Voices of the Village People: Vanessa Raphaely tries on the Middle-Aged Invisibility Cloak on for size.

 

 

 

BY VANESSA

 

The stark realization that you are undeniably,
unavoidably, “old,” may strike by way of a joke that
you suddenly don’t find very funny, at all: “You’re only as old as you remember you are.” Oh. Ha ha, you think. I must remember that!
30 seconds later: What was that joke about ageing
again?”

The humiliation that is aging’s close companion, may
slap you in the face, as you stand at the counter, in
say, The Apple Store, politely waiting for your turn to
be helped.

You may not be paying much attention to what’s
going on around you, until you realize that the sales
assistant has served two sets of younger, cuter
versions of you, who definitely arrived after you did.

Neither sales assistant nor the queue-jumping
younger versions of you, appear to have even noticed you. You appear to be invisible to them. Wait. Wtf? How did that happen to me? You
might think. I used to be hot… enough.

The wistfulness can sneak up on you, surreptitiously:
You might wander into a middle-of-the-road, almost
middle- aged store, like … say … Country Road, rifle
through the rails, and pull out a dress. Not a particularly tight, or short, or sexy dress – just a dress
– perhaps strapless, perhaps pretty, or “sweet.” You
might hold it against your body and think… “Nope.
That’s way too young for me.”

You can catch a glimpse of the back of your head, in a
harsh light and think. Oh God. I have Old Lady Hair.
When did it get so thin?

In the war against your dignity (which we know we
will all, eventually, lose,) reality can strike as you
discover not one, but a sudden thicket of grey pubic
hairs.

On the plus side, you might feel relieved, that your
eye-sight has overnight become so unreliable, that
you can’t actually be sure whether you have grey
pubic hairs, or not.

I’m told, with great authority that the stage after grey
pubic hairs, is thinning pubic hairs.

Ouch.

Ageing is a bitch. Or, just “not for sissies,” as the old joke goes.

But to be brutally honest? That joke, too, is not so
hilarious.

In 1992, (when I was around 30 years younger than
she was, when she wrote it,) The Australian writer
and feminist, Germaine Greer, wrote her important
book on menopause, The Change.

Nathalie Angier reviewed the book in The New York
Times, at the time and reported; (“Greer) talks with
unvarnished candor about the invisibility of the
middle-aged woman in our own culture, the
unfairness of a system that lionizes the silver-haired
male while scorning his female counterpart as beyond
use, pathetic, desiccated, desexualized, a crone.

I remember reading the book and thinking, back then,
Phew. I have time before I have to think about THAT.
But now, I am older than Greer was then.

I look in the mirror for sags, puckers, blueish
shadows.

I don’t recognise myself. A stranger looks back at me.
The girl and the young woman I was, has
disappeared. She’s invsible.
And if she’s invisible to me, it’s no leap to
acknowledge that she’s pretty much invisible to the
world, as well.

There’s a name for this condition. (Google will help
you find it, after showing you 9 million links to Harry
Potter Fan sites for invisible cloaks and the like.) It’s
called “The Invisible Woman Syndrome.”
In a column written as far back as 1992, The
Philadelphia writer, Julie Hunter reported:
“A survey that studied 2,000 women revealed
that by the time they reach the age of 51, many
women believed they had become invisible to
men. Only 15 percent of the women felt that
they had high or very high confidence
in any area of their lives and 46 percent thought
no one understood or addressed what aging and
older women go through.”

So things were challenging, enough, for older
women in the early nineties. Call me self-pitying,
but I think they’re even tougher, now.

I remember, in the year 2000, attending a
lecture by some visionary on what the future
held: “All of you in this room are tech
dinosaurs,” she said,” Merely as a result of the
fact that you were born in the last century. I’m
not sure what you CAN do to avoid this, but the
outlook is not rosy: The digital natives, those
born into the tech age, are going to take your
jobs, they’re going to change the world and most
of you are going to be on the backfoot, trying to
catch up, for the rest of your careers.”

That news hurt, even then.

And it has come to pass. Not only does our
generation (the much underrated, in my humble
opinion, Gen X,) have to deal with ageing
physically and mentally, in a youth obsessed
culture, we’ve had to do it as the Digital
Revolution, swirled and crashed, around us, too.

The industries in which we forged our careers,
have been well and truly disrupted, re-booted
and transformed. In South Africa, if you’re black
– it might be that you were just too old to fully
benefit from the post-apartheid world. If you’re
white, your face may no longer fit.

And your friends’ children are launching brands,
developing apps and getting VC of billions for
their digital start-ups. Hell. Some of my friends’
kids are running the funds I’ve had to consult
about funding my Digital Start Up. The indignity.

When you start to think about it seriously, a few
grey pubic hairs, here or there, or no public
hairs at all, may be the least of our worries.

But – Oh my God. It all sounds so grim. So
defeated. So … sad.

“Cheer up luv!” as the builders who used to wolf
whistle us as we rushed past building sites,
wishing they wouldn’t. “ It may not happen!”

Except it has. With a vengeance. Death and
taxes, Benjamin Franklin’s old cliché went, were
the only things that are certain. Well. If you’re
lucky, old age is certain too.

My question is this: Why are we not better
equipped to deal with it? Why does it hurt? Why
does it make us sad? And fearful? We’ve had
enough time to prepare ourself. And our
generation is going to be old for a long, long
time.

“ Possibly til you’re 100, even a bit longer,” says
Dr Phil … Mills, the terrifying Cape Town
cardiologist everyone goes to when they start
worrying about their cholesterol and insulin
levels and other unsexy age-related ills. “ You’re
going to be old for much longer than you were
young! It’s up to you whether you’re in a
position to enjoy yourself.”

Mills’ recipe (oh the irony,) for a long and
“happy” old age? Eat less. Like almost nothing.

When you do eat … make sure you eat nothing
you enjoy (goodbye alcohol, chocolate, rice,
roast potatoes, pasta, white bread, brown bread,
wholewheat bread, low GI bread, sayonara
sushi, even, farewell FRUIT for heaven’s sake.)
Hello! grilled mackeral and kimchee.)

Plus exercise til you cry.

I leave his office thinking a nice peaceful death
may be preferable to his version of a happy old
age.

One of the excellent things about being 50 is that
you probably have some good old friends. (You
can’t make new old friends, after all. “Cherish
them while you have them,” says my mother
darkly, “That’s one of the things that’s better
about being 50 than 70. They tend to start dying
if you last past 75.”)

To comfort myself, post-Mom and Mills, I arange
to meet my friend Jolene ( not her real name,
naturally,) and we drink a large and comforting
glass of chenin and devour a swimming pool of a
bowl of Spaghetti aglio, olio et pepperoncino
with lovely Italian Parmesan, each.

“ WHAT? We have to be old AND we can’t have
any fun?” she says. “ I think you should never
make another doctor’s appointment, ever again.
Ignorance is bliss.”

“ I think that theory might have been disproved”
I say. “ Haven’t you got any better ideas? All I
want to do is enjoy my old age.”

“ Well, funny you should ask,” she says. “ Bob
(not the husband’s name,) “… and I have taken
to clubbing, festivals and drugs. Gotta say, it’s
done us no end of good.”

“ Good? How? Your sensitive, elderly liver must
be SHOT?”

“ We’re happy and … er … really … um …enjoying
each other again.” She smirks and winks and
leaves the table in a rush, for a dirty week in
Ibiza. With her husband. Whoa.

I sit staring lovingly at my plate of pasta and
think that being old and going on even a dirty
weekend sounds much more appealing than a)
never eating a carbohydrate again and b) being
a Millenial.

And who can afford a week in Ibiza, anyway,
with Millenial offspring, who, we are told, will
live with us until they’re 50 themselves?

Ah, Millenials.

Is it so much better to be young, today, than old?

Awash with all the beauty and privileges of
youth, they have all the heinous stress of having
to be so much better at everything, than we Old
Farts ever were. Just for starters.

Then, the poor darlings, whilst unthinkably busy
being hip, briliant at coding, vegan, tri-lingual,
adept at videography and earnest, they also are,
it seems, obligated, to be on a constant exotic
holidays, in a state of always effortlessly
groomed, Insta-readyness.

It doesn’t sound as much fun to be young, now,
as it was when we were young, tbh. Smiley
winky face emoticon. ( As a Millenial would say.)

We never had to bother with any of that social
media tyranny, styling and impressing other
people, back in the day.

The urgent Millenial pressure to save the world
(which they erroneously and irritatingly believe
our generation has well and truly fucked up,)
must lay heavy across their tattooed shoulders, I
think, to myself.

Shame.

I plug myself in some soothing Siouxee and the
Banshees and log onto Facebook – a happy
middle-aged lady, Millenial-free safe space, if
there ever was one, to whine to my many
equally invisible, unfortunate old biddie
buddies. I post mournfully that I once wrote
glamorous profiles of movie stars and dashed off
coverlines like “ 101 sex positions you’ve got to
try before you turn 30” and now am
commissioned to write a piece about wearing
the cloak of invisibility. I get a
flood of responses.

“ It’s quite nice being invisible.” Says Jane, who
was super cool at high school and now likes
gardening. “ I find it quite restful. I’ve had years
of being bothered. I rather like the fact that I’m
not at all bothered, now.”

“ Who cares if men don’t notice us anymore?”
says another friend. “One man per lifetime, is
enough, thank you very much. If this one
shuffles off, or upgrades me to a younger
version, I’m not going to go out looking for a
new one (Or even a second-hand one. Do I
appear stupid?!) I’ll just join another book club
and take up pottery.”

“ It sounds much more interesting to write
about ageing, than sex positions,” says another,
who has just got some fancy professorship at an
Oxbridge University.

“ Who cares, if we’re all in it together?” says
someone else.

“ Listen, if we want to get into Shady Palms
(trust me, the best retirement home in the City
Bowl,) we’ve got to put our names down now,”
says another. “ Come on. Let’s get a group
together. When we land up there, we can stock
the bar with excellent Scotch and start
cultivating weed in their vege patch. It’ll be fun.”

“ Wait. There are 101 sex positions? I’m sure I
only know 5. How did I get to 50 without
knowing that?” Said someone else.

And finally.
“Listen. If you’re not getting noticed in shops,
don’t stand for it! ACT UP! Get yourself noticed!”
writes yet another one. “ I mean. It’s not like we
actually care, if, as a result of old folks like us
behaving badly, shop assistants don’t like us. At
50 we should all have jumped over the crevasse
of “ Too old to give a toss.” And all our behaviour
should reflect that.”

As I read this final comment, I realise, that the
happiest of my older friends have already done
just this.

They’ve stopped expecting and asking for
attention, affirmation and promotion. Many
have either been edged out or opted out of
conventional jobs. Many have diversified,
changed tack and found a fantastic, satisfying
second act. I suddenly know many more
entrepeneurs, small business owners, life
coaches, teachers, farmers and psycholgists than
I used to.

Granted, society and its prejudices has
not much helped much, (it took me just one
interview with someone a third of my age, and
ten times as patronising, to decide that I was
probably never going to work in a corporate set-
up again.)

The happiest of all of us have rebooted and
disrupted ourselves. Without asking for
permission from Millenials, men, institutions or
shop assistants. And all I can say, is it feels ok.
NO. Not just ok, it feels good.

And. It probably feels very much better to be
old, than ancient. So, I’m going to be grateful and
enjoy my early old age It’s a privilege to have got
so far and in such excellent company, too.

I turn up the volume on my Apple Music and
dance around my lounge. My teenagers are
mortified. But me? Truly? I do not give a toss.

 

 

 

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