Age: The Invisible Woman – What I see when I look in the mirror

Age: The Invisible Woman – What I see when I look in the mirror

We've got a special treat for you today. The Guardian's Invisible Woman (aka Helen Walmsley-Johnson) has taken a break from penning her style column for older women to tell us what she sees in the mirror. Prepare to be moved.

I’ve just looked in the mirror and I think there are two versions of me, one overlapping the other. There’s the ‘me’ on the surface – the one I’m most used to seeing and who people know best – and then there’s the Helen who’s slightly to the side and behind. It’s a bit like double vision and most of us have it I think. I always look at eyes – my own and other people’s – and I noticed a new seriousness in mine when I first became a mother, as though a more mature version of me had split away. Each experience enjoyed or trial survived leaves its mark behind the eyes. I feel I’m made up of layers, like Welsh slate. Sometimes I find things the other way around and glimpse a phantom reflection of the girl I used to be. That sounds sad but it’s not – I’m glad to see her there because she reminds me of all the things I’ve done and how far I’ve come.

I’ve had to struggle quite a lot in life. My mother died when I was 20 and that seemed to fracture our family. I don’t think we ever really recovered and I’ve learned to be self-sufficient as a result. I wish mum could have seen the woman I’ve become. I think sometimes I step outside myself and try to see me as she would see me. I’m older than she was now and it feels like new uncharted territory because there’s no one to ask.

I’ve got three grown-up daughters and brought them up mostly on my own after a divorce. We came out of that with nothing, not a penny, and it was down to me to support us so I did whatever work I could and somehow kept us going. I think at one point I was doing five different jobs but it meant that I was there when they needed me and we were happy. I’m a do-er not a panicker. If there’s a problem it gets dealt with, although I find I’ve even less patience with idiots now!

On a practical level I see a few crow’s feet, a loopy smile and good teeth. I thank my grandmother for my lack of wrinkles and my parents for making me wear a dental brace. I see there’s a spot on my chin, which is impressive for a woman pushing 60. Sometimes I look at myself and think I probably need to sleep for a week but I’d rather be challenged than bored. I’ve grown to like the person I see looking back at me. She can be a bit stroppy and often gets angry about things she believes are wrong or unfair but her heart’s in the right place and she thinks a lot and deeply. You can see that from the way she looks back at you.

So many thanks to Helen for such an honest, beautiful answer – you can keep in touch by following her on Twitter: @TheVintageYear


2 Comments - Add yours


Searingly honest and beautiful writing. Good wishes to you.

By Barbara on 22 May 2014 at 19:30

I lost my mother two and a half years ago. Some mornings, when I peer into the mirror, I see her looking back at me,curiously,wondering how I came to look so much like her.
I keep my hair straight,fringed and natural,perhaps to play down the resemblance, but I still see her,some mornings, peeping out of my eyes,and am comforted.

By Lyn on 27 May 2014 at 11:51