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  • Kathy Shimpock

The Cost of Being Invisible. Sometimes older women are not seen, but other times they simply choose to fade away.

Both my mother and father died the first week of June many years apart.

Each year, I reflect on what I learned from them and what they might say to me if they were alive today. It’s a time for reflection and to celebrate having them in my life. This year was no exception, only what I learned changed. My mother, you see, died in 2001, but her footprint disappeared much earlier. Some time after the age of 60, she started to shy away. Not in what she said or did, but her actual footprint in the world got less and less. At the time, it didn’t make a lot of sense. I’m much clearer these days as to what was actually going on.

She started to disappear without a trace.

Perhaps that’s a bit extreme, but bear with me. Some time after my wedding, when my mom was 65 years young, it began. The photos stopped, the videos failed to capture her essence, and no trace of her voice was recorded. She didn’t like her appearance and so she no longer wanted to be photographed. She would protest loudly and scurry out of any family gathering in which photos were taken (and we took lots of photos). Now, you might see my mom’s elbow or her knee, but no face, no body. Nada, nothing after the age of 65 until she died at the age of 83. While she was there at every event, there is no evidence of her now. She remains only in our memories. She disappeared without a trace.

Fortunately, my dad was different. He’s there at every event, as the elder. There are pictures of him holding a great grand-child and one blowing out the candles of his 100th birthday cake. And even more wonderful are the videos of him dancing with each of us. He was quite neat and fastidious about his appearance (even as he got older), but I don’t think he ever worried or fretted about his aging appearance. He looked pretty handsome to us and like most men he didn’t carry the weight of the need to “look good.” He was always more concerned about staying healthy than anything else.

But when I think about my mom, I feel a sadness to know how she struggled with self-esteem.

In a certain way, it seems incomprehensible. She never wore a lot of makeup. She was beautiful to all of us just as she was. She had a streak of white in her hair that was quite striking. It came in when she was 16 after a head injury. She had incredible green eyes and a personality that never quit. She reminded me of Myrna Loy, the actress in the 1940’s films. She was so smart and talented, I never would have imagined her lacking confidence. Yet, there she was cowering away. “Mom! Come join the party!” we said time and again.

Women have it hard in the Western world no matter our age.

There is a beauty culture that is hard to break through. Most women can tell you exactly what they HATE about their body. Those thoughts have been put in our heads by advertisers who want to sell us Botox or cosmetics or vitamins or who knows what. The reality is that just like my mom, we are beautiful. We aren’t too fat or too thin, too young or too old, no matter what our thoughts tell us. We are women in all its glorious and many expressions.

What’s important is that we are healthy or that we are working towards being healthy.

Imagine your family, your friends. Do you ever think you’d love them more, if only they were a bit more beautiful? I can’t say that I feel good about how I look. That wouldn’t be true. It’s hard to let go of our culture. But then again, I don’t think I ever have. I don’t think I ever related to being pretty. So I can choose to either make the best of what life has given me at 70, or choose to be miserable. I prefer instead to follow the role model of my dad.

And so, this week I made a video for my grand-niece who is my favorite dance partner. Years ago, we watched the film “The Scorpion King” together. Then we created the Scorpion King dance. My daughter told me the video wasn’t very flattering. She said I had a crazed expression on my face. I’m sure that was true. I sent the video anyway to make my niece laugh. I decided I’d rather be the dancing fool than to step back from life. Confucius said “Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.” I hope to see beauty in all things and all stages of life. I hope to even see beauty within myself. If beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder, then to my grand-niece, I will always be the Scorpion King!

Journal Questions:

  1. How has aging impacted your self-worth?

  2. Do you struggle with your body image?

  3. What ideas of beauty have been enculturated within you?

  4. How do you accept what “is”?

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