Vignettes in Aging – Invisibility

There’s a great Kathy Bates movie where she’s walking through a department store and breezily swipes a tube of lipstick off the counter into her purse. She looks around for other items that she might want to kype. Some may not identify her as a classic thief, and this behavior is something relatively new for her. She’s been doing it ever since, with advancing age, she has become quite invisible. No one is looking to her to steal, so she easily gets away with her brazen act.

It’s true. Old people are invisible in our society.

We no longer warrant the interest or attention compared to younger, more vibrant people. Our appearance is, in general, drabber, our actions are slower and more methodical. Additionally, we’re no longer sought after for new ideas and no longer appealed to in advertising – unless it’s for an erectile dysfunction drug or an apparatus to deal with bladder control.

We are also invisible in our families, often on the edges of gatherings and holiday events. Rightfully so or not, all the focus and attention is on the children.

It used to be elders were considered integral to the family and were sought out for advice and guidance. In general, this no longer occurs unless the family is foreign born, where generations of families have lived together in more integrated activities.

What does it feel like when you walk down the street and others simply don’t see you? Is there anything you can do to increase your visibility? Do you even want to be more visible? Have you noticed that wearing masks has added yet another layer of invisibility?

Perhaps becoming more visible in our old age isn’t up to us. Perhaps there’s nothing we can impact or change. Admittedly, I’ve enjoyed living in a retirement community where the entire population is made up of oldsters and all the attention is on us. The people who work here aren’t hired unless they are interested in and have respect and patience for the older population.

Invisibility for seniors joins other aspects of inclusion, or lack of inclusion. Many minorities and people with disabilities experience the same feelings of being ignored. What can we learn from them?

How do you feel about how visible or invisible you are?