Thus, I figured by enrolling in a university with approximately 50,000 students, I would be able to disappear into the crowd. Surely no one would know whom I was there. I took a few "weed out" classes my first semester: huge lecture sections which required students to perform well enough to survive the college experience. They were meant to fail those who couldn't handle advanced work in the future. My government class was one of them. It wasn't a class I wanted to take, but it was a degree requirement. After the first exam, we had to go up to the various TAs and claim our blue books. As I said my name to the TA who had my paper, she looked at me and said, "Oh. You got the highest grade on the exam." My response was not what the typical response would have been at that point. The one word that went through my head was "CRAP!" I wanted to blend into the crowd, not be easily identified by a TA who had never met me before. This was exactly what I had been hoping to avoid!
As I have gotten older, I have noticed something that has changed greatly in my world. I'm now an overweight, middle-aged and disabled woman. When I am attending events in person, I seem to disappear from the sight of those around me, especially middle-aged men. Some days I start to question if I am even visible even though I am pretty sure I am still in flesh and blood form. There's a popular story in natural healing communities about the arrival of Columbus' ships in the West Indies. Supposedly the only natives who could see the ships were the shamans. This was because the other natives were not used to seeing something that their mind could not identify. Rather than seeing the ships as something unusual or different, the natives saw nothing at all. While I'm skeptical about the authenticity of the story, it illustrates a powerful point: Some of us only see what we want to see. All other things disappear. Thus, as I am a woman who is not in my prime of beauty or fitness, parts of society would prefer not to see me and often try to avoid me.
I experienced this most recently at the event I attended last Friday night. I have attended this group once before about two years ago, I think. There are over 1000 members on this group's Facebook page, so it's not a small membership. I had forgotten that they have the awful custom of calling out newbies and focusing attention on them. While I realize that many people think this is a great way of recognizing and welcoming new members to make them feel wanted and to get them to return, for introverts it is often undesired attention. Once introverts have found the strength to attend a new group of people they don't know, the last thing they want is to be singled out for attention. However, one of the leaders asked during a momentary break who was new there that night. One of the young men was, and he was happy to engage with the leader. The leader then moved on to the man next to the new attendee who was someone who had not attended in a long time. After that, the leader looked around at the remaining people who happened to be all female and said, "All of you are regulars" or something to that effect. I was puzzled. While I was grateful not to have been singled out for attention, I was also surprised at how I had once again managed to disappear from the sight of this man.
This is not an unusual occurrence in our society. There are many people whom our society would prefer not to see. The homeless, the disabled, and many minorities are at the top of the list. These groups make many feel uncomfortable. A lot of people think that by avoiding their gaze, these "undesirables" will vanish if not literally, at least long enough to pretend they don't exist. As an overweight, disabled, middle-aged woman, I've unfortunately experienced this "disappearing trick" many try to play with me in hopes that by avoiding my gaze, they won't have to admit that I am there. It's a sad state of affairs when our society wants to pretend that many people who are a part of our human family don't exist. Those people are there, and no matter how much you try to ignore them, they will not go away. The only thing individuals prove by diverting their gazes is that they have much personal work to do in the area of acceptance.
© 2015 Elizabeth Galen, Ph.D., Green Heart Guidance, LLC