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I Am 60 and Visible – fuck the Invisibility Myth


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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.

The work

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.

The outcome?

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.

The new old: Why the creative industry needs to rethink the ageing population


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The over 60s already outnumber the under 16s, and by 2040 one in seven people will be over the age of 75. But while the current generation of old people grew up in an era without technology, the ‘new old’ will be very different. So how can the creative industries reframe old age? That’s the focus of a new exhibition at The Design Museum exploring how designers and creatives can meet the challenges of a rapidly ageing society.

Read the full story: The new old: Why the creative industry needs to rethink the ageing population

Fuck The Ageing Black Hole, I’ll Take The Freedom


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I wasn’t going to write about this at all. I was going to write about being A Recovering Drama Queen. Finally. However, very much still in the process of ‘recovery’. It’s an age and awareness thang.

However before I could get to the computer keys, I read about endurance swimmer, Diana Nyad’s memoir – Find A Way: One Untamed and Courageous Life, came out last Thursday on Pan Macmillan – and was compelled to write about what was touched in me not just by her feat, but by her bloody-and-be-damned attitude to ageing.

Oh, what a razzle dazzle of a woman. Beyond belief. First of all – the feat. At the age of 64, Diana Nyad swam unassisted from Cuba to Florida. That is 110 miles through seas infested with venomous deadly box jellyfish and sharks for 53 hours without a rest. She was the first person to do it. That is phenomenal.

But before that were the amazing amount of failures. Which make her feat even more incredible. Nyad was one of the world’s best endurance swimmers in her 20s. She’d attempted this swim at 28 in 1978, failed and given up. Two years later, she retired. At 60, she decided to try again. Spurred on by her mother’s death.

And she failed and failed. Stung by box jellyfish, stopped by an asthma attack and more. Her friends who were very involved as back up, begged her to give up. She refused. She had a silicone mask made to protect her from these jellyfish because ninety percent of the people touched by their tentacles die. She was stung but didn’t die. After all her unrelenting tenacity, she actually did succeed at 64 in 2013. Hallelujah!!

What I love about her attitude to ageing is recounted in her memoir. Someone suggested at one of her talks that she was too old to attempt this swim. She is still incandescent about this kind of ageism. Even now. “Age, gender, nothing should be a barrier,” she insists. “I’m not 25, I’m not 45, I’m 66 and I can’t do anything about cosmetic ageing. I look in a mirror and of course my face is going to show the years lived. Same with the body. I carry more fat than I did when I was younger. What am I going to do? Worry about that? Talk about not being in the moment! Any moment I spend fretting that I’m not younger, it’s just a waste.”

She then informs the Observer journalist – the piece that inspired this one – Carole Cadwalladr that the photographer had just enquired if she’d prefer to change positions to a more flattering angle. She erupted with the sort of fire spirit that we admire at Advantages of Age. “I couldn’t care less,” she insisted, “It’s what I do and what I say, and how I live that’s important, not how I look. My looks aren’t my issue and it’s just very freeing.”

Okay, I’m not quite there yet. I still do care what I look like and what photographs of me are like. But I’m 63 and I am beginning to understand the breadth of the freedom that comes with ageing. That I can make choices based on what I want to do, rather than what society, the media or even what my tribe dictates. I can be my own dictator. In the last few years, I have grown my hair long again. The convention is still that older woman shouldn’t have long hair, that their faces will sag and disappear into the hag look. I cut my hair into a bob when I was 43 somehow persuaded by conformity. Pushed by a boyfriend. At 60, my desire for lengthy tresses returned. So I allowed myself the luxury of length. Hair is a sensual pleasure and there is a be-quiet-sexuality message in the obligatory cutting.

No, I’m not about to swim even across the local Grand Union Canal but Nyad’s message around ageing feels supremely loud and clear. Don’t be cowed by comfort zones (your own) or limits (your own). And find your voice, live your life. Be free. Which doesn’t have to be narcissistic.

One of the freedoms I have reclaimed recently – is the freedom to speak my mind politically and to go for the edge. To not be afraid of showing that I’d like a radical change in society, that years of Thatcher, Blair, Brown and Cameron had silenced my anger against the inequality we live with. But no longer.

A few weeks ago as I stood in Parliament Square shouting: “Shame on you” at the Blairites who were trying to bully the Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn – who is committed to social justice and a much fairer society – into stepping down, I felt totally inspired about this kind of potential change. I also imbibed the unity and strength of 10,000 people coming together in 24 hours via social media and in being there together. This was no rag bag of ultra lefties, this was a huge crowd of ordinary people who wanted something better and were willing to get out on to the streets and demand just that.

It was electrifying and inspiring to be part of truly going for something bigger that I believed in.

You can read an extract from Diana Nyad’s memoir – Find A Way: One Untamed and Courageous Life here.

We’d love to hear from you what you’ve found freeing about getting older… please tell us at info@advantagesofage.com

 

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