The Visible Woman by Miriam Sagan

It is not the world’s job to see us. It is our job to see the world.
On a pleasantly rainy day this July I had two disparate experiences. I read about how older women don’t feel seen and I got “hey babied” in my neighborhood.
Not feeling seen is of course a sad state. It can derive from—and lead to—depression. So what do we mean when we say we don’t feel seen?
On the most superficial level, it might mean that for women being young and conventionally attractive was once a source of esteem that has now faded. You can deconstruct this however you want, but for me the bottom line is I’ve never felt safe entrusting my sense of self to the passing glances of strangers. I was amused to get “hey babied” although let me confess—the dudes in question were pretty antique. However, if this never happens again, I’m not going to care.
And that’s because being old is not making me more insecure. And also, although many men are very important to me as spouse, family members, and friends—I don’t care about what “men” in general think of me.
OK, I’ll admit it. I don’t hate being old. And don’t tell me—you’re not old. Because I patently am. I’m old enough for social security. I’m only seven years younger than my maternal grandmother was when she died at what was then considered a ripe old age. I’ve been widowed. I can remember dial telephones. Trust me on this, when I feel the amazingly rich weight of my own life experience I do not feel young.
Probably in part I feel seen because I’m loud and noisy, I wear bright patterns and colors, and I often laugh hysterically in public…I’m sure people look at me and think “I wish that woman in polka dots would keep it down!”
On a deeper note, I think one reason I feel seen is that I’m connected to my community. I run into people I know all day in my smallish city. Does this mean everyone know me for who I really am? No, that is reserved for an intimate few. And that’s what I prefer.
Another thing—maybe the most important—I see myself. I take off all my clothes and dance around to loud music. (Anyone watching might think—I wish that naked woman would keep it DOWN). I drape myself with scarves and look deeply into my own eyes. I try on different outfits and shake (aspiring to be like Tina Turner in her sixties) in the mirror. I do not ask myself to enumerate my physical flaws, my many ailments. Instead, I say—looking good, Mir. I’m not in denial. I don’t think I’m young. I’m just happy to be alive and able to dance and I want to share that with someone special. Myself.

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