14 November, 2006

Becoming Invisible

The other day I mentioned my mother’s theory of Mr. Wart-and-All. Now, I’d like to mention a phenomena my mother told me about growing old. She said, about the time she turned 60, she started to get the impression that she had become invisible. A special type of social invisibility: lack of notice, lack of inclusion, and lack of interest in her wellbeing by her fellowmen. When she walked down the street, people rarely looked at her; when standing behind a store counter, salespersons often ignored her; flight attendants began to give her looks of impatience or even a gesture of general rejection when she requested a drink; and, in particular, young doctors’ eyes spoke out blatantly “Well, what can you expect?” whenever she resited symptoms of an illness.

She felt the change didn’t so much have to do with the people themselves, but with a society that obviously finds elderly people unattractive, uninteresting, annoying, or financially undesirable. She said at first she was very annoyed at the fact, but as time went by, she just turned sad and discouraged.

I’d love to be able to tell you that she discovered a wonderful and useful method of attracting attention and is presently living happily ever after. No, this didn’t happen. Instead, the sadness and discouragement slowly wore away at her self-confidence. She resigned herself to the fact that other than people she knew, others didn’t acknowledge her existence, and then she started becoming invisible to herself. Now, fifteen years later, she doesn’t want to be photographed, she never ever looks in a mirror, and she does not welcome any attention or complement about her appearances.

This is a sad and discouraging development. And so I’ve been contemplating what sort of alternative strategies I can use in the years to come, which might produce another outcome. For instance, last week I stopped looking at younger women and concentrate instead on women my age or older. It’s amazing how much I’ve discovered in this short period of time. What “works” when it comes to being attractive and elegant and fashionable when you are older is accessories, accessories, and accessories.

If your glasses, shoes, purses, and scarves are (relatively) new, attractive, and elegant, then so are you. It’s not about age or figure, but more about presenting yourself authentically. Oh, I forgot haircuts. Go and get a haircut at a chic salon where you can count on them giving you a beautiful modern cut. Also, I saw some coats and jackets which were made with really interesting material, and not bought off the rack at the nearest department store. They made the women (and one man) very stylish looking.

My dearest wish, given the opportunity to grow old, would be to learn to experiment with my wardrobe. Something I haven’t managed to do up to now. So, I am going to adopt a you-never-know-until-you-try attitude, instead of a can’t-teach-old-dogs defeatism.

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