Let’s start by asking what we mean by ‘invisibility’? Not feeling like the head-turner we were at 28? No one homing in to chat us up at a party? Not having a voice? Being ignored? Being unable to find anything to wear suitable for our age, shape, and physical needs? Having no sense of role relevant to us? Finding adverts, films, series, radio programmes largely aimed at those far younger than us?
Or those meaningful and very earnest, utterly tedious films that deal with ‘a loving older couple facing serious illness’ or ‘a loving older couple dealing with infidelity’, or the ‘comedy’ of love and sex in the golden years.
I suspect all of the above for some; some of the above for others; and none of the above for the rest. What does ‘feeling invisible’ mean to you? Whilst I was thinking about what to write here, it occurred to me that I was both very wrong and very right to be focusing on this subject. I’m 62, usually mistaken for being in my forties (lucky me, hey?).
But it’s not always fun and games, when I’m having difficulty clambering off the bus or some (to my eyes) young buck, makes a half-hearted pass at me – sometimes nice – mostly just eye-rollingly irritating. I’ve spent all my teen and adult life being relatively invisible because I bypassed the adolescent growth spurt, recalcitrantly staying put at the four foot ten of the 11-year-old that I was.
This puts me within the upper height range for people of restricted height, formerly referred to as dwarves, but without the cachet of some of them. We had a fellow student at my alma mater called Tom Shakespeare who sported punk Dalmatian spotted bleached hair and a lively wit. He was of restricted height and frequently seen being carried around good-humouredly on the shoulders of our peers. He was feted, enjoyed, and celebrated while I – not exactly overlooked with my orange Mohican and the standard ripped fish nets of the mid-eighties – but never in the same league as Tom. You see, even shorties envy other, more sleb shorties. I was always invisible in a crowd, always at the front or far side of any photos, and always asked my age in pubs.
Anyway, I digress. We both are and are not invisible. In terms of the market, we barely exist. ‘Anti-ageing’ creams don’t celebrate age, social media is based around glossy youthful images and in-words, in-people, in-places to go, the culture of usually youthful, or youth-obsessed celebrity, fashion, music…Nothing new here.
But – isn’t invisibility restful? We can either coast along, letting waistlines grow and fashion sense fade away, or we can find the stuff we like, fight the flab (or not), polish up our style, continue to develop our minds and cherish our feelings. Either way, who’s really going to care? We are not adolescents with crippling peer pressure; we are not young or older parents hoping to fit in at the school gates. We are not even, any longer, middle-aged, somehow hoping for a handsome or pretty stranger to catch our eye as we whirl across the dance floor of our existence.
We are beyond the lower foothills of the ageing process and into the mid or even advanced slopes of age. We are the elders. While we may chafe against the limited style options, feel irritated when a younger person demonstrates limited interest in soliciting our opinion, wonder whether sex with a hot man or woman is really worth the effort, or if it might be more pleasant to retire to bed with a hot chocolate, grind our teeth when yet another series features thirty or even twenty-somethings, and know that we are no longer eligible for another mortgage – there is gold amongst the dross.
Have you actually met anyone of 50 plus, 60 plus, 70 plus or older who does actually NOT have a voice? In my experience the most vocal, articulate, passionate, and, let’s face it, pushy, people are those over 50. In my youth, because I was small, if in a queue, I’d always stand tightly to the person in front of me. Why? Because there would inevitably be an older person who wielded their shopping bag on wheels – love those things, I have a turquoise one with four racer wheels – like a weapon of mass destruction to force their way into the queue in front of me. Some Neanderthal instinct shouted in their ears: ‘Choose the small one! Easy meat!’.
‘Old’ equals savvy and feisty. ‘Ageing’ equals taking no prisoners. ‘Over the hill’ means don’t mess with this fecker. And this, babes, means us. We have lived through, depending on your country and age – fascism, rationing, the horrors of Thatcherism, radical feminism, sceptical feminism, post-feminism (whatever that twaddle means – how can there be ‘post’ feminism without equality?), the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of State Socialism and the emergence of State Gangsterism in the former Eastern Bloc, various and varied governments, emerging climate change scary enough to make your hair turn white overnight if it wasn’t already, and then the worst, the very worst of the pandemic and its multiple lockdowns.
We are the aunts, uncles, grandparents, great aunts, great uncles, and honorary all of these. We are the ones with ears to listen, the wisdom of the years, the time to play, the rocks of the family and community. The marketplace may be wheeling itself around much too slowly to the fact that many of us have the spare funds that the younger do not, but this may be to our advantage.
In the meantime, who can really say that we are invisible when we have honed our style, developed our voices, celebrated so many steps along the road less travelled that we have almost worn it to the bare rock? We are only failing to be seen by those largely irrelevant to us in our maturity and without our gravitas. We are a grand club of the ageing and aged and it behoves us to hold this in mind when we set up yet another astonishingly rich poetry gathering, go together to an exciting club night, try out an excellent restaurant, help out our local political group, volunteer for a worthy establishment (not talking Cynthia Payne style here, unless this floats your boat).
Here’s to not going quietly into that good night!