantily clad outfits to enjoy the weather and the sun. I think that is why cougars are drawn more to the sunshine states.