The Invisible Woman: Taking on the Vintage Years
Published in U.K. By Icon Books
paperback edition 2015
Distributed in Australia and New Zealand by Alan &Unwin Pty Ltd
Author Helen Walmsley-Johnson
5 star review
Sixty is the new forty, we're constantly told. Or is it that seventy is the new fifty?
Yet fashionable clothes shops cater for little but elfin twenty-year-olds; magazines carry little but articles about appearing younger. Heaven forbid you try to apply for a job...
Older women are permitted to be either part of the slippers and cardigans brigade, or to cling desperately to their youth and insist on being 'young at heart'. Can't there be a third way? A way to age with grace, security, beauty and adventure, and a way to keep your identity against a growing tide of voices telling you how you'd be happier if only you looked ten years younger.
Covering topics from family, finances and work to cosmetics, fashion and sex, The Invisible Woman - which is also Helen's Guardian column nom de plume - is a new sort of book about ageing; one that teaches us not how to avoid it, but how to enjoy it, grow with it, and thrive.
As stated in the opening lines, most of those reading this book will be women in their middle years, and that's certainly true as far as this reader goes. Being a tad older than Helen Walmsley-Johnson I can relate to much of what she has to say as, I'm sure, do so many others.
I didn't know what to expect from this book, I wasn't sure if it was for me because I don't quite fit with either the slippers and cardigan brigade (though I do own both) or the clinging to youth mob. Well, I've read it now, even re-read several parts, and yes, this book is for me, it's a book for all women. Many men would do well to read it it too
This is about how one woman faced and overcame the odds. The story of how she arrived at the place she is now. Helen describes herself as being a boom and bust person, and I have to say, the evidence sure supports that statement, talk about a roller coaster ride! Some life events are described quite succinctly, yet in themselves could provide the topic for a whole new book, for instance:
Helen, as expected of us back then, was duly married and that marriage provided her with security, a comfortable life and children, and then? bust! Can you imagine losing not only that lifestyle, but far worse, the custody of your three children as the result of a nasty divorce? The stress of the fight to win them back and then, with next to no money, provide a home for them? She did that, she used her wits and intelligence to find work when there was little to find simply because she had to, as mothers do.
When her children were grown up she returned to full time work but lost her job. This is the part where Helen meets both ageism and the lack of work opportunities. Unable to find satisfying work, at the age of 45 she decides to go for "boom" again, up sticks and move to London to get herself a good job. Well, O.K. say it quickly and it doesn't sound much, but think about it, that is brave! I can remember going to London to work, in my forties, feeling overwhelmed by everything and everyone rushing everywhere, yet I had the security of a job and accommodation!
She must have been darned good though, as eventually (with quite a story in between) she became PA to the editor in chief of The Guardian where her job description is pretty awe-inspiring, making and editing films, arranging high powered meetings, attending social events and being a fixer. Let's not forget too of course, her "Vintage Years" column which was my introduction to Helen Walmsley-Johnson, even though she was invisible at that time.
I love Helens thoughts on cosmetic surgery, so spot on, amusing, yet somehow a sad aspect of what is becoming the social norm for those women desperately seeking a youthful appearance. However, I've no idea what "vajazzling" is, I didn't want to google it though, for fear of dropping dead and someone finding it on my browsing history.
Thanks to Helen relating a few personal anecdotes I now feel better about waking up at 3am, much better, because now I know it's actually an investment, not merely a bloody nuisance! Oh! and then there's The Lipstick Phenomenon, yes I've noticed that too, no wonder red is still the most popular colour sold. We can't do anything to stop the ageing process but Helen does give out some jolly good advice on how to live with it, how to make the best of it and be comfortable with ourselves.
There's one part of the book which does stick in my mind, it's about defining the middle years, of conforming to those boundaries as perceived by others. Helen observes something I hadn't given much thought to, that it's usually the young who feel uncomfortable with any signs of non-conformity amongst the wrinklies. Well, fair enough I suppose, nobody wants their granny to be seen out clubbing dressed like a Cher knock off. Then again (and this is my opinion) isn't it the duty of older people to embarrass the young?
To be honest, I find this book hard to categorise, it doesn't quite fit the usual self help, social commentary or memoir genres, what its not though is a lighthearted romp through the life and times of a lady who copes, goodness knows, we all cope, but it is rather the story of a woman of courage, strength and determination. Oh sure, the writing is warm, funny and inviting, and the style, it's so charming, so understated that the author makes it easy for us to minimise or even gloss over the sheer magnitude of her achievements.
I highly recommend this book, I'd love young women to read it despite the fact that I suspect I wouldn't have, or, even if I had, probably wouldn't of taken a blind bit of notice.
Disclaimer. This book is my own copy I received no compensation for this review