This article was first featured on The Advantages Of Age, a movement challenging ageing stereotypes on relationships, culture, wellness and news.
I invite you to sit back comfortably with a libation of choice, for I would like to tell you a little story about an obsession of mine – The Invisibility Myth. And how I have made myself visible.
I have attained the ripe age of sixty years, marking it with a symbolic tattoo of phoenix wings soaring high from my wrist and on-going celebrations. I elected to string them out as long as possible, feeling justifiable self-congratulations for having survived. I left home at seventeen and made my way in the big scary world without support. I manage to live comfortably in my own skin without recourse to excessive self-loathing and embrace changes of direction as new life adventures. I try to stretch my mind in ways that my body is reluctant to embrace these days without chemical help…
Yep, I believe the post-war baby boom of 1956 was a good vintage and worthy of a few glasses of fizz …That is, according to the thoughts of Chairman Jeanie, as I am lovingly known in my family. Others would have you and I believe otherwise. Much of the media and some of my contemporaries, think that post-50 women become invisible. Many believe this happens as early as 40 – across the board in shops, bars, restaurants, clubs, transport, the workplace, sexually…Hmmm I haven’t put this theory to the empirical test by shoplifting, walking out of bars etc. without paying, but I have added it to my ’to do’ list. I am guessing I will report back from the confinement imposed by my ankle tag or open prison cell.
So, what is the story here?
I stopped bitching and embarked on a journey to show that I/we are only as invisible as I/we choose to be, or allow others to make us feel. Hence The Invisibility Myth was conceived.
What happened next?
Well, I started a blog, upped my social media profile, created a website (with a liddle, iddy bit of help from the young uns in my life) and started researching. I prepared to be shot down – 270 Instagram and 300 Twitter followers hardly invites much in the way of global media debate, but my naivity and vanity gave me expectations way beyond my pay grade (£0), and status as the kick-starter of a global movement, with only a few cosmetic surgeons and dodgy pharmacists commenting on my enthusiastic postings and tweets!
Aannnd so? Action.
Whilst en route to a Colour Walk (a whole other story) in Spitalfields, I spied an advertisement for models wanted of all ages and sizes. I had vague thoughts of it being a niche porn portal, but I felt protected as the application form was online. I filled it in – the theory being that if I am invisible, they would not get back to me once they saw my age. I uploaded a Facebook profile pic and pressed send.
Eeeek. A week later found me on my way to a photographic studio in London, fresh faced as requested (pah, as if – had to put on lippy, or else I felt naked), pulling a suitcase full of clothes, for a day long suitability photo shoot, ready to be participant and observer in my own story. The people there were fascinated by my honesty in that I said it was book research that motivated me to respond to their ad, not a desire to be the next Advanced Style Plus-sized Model. (Yes, anything over a size 10 is plus size in model terms! grrr.)
What did it feel like to face up to the scrutiny of the camera lens? The thing is, I was only in competition with myself. The young girls who came and went throughout the day were another tale – happiness, tears, desperation. Self-esteem inflated/shot down.
I had a hilarious day full of big hair and makeup. I laughed as I watched my face being used as the canvas in my own self-portrait. (Oh, hello eyes and eyebrows I struggle to find nowadays.) My hair was lacquered, back-combed and curled to frame my newly defined face. It made me think of the reveal in the Gok Wan show How To Look Good Naked. Newly re-imagined, I then dressed in the clothes I felt most ‘me’ in and went outside to start the shoot. The photographer was used to getting people to feel at ease in front of the camera, and I was quickly strutting my sixty year old stuff like a pro! Three more changes of clothes and increasingly glam rock makeup and I was ready to keep going all night. But alas, I had to reluctantly share the limelight with the three year olds. I felt a tad resentful to be honest…until I heard the start of a mini tantrum that is.
After a while sitting around (no food available in the studio – good job I had snacks in my bag – I was the only one eating), I was called in to the debrief. I was shocked to hear that they were proposing to take me on. My face and bod is being put out there. Who knows if anything will come of it, but I sure as hell was true to my determination to be visible. I floated out of that studio on a cloud of disbelief. Grinning like the loony, now overly visible, clown-makeup- wearing-bag lady you avoid talking to on the tube,I was engaging with everyone who would do eye contact, keen to share my news.
I hope that I have illustrated a point here. Invisibility is a choice, not inevitable. It is fed by the oxygen we choose to feed it.
Opportunities are always there to take you out of the shadows, you just have to in the title words of Susan Jeffers’ 1987 book – Feel the fear and do it anyway. I’m now engaged in gathering material for a book, The Invisibility Myth, from ‘extraordinary ordinary’ posts by fifty women from all over the world. So many diverse inspiring stories are arriving of lives being inhabited to the fullest.
We post-menopausal women have never had it so good – the possibility of many years between 60 and eternity to rock and roll, aided by a whole plethora of drugs to keep us kicking with the rest and best of them, till the final curtain call. I’m choosing to embrace it and planning what I can get up to next. Are you? I hope so.