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Middle-aged Women and Super Powers

The Super Power of Being Invisible

When I was in China last year, it looked to me as if middle-aged women ruled. Instead of sensible black pants and a shirt with sleeves to cover aging arms, they wore every sequin made, toted big flashy bags full of practically everything, colored their hair deep dimestore red and painted their nails inexpertly, wantonly, like 13-year-olds. And they yelled. At each other, at their customers, at their children, always instructing, directing, commanding their worlds. One group of such women entirely monopolized the top deck of our scenic boat ride. They had brought along a photographer to take pictures of themselves in different outfits and scarves and they happily posed, shouting at each other, for the entire ride. They also unapologetically pushed us away when we accidently photo bombed them by just being on the upper deck.

I speak only two words of Mandarin, so maybe I got it wrong. But it seemed like a huge contrast with what I see in the USA: middle-aged women invisibility. I watched an episode of “Frankie and Grace,” a Netflix series aimed at older women who are suddenly single because their former husbands married each other. My favorite episode is where Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin go to a supermarket in the middle of the night and cannot get one of the three young men staffing it to sell them cigarettes. As older women, they are completely ignored. Then a young woman in yoga pants strolls in and all three are at her beck and call. The scene ends with Lily Tomlin stealing a pack of cigs and claiming they may as well take on invisibility as a super power. The series dribbled out with those relatable older woman worries we all have in our multi-million dollar beach houses as we try to borrow $75,000 to start a business from a bank that thinks we are too old. Then I stopped watching because any real businesswoman knows $75k is chump change ($750k is more like it to start a manufacturing business.) Of course a mortgage on the beach house would have made the bankers line up, but no one seemed to think of that. Jane’s wardrobe makes me think there is more collateral somewhere.

The series tanked as the writers explored topics that seem like they don’t get the target market. But the invisibility scene was hilarious – and painful.

Quite a few of my fifty- and sixty-something friends have been laid off and are really worried about their prospects in the job market. (Those friends are both male and female.) We talk about Botox, hair dye and cosmetic surgery like they are magical charms against aging. Maybe looking younger is not the charm. Maybe taking up space as ourselves is.

I don’t really want to look younger, although I would not mind spending a day with my 28-year-old knees. I would much rather gaily and inexpertly paint my nails different colors, squeeze into a red sequin skirt and spend the day on a boat posing with my friends while we took up all the whole place and yelled at each other.

Instead I have perfect Jane Fonda and less perfect (although absolutely divine) Lily Tomlin stealing smokes and begging bankers for pennies.

Belly dancing show

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