Do women become invisible in middle age? Inspirational women show me otherwise.
It’s 29 March, 2021 and I’m sitting in a lecture hall in Causeway Bay, attending an orientation session for a Monash University Master of Counselling course. The room contains a diverse group of about 30 other students. I look around and hear the familiar voice of self-doubt chattering into my ear “Am I the oldest person here? Can my foggy menopausal brain even handle textbook comprehension and essay assignments at 50? What am I doing here?” I pull out my iPhone and calculate that it’s been 27 years since my last academic assignment (because I can’t do mental math either).
We take turns doing a brief introduction. Many of the students are teachers or have had experience in related helping professions. Then it’s my turn, “Hi, I’m Jill. I’ve been a professional photographer for the last 15 odd years but studied psychology in undergrad and hold a Masters in Developmental Psychology from Columbia U from a million years ago. I am naturally curious about people through my photography work and love to understand people’s stories. I’ve decided to return to this study to deepen my understanding and gain the skills so I can become a counsellor. I’m a single mom with two daughters and looking forward to starting my next phase of life. So here I am.”
Note the self-deprecating humor and need to prove my validity by mentioning a degree from almost three decades ago. “Uggghh, that sounded stupid Jill. Cringe.”, the voice tells me. A few more students speak, and then I hear a bright voice from the right side of the room. “Hi, I’m Amy Yip, I’m 70 years old. I retired from a career in finance 10 years ago, I’m still consulting and active on a few boards and I’ve decided to pursue counseling now as my next career so that I can stay relevant”. Ding, ding, ding, goes the bell in my head… now that is an interesting woman. She has a story, and I’m already inspired to learn more about Amy Yip.
A few months into my studies and supervised clinical practice I am honored to hear the brave stories from quite a few women in the same mid-life stage as me and I’m become acutely aware of the strengths of these incredible women who are transitioning their careers, identities, and familial roles. And I see some of the fear in uncertainty, negative self-talk, and anxiety that I’ve experienced which often accompanies big life changes. In one session, I’m sitting across from a beautifully stylish, eloquent, accomplished woman who survived cancer, runs a consulting business and is still actively seeking to challenge her cognitive patterns to improve her well-being. She said, “You know Jill, at this age [mid 50’s], women become invisible.” What?! This woman is one of the most interesting people I’ve met recently, everyone should see her. Immediately I balk, “Wow, you are anything but invisible,” and at that moment my inspiration for Visible was born.
According to a recent report from Allied Market Research, the global cosmetics industry is expected to reach USD $463.5 billion by 2027. Fortune Business Insights predicts the global cosmetic surgery market size will rise to USD $66.96 billion by 2026. Just this week an ad for Botox and face fillers popped up on my Facebook page and asked “Are you becoming invisible in mid-life? Do you want to be able to visit your daughter at university and not embarrass her?” Well, I hate to tell you Zuckerberg, but I will continue to relish in embarrassing my daughters anywhere with wrinkles or without, but that’s a story for another time. As much as marketers are slowly becoming more inclusive to “real women” with curvier shapes, varying ethnicities, and models older than 18, companies are still cashing in on our insecurities hand over fist. Through Visible, I want to photograph, feature, and inspire other women through the stories of women who are 50+ years strong.
Which brings me back to Amy Yip. It’s now the beginning of August and we’re chatting over a glass of wine (we both like ours “white, dry and very crisp” in Amy’s words) at ThinkWine in SoHo, along with two other Monash students. Among her many life accomplishments, Amy holds an MBA from Harvard (1978), was the Executive Director of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority until 2006, was the Hong Kong CEO of DBS Bank until 2011 and was the founding partner of RAYS Capital Partners since her semi-retirement. I am gleeful when she agrees to be my first subject for Visible. She tells me that she was inspired by her mother, has no family left but is surrounded by friends, and has four dogs. She laughs when I tell her that I have three dogs now, and anything over two officially makes us crazy dog ladies. She goes on to say that age has no factor in her decision-making, and in fact a good friend of hers started medical school at 73. I’m already hooked, and I can’t wait to learn more.
Take a look at the next blog post for the first of the Visible series, “I see you Amy Yip” to hear Amy’s words of wisdom.
Published August 2021, www.hongkongliving.com