Becoming Visible

It has been a trope of life as a middle-aged woman that one drops into invisibility as one ages. This is because our culture only sees those who are playing the mating game (or might play) as worthy of notice. But something that hasn’t been noticed is that many of us in this year of our Lord two thousand twenty one have chosen deliberate invisibility. We have chosen to pull ourselves back from the millieu in which we swim.

The observer’s life is now the norm. Moving into the realm of the observed is an act of bravery – there are a lot of armchair warriors, and they will judge you and gossip about you – if you’re lucky, and you’re considered worthy of observation. It’s safe to be an observer.

The transition into visibility is a minefield of self-esteem sabotaging moments. Are you shining brightly enough to be in front of the fishbowl? Are you “enough” to be seen? If you’re not seen and commented on immediately, does that make you too small, not worth noticing – not really real, after all?

You see a division in the people around you out in the world. Some of them have chosen deliberate ways of being very visible, ways to make themselves “different”. Sometimes they choose up tribes, the Karens vs. the Goths vs. the Hipsters. But far too many of us just try to meld into the background. We wear clothing that is comfortable, clothing that looks like everyone else’s clothing. We don’t show our individuality, because we don’t want it to be seen.

We are only functioning in the outside world, not participating in it – or so we like to think. As we flow from one human interaction to the next, we know that we’re unlikely to see many of these people again in this lifetime. (I speak as someone in a busy, highly mobile area of the country). What does it matter how we represent ourselves to the shopgirl or the at the postoffice? The only people who are going to notice us work there. And even there, there’s enough turn-over in most retail jobs that we’re not exactly starting a long-term relationship. The death of casual community is part of the cause of the plague of invisibility… or perhaps they are mutually working together to drive us all out to our screens, only ever looking in?

But this is, of course, all an illusion. You are really affecting the people with whom you interact, not just the people with whom you interact intentionally. If you drive poorly, you affect the other drivers. If you smile at the clerk, or give your place in line, you’re affecting the people in the grocery store. If you scowl at them, you’re affecting them. There is no “I’m not here”, and so there should not be, “so don’t look at me”.

Okay, you say – I’ve accepted that I am actually being observed, observed all the time, not just when I’m at work. But how do I move into being visible, being seen? How do I give up my status as a wallflower? How do I move into being visible?

Well, first it helps to make a list of what you want to say about yourself and where you’d like to move. (See my first book, Wardrobe Communication). Second, you’re going to need to clear your throat and speak your existence loud and proud. You need to accept the raw materials you’ve got today and just work with them. Don’t apologize for who you are! But be that person loudly – especially as you’re getting used to being one of the seen.

What does that mean? That means that you need to have something about you that is worthy of comment, whether that’s a great neckline or a chunky bracelet that excites interest. Red lips or purple – that’s up to you, but the humans around you will see your lips – so what are you going to do with them?

It means that you have to get out in the world and place yourself where you will be seen by others – by strangers, not just the people at the same grocer you see every day. It means becoming a deliberate participant in public life. And maybe that means that you’re engaging in screens as you do a bit of advertising online – but it has to mean that you’re offline, being there. Being alive.

Why are you here? What’s your purpose? That’s something you need to consider. If you accept the Christian thesis that we are here to give God glory, if you accept that we’re here to evangelize, you can’t escape the fact that you’re going to need to deal with people. Beyond those basics, to which we are all called, what are YOU called to do? What are your gifts? I’m an exhorter. I might be an introvert but my gifts are interpersonal. I can’t do what God has called me to do in my life if I hide. If no one knows that I am here, how are they going to know that they can use the tools that I carry?

Our culture wants to tell us that the world is a fishbowl and only a few of us are really “here”. That’s not true. Every single one of us is here, every single one of us has work to do. Did you truly think Jesus put you on this earth to fold laundry and watch movies?

And so. And so. We return to our muttons – how do you do it?

Wear the clothes that speak “you”, not the clothes that speak, “I’m not here”. Be in the places where you can be seen. Make some eye contact. Smile. Start up a conversation with a new human. Embrace your calling in life and move towards it.

None of us is invisible, and neither are the people around us. Let’s humanize ourselves, and humanize one another. Maybe – we might change the world.

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