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To Be or Not To Be...Seen

Next week I’ll celebrate one of those birthdays that seem to declare on greeting cards, medical forms that lump you into a certain category that just says…”your age and over” and the endless bombardment of targeted advertising warning me to act now before time runs out because…Girl, you old!

Am I aging? Of course. Old? Hold your horses! You best grab yourself a coke and settle in ‘cause we’re fixin’ to have a sit down talk.

Most of us remember the recent backlash when a news anchor made the statement that a woman, who was 51 years old at the time, was ‘past her prime.’ I think that moment will go down in history as the Gasp Heard ‘Round the World as millions of women, on both sides of the pond and the political aisle, refused to let that one slide.

Past my prime? That’s a load of hooey!

Did you know there’s a thing called “Invisible Women Syndrome?” Let me guess…a group of highly motivated creative whippersnappers were threatened that if they didn’t come up with a foolproof marketing campaign that would put the fear of the Lord in women who weren’t yet persuaded to buy their product, they and their highfalutin jobs would become invisible! Bless their hearts.

Invisible Women Syndrome is a social phenomenon that, like many theories, spread like wildfire through the power of social networks. It most likely began as a valid complaint from women being overlooked for promotions or equal opportunities in the work place. Then, perhaps, HR gave it a name and a bonafide category in which to file such accusations and gather data so right action would occur. But, as we are all too aware, it only takes a post or tweet to spark a fire and before we knew what was happening it had grown into a red hot blazing belief. Inequities? Yes. Invisible? Let’s discuss that.

In a culture that caters to and celebrates doing our gosh darned best to defeat mother nature and gravity, trying to remain young looking by whatever means necessary (because, news flash, you can look younger but that calendar ain’t gonna lie!), we have a choice.

I choose to color my hair (I know you’re shocked that I’m not a natural blonde!) Some of my friends said goodbye to Ms. L’Oréal, embraced the gray and are absolutely fabulous! We have choices.

I chose to not wear ridiculously uncomfortable shoes but some of the most amazing women I've seen are in their 80's wearing the heels, all the colors, have millions of Instagram followers and are considered fashion icons. I love that for them! I like blue jeans and flip flops. Either way, it’s our choice!

However, as long as you’re living, you cannot chose to stop aging and keep living. So, what do you choose to do with that fact?

I’m certainly not the first to talk about entering and living this part of life. In fact, and hallelujah can I get an amen, there are more positive discussions than ever about women in the second and third acts of life and the opportunities for embarking on new adventures both personally and professionally. We have choices out the wazoo!

It can feel like we, women over 50, begin to fade away and become irrelevant, overshadowed by the vibrant energy of the younger women if we buy into the lie. Why? Because the ‘beauty’ (previously labeled ‘anti-aging’) industry and the advertising agencies that are paid millions to perpetuate that narrative literally want us to buy into it. We have been programmed to be afraid of aging and fear is the greatest marketing motivator of human behavior.

Here’s what one website says about Invisible Women Syndrome - “If a woman is not seen as being either attractive or a filling the role of a mother, there is an underlying belief that they no longer have any supposed influence and are then often ignored or deemed ‘invisible.”

That’s just hogwash!

Invisible? Invisible to who? Ignored by who? Of no influence to who? Who are we not getting recognition from that makes us feel invisible? By whose standards are we measuring attractiveness? Who are we choosing to believe we must be seen by that will validate our worth? If you are starting to feel invisible maybe you should stop looking through a warped mirror that distorts your reflection.

The first time someone says you look great followed by the words…’for your age’ can make you want to chew up nails and spit out a barbed wire fence! Now you’re presented with a choice…how do you respond? In less than a split second you might feel both complimented and insulted and that clash of emotions can send you spiraling down into a serious self-pity party. You can wallow in that shock for days on end or you can enthusiastically reply with “thank you…so do you!” Trust me - it’s a perfect, leave 'em speechless response as I was privy to witness that one performed in real time by a beautiful, sassy 75 year old woman.

Maybe, as the much older folks like to say, you were quite the firecracker in your youth, able to light up the sky with your sparkle and boom. But those fuses are short and burn out quickly. Once the flash is over, do you let yourself to fade away like the night sky after the 4th of July fireworks extravaganza?

As Henry David Thoreau said, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” You have a choice…look only on the outside or choose to look at the woman you are beneath those well earned wrinkles. You have laugh lines? How fantastic! That means you have joy in your life and something to laugh about. Sunspots? Lucky you! You were able to get outside and feel the warmth of the sun.

Wear the make up or go au natural. Try the latest trends or let them just go right on by. Stay stuck in your old beliefs or be open to change. Blame the left or the right for the demise of humanity or use your voice, your wisdom and life experience to contribute wherever you are through compassion and empathy. Every day you make these choices either consciously or out of a habitual, unconscious mindset. The question is…how do you choose to be seen?

They say you can run but you cannot hide but that’s not true either. You absolutely can hide. If you believe you’re invisible then you’ll find reasons to make sure you’re not seen. And truthfully, that’s your choice too. If you’ve been in the spotlight most of your life, in spaces of influence and you suddenly, or even slowly, find yourself being overlooked it can be incredibly painful. But, perhaps you’re exhausted from playing by someone else’s rules and can finally breathe a sigh relief…like going home and putting on your comfy pants after the all you can eat buffet. Admit it, you’ve done it, too!

You may think you’re invisible but daughters and granddaughters, your own and those you don’t even know by name, are watching you, looking to you for what they will be one day. They see you. Can you see the beautiful you behind the mask you’ve felt pressured to wear too long? What lights you up inside?

Celebrating another birthday lights me up! Cake with so many candles that some cornball relative says “call the fire department” lights me up. Laughing so hard I almost split my britches lights me up! A pair of britches I don't have to force myself to squeeze into lights me up! Being loved just for being myself lights me up! Trying something new, being bold enough to post this blog and believing that the best is yet to come lights me up!

So happy birthday to me! I receive this gift of being another year older with open arms and a grateful heart for allowing me to become a little less visible and little more seen.

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