Enjoying being in the spotlight, 65-year-old Estelle models an outfit from Jane Linley-Thomas’s ReJoyce Collection during Tafta’s Spectacular Sapphire Soirée last October.

Overcoming invisibility

Guest blog post by Sheila McCallum

As an older woman myself, I have experienced first-hand the strange phenomenon of becoming ‘invisible’ once you reach your fifties and beyond. Not literally, of course. But around menopause, we gradually fade into the background as if we don’t exist, or our lives no longer have any value.

Unfairly, the same thing doesn’t happen to men until they’re much older.

Men in their 50s and 60s are typically viewed as being at the height of their professional and personal lives. Boardrooms are full of older men who are highly valued for their competence and experience. Whereas the value of women is largely linked to their physical appearance and, on a subconscious level, their viability in terms of child bearing.

Ageist, sexist and insulting

Becoming ‘invisible’ is ageist, sexist, and insulting. Especially since at 60, we women are more likely to be wiser, smarter and calmer than we were during the frenetic child raising years.

That’s why it was so interesting to attend the launch of the new Tafta Sawubona initiative recently.

“Sawubona” literally translates into, “I see you”. And it’s Tafta’s push back against the damaging tendency to dismiss older people as being ‘past it’ and irrelevant.

We look but we don’t ‘see’

“We look, but we don’t see,” explains Tafta CEO, Femada Shamam. “It’s important for us to see the value of the individual, and what they can still achieve.”

Through this awareness campaign, younger people are being encouraged to not only notice elders, but to engage with them. To talk to them and listen to what they have to say.

It’s a win-win. Older people feel validated and appreciated, and younger people may discover mentors, and great wells of wisdom behind the wrinkles. It’s like opening the door to a whole new circle of potential friends.

Sawubona Campaign

The idea of the Sawubona Campaign came about after Tafta’s successful 65th Anniversary Sapphire Soirée in October last year. In collaboration with well known local DJ, Jane Linley-Thomas, the event included a fashion show featuring Tafta residents as the models.

After having been accustomed to being invisible for years, the spotlight literally shone on these elders, and they loved it! Each model chose their own background music – with song lyrics that had special meaning in their lives. Strutting their stuff on the modelling ramp was a fantastic affirmation of their value and a tremendous confidence booster.

Modelling Agency

Poignantly, 65-year-old Estelle (pictured above) used to be a model with the Leigh Downing Agency back in the early 80s. At the time, the glamorous world of modelling was pretty much every teenage girl’s dream career. One can imagine, even walking down the street, the young Estelle would never have been invisible!

“As an elder, I thought I’d never be up there on a ramp again,” she said. “Some of the others who’d never modelled before were quite nervous. But I loved every minute!”

Gratitude is key to happiness

Estelle lives at Tafta Lodge, where she’s very active and involved. She believes that gratitude is the key to happiness. Older people are prone to complaining about their aches and pains, among other things. But Estelle prefers to count her blessings. “How lucky am I to be living here?” she asks. “We have everything we need – lovely rooms and wonderful food.”

With the beachfront just a block away, Estelle does a lot of walking and cycling to keep fit. She also enjoys the line dancing sessions at Tafta Lodge. But her life hasn’t been all sunshine and roses.

Widowed at 35

Widowed at 35, Estelle was left to bring up her ten year old son single-handedly. Life was tough but she never thought of remarrying. 

Her son is now well established, with two children of his own. Spending time with her granddaughter (13) and grandson (8) is one of Estelle’s greatest blessings. She is fortunate to have regular contact with her family and be included in their activities.

Try it for yourself

I enjoyed the few moments it took to really ‘see’ Estelle and to hear about her life. Why not try it for yourself? Start by making eye contact with an older person while you’re out shopping, and giving them a friendly smile. You have no idea how much this could mean to someone who often feels invisible.

For those who have more time to get actively engaged, Tafta is currently running sessions at some of their Homes, where you can use ‘conversation cards’ to break the ice and start a conversation with the elders. Please contact Kemmy-Leigh Moodley on 031 332 3721 or idpr@tafta.org.za to find out more.