As I awaited my coffee order, a gentleman in a company jacket entered the cafe and quickly skirted customers off the floor runners. Quite efficiently, he whisked away the mats and returned with bright red ones. A young man in his twenties and I observed the process. Through our face masks, we exchanged humored glances. When my coffee was ready, he turned to me and said, “Time to walk that red carpet.” Accepting the challenge, I strutted out of the shop. Why do I remember this exchange so clearly? Because I felt seen.
I’ve spent much of my life seen. My parents asked for my opinion. Strangers in checkout lines engaged me in conversations. Colleagues commented on new sneakers. And occasionally, I even turned a head when crossing the street. I liked it.
Now, I feel invisible. Recently at Anthropologie, I went into a dressing room to try on some pants. A salesperson asked me my name, which she promptly wrote on the whiteboard outside of my room. The room had a small mirror, so I walked out to examine the fit in a larger one. The saleswoman, and two others, stood feet away. They chatted with one another. Not one said a word to me. I quickly slipped back into my room and texted my daughter, who was elsewhere in the store. She found me and offered her thoughts on the pants, which included trying on a different size. Her presence regrounded me.
I’m not sure why women fade in public at a certain age. Maybe it’s because we demand or want or require less attention. We are quieter or less colorful in our blacks, beiges, and greys. Especially in winter, in Seattle. And let me acknowledge that expecting, and missing, positive recognition, especially from strangers, is a form of white privilege. I know that for many women of color, feeling invisible is the norm, and that we also live in a world that all too often profiles and targets them.
I don’t want to disappear. Rather, I long to be seen anew, for the perspectives my age and experience can offer. I also want to be more deliberate about seeing those around me. If we find ourselves in the same fitting area, I’ll be excited to tell you that you’re rocking those jeans.