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The Vanishing Older Woman-Part 1

The last time a gentleman walked through a door ahead of me, and let it close in my face, I had a “word” with him. It was along the lines of, “I’m sure you’d love it if someone slammed a door in your mothers face!” He gave me a blank stare which led me to conclude:

  • he was raised by wolves
  • his mother taught him no manners
  • he was a Neanderthal clod

But it also made me feel invisible.

Midlife and senior women are certainly “having their moment”. Large fashion houses and cosmetic giants are naming us, the face of this and the spokesperson for that. It’s about time and awesome!

But the average older woman is still struggling with feelings of invisibility.

 

The Vanishing Older Woman

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As we age, we’re less likely to be noticed for our appearance which can sting.

Some women feel relief and love flying under the radar of society’s pressure to look a certain way. They revel in the freedom to march to their own drummer…even/especially if it’s got a funky beat.

The Vanishing Older Woman

 Invisibility

I remember the moment I first felt it…I was 46.
My daughter and I were headed to the theater in London. She’d just graduated and we were on a mother-daughter celebratory holiday. The traffic was at a standstill, so I paid the cabbie and we jumped out to dash the last few blocks. The sidewalks were crowded with busy commuters. As we wove through them, I noticed/felt the familiar heads turning my way…but they weren’t looking at me.

How women feel wearing the cloak of invisibility
They were admiring my beautiful daughter.

A small jolt went through me. Nothing earth shaking, but I knew it was important.

It felt like a page had turned for me, a shift had happened.

A loss of something.

A loss of power.

My power of visibility.

 

Does losing visibility at midlife matter?

  1. It matters because it affects our self-confidence.
  2. It matters because we have much wisdom to share that may not be heard.
  3. It matters because self-confidence affects our happiness.
  4. It matters because our happiness is crucial.
  5. It matters because it seriously pisses me off.

 

I’ve managed to maintain my visibility for the most part and was feeling pretty on top of my game until a few weeks ago.

While waiting in line for a dressing room, a woman my age, waltzed right past me and demanded she get a room. I’m usually a take no hostages, suffer no fools or injustice kind of woman. But in this case, I was speechless. Highly unusual for me.

I was dressed nicely, my hair was done, accessories in place, makeup on etc…but I was invisible. To be honest, this woman was simply rude and her delusional feelings of superiority rendered me invisible to her. But it unearthed feelings I want to look at. Older women’s visibility or lack thereof, in a short series. For my own sanity.

Do you remember the first time you felt the invisibility?

Does it bother you?

 

Part 2 of this series continues here.

Part 3 of this series is here.

 

 

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99 Comments

  1. I have really enjoyed reading not only the post but all the comments. I think this is a subject where people take on their own life experiences and find their own. Some people miss being out of the limelight whereas others thrive. My own mother still managed to turn heads well into her late 50’s. But she was always telling me and my friends never to let looks be the main characteristic bc that would go on how well you age. But then one of my mother’s friends who was very beautiful enjoyed disappearing bc it made people realize she was actually smart. Great post Jennifer!

    1. Thanks CSW. I think intelligent women are beautiful! It’s inevitable that our looks will fade, but I hate to be discounted simply because of my age!

  2. Great article – so many important points. I’ve felt invisible – now and then. Rude people that look past you can make you invisible as well as the arrogance that blocks out everything beyond the end of their own noses. Noses captured repeatedly in interminable selfies. LOOKING outward, seeing the world, people, colour, architecture, life – this is how we develop our personal style. So much time looking inward is producing a too many people like the ‘dressing room’ woman – people who will happily follow fashion, rather than lead with their unique style. My 2nd-hand style blog has actually helped me become more visible (with almost no photos of myself). Thanks for your thoughts! Good to know we see each other.

    1. Thanks for sharing Anmarie. You’re so right about looking outward. Fashion is the magazines a nd manufacturers, style is us:)

  3. Jennifer. I have to tell you my first reaction when I read this post was, “god I like this woman.” You have something to say and you never fail to make me smile while you’re saying it. That opening bit about the ‘gentleman’ was too funny. But I appreciate that it’s a pretty powerful topic you raise and it’s got me intrigued. I have to think about it a bit. I don’t have a daughter but I can imagine the feelings you describe. And the woman in the dressing room who made you feel invisible. Although I’m inclined to think that was less to do with your age and more to do with her god-awful personality. I’m sure she could care less if you were 20 or 50 she would still plow rudely ahead. Anyway I’m blathering, but thanks for sharing your experiences. They’re ones we can all relate to.

    1. I agree about the woman in the dressing woman. You just can’t fix rude. I’m enjoying reading our varying experiences with visibility. I do see them as two distinct behaviors. I’m not planning to go quietly into obscurity, but completely appreciate how happy some women are to fly under the radar. I think you’re pretty terrific too

  4. Hi Jennifer, First, you are a beautiful woman and far from invisible! The kind of visibility on the street to ‘men’ is a different kind. I’m not too sad at the loss or lessening of that attention. I experienced the same scenario with my daughter a few years ago. It felt strange and made me realize in a split second how far in my life journey I am. Skidding into middle age and sliding into the grey years. Weird because I still feel 21. Great topic!

    1. Thanks Lisa! I don’t want men looking at me either, but I don’t want to be discounted. I only feel my age when I’ve been sitting in one place for too long…then my joints scream my real age! It was unnerving when it happened to me, obviously, because I still remember the feeling years later!

  5. Great post, my dear, and I am delighted to be part of the discussion. When I see a picture of your beautiful daughter, I see her beautiful mother.

    Had I been lucky enough to have a daughter, I like to think I would be saying proudly, “Do you see that pretty girl over there? She’s my daughter. Isn’t she lovely? And, BTW, young man, Mom was pretty hot in her day, too!”

    Cheers, M-T

    1. I do point out my beautiful daughter. I want her to own her beauty and appreciate it now. This was fun. I loved getting both our perspectives on this topic. Until part 2!
      xoxo

  6. Hi Jennifer,

    It appears to me that the woman in question had a major case of ‘ego’. Often times when people are pushy ,loud or demanding can indicate a false sense of their power. Don’t let them get to you, I believe,it actually shows a lack of self esteem.
    Those of us who try to be gracious, wait our turn and are nice to others will always ‘win’ in the end. By win I mean we will have a sense of peace about ourselves. I bet if you could read her mind ultimately you would find that she is probably not a happy person and the only way she finds to combat that is to be unkind and rude to others.

    I don’t think about my age that much. I have just turned 61 and feel quite young for my age. Like you,I keep myself looking nice by always being groomed and yes I wear fashionable clothes but am not a slave to fashion. I exercise, sing in choir and do a number of other things too, I also watch what I eat. I’m at an age now where I don’t care what anybody else feels about me, but I do care about how I treat others.
    You appear to be a lovely person, don’t let the ‘angry birds’ (lol) get to you.

    Jackie

    1. Thanks Jackie. You’re absolutly right about her. Funny enough, my next post is on dignity which goes hand in hand with graciousness:).
      This lady was dressed far too young for her age, wore very heavy makeup and was wearing sky high stilettos. Probably my age or older, her appearance screamed insecure.

  7. Dear Jennifer,
    I have been wondering lately, why I have felt that customer service, manners and peoples response to me have changed. I attributed it to where I live, even the weather! What I now am seeing, as your post points out, is that I am ‘fading’. My quiet graciousness is not working anymore. So, lately, I have been putting some thought into what I call ‘work arounds’. When I am treated in a way that is not appropriate, I find ways to address them, yet still keep my grace and dignity. I have called the nurse at my doctors office, too share that I felt rushed and he did not address all issues (which were written down and a copy given to him). I graciously asked her if she would stay in the room from now on, to keep him focused. I have written my hairdresser a note about my color and she called to discuss it, so that when I came in for my next appointment, we did not have to ‘make a scene’, as the issue was already resolved. I finally called our Saks office to discuss the terrible customer service I have been receiving and was pleased at the response of a letter of apology and a generous gift card. These small things keep me from having ungracious behavior, yet resolving my issues. I feel better, like I matter, without compromising myself. Wonderful post….I am glad it’s not just me!

    1. That’s a wonderful way to address it without compromising your personal standards! Forwarned is forearmed! Thanks for sharing your tips here Kathleen.

  8. When I was younger, I was very shy and so was often overlooked. Because I deferred, people ignored me. Since I have grown more certain as I have aged, I find that I am less “invisible” and since I have “found my voice” I will speak up “nicely but firmly” in the face of rudeness. As my confidence has grown with age, I have found a style that suits me and feel that I am appreciated by those who matter to me.

    1. I love this Joanne! We’re fortuate if age gives us the confidence to speak up. We have much to share and the world needs to hear our wisdom. Thank you for sharing here.

  9. Jennifer, such a thought-provoking post. I’ll be fifty this year and all the above thoughts have crossed my mind this year. It certainly takes more effort now to not become invisible! I’m STILL surprised to see my older reflection in a store window. I’ll work hard to be noticed as long as I can, then I shall switch it up and start wearing red bloomers , purple hats and fuscia lipstick!! Great post! Donna

    1. You’re hilarious Donna! I think that’s what the Red Hat group is all about. And we certainly SEE them 🙂

  10. I had been feeling invisible for several years but I had sunk to frumpdom I admit. I’ve been on a journey over the last 18 months to rise up again. Anyway as a result you could have knocked me over with a feather when I was chatted up recently by a guy, quite nice and ten years younger than me. I’m never chatted up!

  11. The best thing is unlike our mothers there was never a place like this where these thoughts were discussed. Lucky us! We are united in these thoughts and things happening to us and we find we are not alone! We can’t worry so much about those rude small people that have no manners. Be elegant and proud. Manners have been abolished it seems. They will not hold a door for anyone old or young. Teach your children and their children manners. Maybe it will catch on again. I live in Los Angeles, rudeness central! Tough to keep the chin up most days. Keep your positive friends and family close. The rest are just a test.

    1. Thanks for joining the conversation Marcia. I’ve worked very hard to teach my children proper manners. I assumed my friends were too…apparently not all of them were. I delight in elegant manners and social graces, so am always happy to come across them. Sadly, I must agree with you…I’ve found LA to be rude central also. So we hold tight to our manners and be proud, as you say.

  12. Gosh, I’m 62 and I don’t care at all about not being highly visible anymore. In fact, I love it! I know I look pretty nice, and I enjoy putting myself together just for the joy of it. I’m not invisible to my husband, my (grown) children, a few dear friends–I guess that’s all I need. Out in the world, I LOVE flying under the radar. It allows me to notice everything, without the focus on *being* noticed. I’m honestly very happy about this element of aging.

    1. Thanks for sharing Linda! There are many womne like you, who thrive, flying under the radar. You’re a lucky woman.

  13. Wow I love this post…and it is so timely!

    I agree with some other posters here that my insides do not match my outsides. Sometimes I certainly do not act my age and most days do not feel it. And talk about being shocked about what one sees in the mirror…it’s just WEIRD.

    I notice being invisible every so often, especially when I’m in the company of my beautiful daughter.

    Last week my husband and I attended a Brett Dennen concert. We discussed beforehand if we would be the “old farts” in the crowd. (we are 56 & 57) We were pleasantly surprised, there were many couples close to our age in fact the woman next to us was 57. Guess you are as young as you feel!

    My mom sadly was very hung up on her age and losing her looks I think, she battled depression in her later years. She was still a beautiful lady and every one thought she was younger than her real age. I have to remind myself that I do not want to end up like her and need to try and keep a positive attitude… So all I can do is just take good care of myself and really hope that I can age gracefully!

    Linda

    1. Hi Linda,
      It’s a sore subject for many of us but an imortant one. Aging gracefully has to feel authentic to be valuable for us. I’m working on it everyday. And yes…my mother looks back at me from my mirror every morning! Such a shock. Where did the time go?

  14. I’ve had the experience of “professional” invisibility for decades. For example in a meeting (mostly men) I’ll offer, “let’s try process XYZ to improve efficiency.” No response. Five minutes later “Bob” says “let’s try process XYZ to improve efficiency.” and everyone says “thanks, Bob, that’s an interesting idea, let’s try it!”

    I was never particularly conventionally attractive when I was younger, so didn’t really get much of that kind of attention, and didn’t base a lot of my identity on it. Oddly, I feel a lot more visible now than when I was younger perhaps because I’m paying more attention to style and presentation.

    1. Style and presentation does get noticed! Your intelligence shows on your face, but the outer appearance makes people decide if they’ll bother to listen to you.
      Thanks for sharing. You look great!!

  15. I remember the first time a man looked right through me when I was talking in a group setting. That was hard, as I was used to being seen as attractive. It is distressing to feel I am no longer beautiful in the same way. Maybe that’s self-absorbed like the above commenter mentions, but I like feeling beautiful. Not so much to get the attention, but just because it feels good. Every time I look in the mirror now I’m a little shocked at what I see. The inside doesn’t match the outside anymore!! I’m re-working my definition of what beautiful means, and trying to navigate these changes, I hope with grace and humor.
    I look forward to the discussion Jennifer.

    1. Thanks for sharing Deborah. I don’t agree that it’s self-absorbed to want to be seen as attractive and valuable. My outside doesn’t match my inside, but I’ll be damned if I let people ignore me. We are more beautiful now because our wisdom shines on our faces.

  16. Funny thing…this past Friday I had gone into the “Home Depot” . (Now if any middle age women would like to test her invisibility go there.) Anyway, I had had many errands to run and made an effort to look presentable. Well, imagine my surprise when not one but three sales “guys” at various times asked if they could help me and the store was pretty busy! Now, it could have been a coincidence, but I believe it didn’t hurt that I was shopping in something other than my work out clothes. Just a thought.

    1. So true Renee. Home Depot can be an abyss for older women. However I have found that when I ask for a specific pipe fitting or specialized drill bit by name, they do pay more attention 🙂
      And yes, looking polished makes a difference, even in a “hardware store”! Thanks for sharing.

  17. Yes, I think there are two issues here: one is manners; the other is invisibility. People in general are more rude these days. That man and woman would treat anyone that way. And especially, people are not being taught to respect their elders.

    I was waiting at the deli counter and a young Kardashian-style woman sashayed up and cast me a challenging eye as if to say, “Just watch, I’ll get served before you, you has-been.” !!! The young handsome man working there said hello to her and I suddenly felt not only defeated but veeery angry, and then he said, “I’ll wait on you after I serve this woman,” nodding at me and smiling. I felt triumphant over this tiny thing.

    I think having more respect for elders in general would temper our feelings of invisibility. And a question is, how far do we have to go to feel visible? Wouldn’t it be nice to wear decent clothing, nothing WOW factor, but still get treated like we’re here, we’re here, we’re here!! (Dr. Seuss) Not gonna’ happen these days. Sigh.
    Sorry, I was rambling. Great post!

    1. Bravo Melanie! It sounds like you’re already doing it!! Respect for our elders is so different in other cultures. They are revered for their wisdom in many cultures. Sadly, not ours.

  18. Jennifer, I really don’t think we will ever disappear. Staying relavant is the most important. Being interesting to other people, especially when having conversations, even with strangers, is so stimulating. I try to ALWAYS BE CURRENT on many topics, and being educated (even without formal schooling for anyone) is very important. One of my girlfriends reads ONE local newspaper, watches ONE local TV channel for news. Then she recites what THEY say. It is so boring, so supercial, so obvious I cannot stand it, and most of the time she is incorrect. Great topic BTW. xx’s

    1. Thanks Marsha! I couldn’t agree more about being current and able to contribute intelligently. Too many people simply give up and then slide into obscurity.
      xoxo

  19. I’ve been thinking about this subject, off and on, for some time now. At some point, I want to write about it on my own blog, but I’m not completely sure how I feel about my glory days, in terms of looks, being behind me.Trying to be as truthful as possible here, I would say I’m aware that those looks I used to get are in now in my past, but I’m not sure just how much I really care about it. More than anything, I feel a certain sense of urgency to life now. How will I ever see, read, do, everything I want to before time runs out?

    1. I’m not feeling my mortality as much as my invisibility. But I do agree, there’s so much I still want to do and see. Time to start working on that bucket list of mine.

  20. The only time I have noticed it is just recently in the Saturday morning religious class that my husband and I are taking. With the exception of 1 other couple we are the oldest people in the class. I find it extremely upsetting that this group of 40 people who are in their 20’s and 30’s can be so crass as to treat both of us as “invisible”. It’s very obvious that this group has not learned a shred of common etiquette, and that is really sad.

    1. It is sad Sally! What happened to that generation of parents, that they didn’t teach their children proper manners? I worked very hard to teach my children manners and would be appalled to find they were disrespectful.

  21. Jennifer it is real! I think the best way to combat this phenomenon is to always hold ones head high, smile with confidence, and wear something that is a standout.( I am guilty of not doing this more in the winter) Even if it is a bright berry lipstick, something different. I don’t expect to get the looks I did at 35, however I also won’t be ignored!

    xoxo
    Karena
    The Arts by Karena

    1. It’s a matter of respect. Both self respect and the respect of others. I’m in your court, I will not be ignored.
      xoxo

  22. You’re not transarent, people are rude! I remember being on a tram in Amsterdam. Everyone looked at me when I stepped on. They were all waiting to see who would stand up and give me their seat? This is the Euopean mentality.
    PS I refuse to accept invisability!

    1. Rudeness is rampant in our society. The loss of simple social graces is a shame.
      I’m glad you won’t accept it. I won’t either!

  23. My college roommate died last year. Twenty percent of my 1967 high school graduating class is dead. Another 20% or so are at death’s door with some pretty awful illnesses. Getting noticed is the least of my worries. And noticed by whom? Twenty something year olds? I present myself as the strong independent woman that I am. I’m like a congressman said of Bill Clinton, “he flirts with women, men, and Buddy, the dog.” I also rock the red lipstick. Whining about not being noticed is a waste of time and extremely self absorbed.

    1. I’m sorry to hear about your friend Barbara! It’s disturbing when we begin losing friends and siblings.
      I think you may have missed my point. There is a difference between craving attention and demanding the respect one deserves.
      I completely agree with you, whining is self absorbed,

  24. I dont’ recall garnering much attention throughout my life so I don’t suppose I miss it exactly, but I do find that when I notice changes, it is more difficult that I would have imagined. I have become jowly in the past few years and find it distressing that this is my new face. At the same time, it seems silly to me to dwell on it because I wouldn’t notice or focus on this attribute in someone else. It’s confusing, lol.

    1. It’s so true Terry. Women seem to worry about showing their upper arms, when in actuality, the only person who notices them is ourselves.

  25. This is such a thought provoking post, Jen. I remember talking with you about that moment you experienced in London, with your daughter, when the shift happened. I became a bride and a new step mom (to 3 teen aged step-daughters) on the same day at age 39. It was an interesting process to watch them blossom into womanhood as I hit my 40’s and started experiencing all that peri-menopausal fun. I felt okay about fading into the background for a number of years, but realized I wasn’t challenging myself enough. That’s one of the reasons I’m loving my 50’s. I feel like I’ve found my voice, maybe for the first time in my life. Blogging, for the last three years, has been a big part of that process of self-discovery. I love your quote about aging being a privilege and fading into the background being an option. So true!
    xx, Heather
    PS-Your website is looking great (including the menu above)!

    1. We are on the same page again my friend! Blogging has had an enormous impact on my “voice”. I feel so fortunate to have met many wise and intuitive woman to share these discussions with. I challenge myself daily, (learning the techy side of blogging for one) and find it keeps my mind active and eager for more!
      Thanks for the compliment. I feel fortunate I didn’t crash my whole blog:)
      xoxo

  26. What a wonderful post! Yes, I too have noticed the invisibility of my appearance, but I am not letting it get to me. I am happy to be where I am – even though I just came through the worst year of my 57 year old life! It made me aware of the facets of my life that are so dear to me and to appreciate what is right in front of me. It may not be what I thought was going to happen to me at this juncture, but I will take it! It took some time for me to realize that my kids are in their prime! I am happy to pass the baton – but I won’t always take a backseat! I will ALWAYS present myself to the world with style and grace!

    1. Great analogy Mileah! I won’t take the back seat either!! It’s interesting to read here, that some women haven’t felt this. Life is short, precious and I plan to make an impact everyday:)

  27. I don’t remember truly being ignored…other than like you, sometimes by other rude women that are just simply rude. They’d ignore anyone there as they feel entitled to be served first. Sometimes I get mad about it, but more often I just try to shrug it off. There are worse things in life I figure.

    Funny enough if it had been a man I think I would have been angrier. Yes it is sexist and I have no explanation.

    I do remember the first time I was called Ma’am…by someone that looked to be a whole of 5 years older than me. THAT I did not care for one bit.

    This was a very interesting post. I can’t wait to read part 2.

    bisous
    Suzanne
    http://www.suzannecarillo.com

    1. I can handle Ma’am, but “dear” really yanks my chain! Like I’m some sort of doddering old biddy. I suppose it’s all in the inflection. If it sounds condescending, I get pissed.
      Looking forward to meeting you too, in Vancouver:)

  28. Really enjoyed this post and discovering the other blogger! When I discuss having a wakeup call at age 50,,,it was really a wakeup to aging. I usually write of my physical makeover, but I also experienced a mental makeover during that time. I had watched my MIL and mother begin in their 60s to shut down…become inactive and spend the majority of their time before the television. Both died in their 80s with dementia, anger, and heart issues. I did not want to be that woman. So, I made a decision to be visible. To hold my head up, smile, focus on others, and not let things get to me like they use to. My physical makeover certainly helped this confidence. If someone doesn’t open the door (and I have seen this happen to all ages), then I make sure to open the door for people behind…male, female, old, young. I stay informed and mentally engaged and youthful…balanced in my thinking and I just do not allow anger to consume me as it did most of my life. I also believe it was important for me to put the past in the past…and decide the future was going to be fun and joyful..no matter what lies there. I am visible, because I choose to be…Betty White looks like she is having a lot of fun..that’s the woman I want to be in my 90s. We need to all hold our heads up, smile, laugh and enjoy the time we have one day at a time!!

    1. I love your attitude Pam which is obvious in your uplifting and encouraging posts!!
      Anger is a poison in our systems and I know all too well how it can affect people. I choose to surround myself with upbeat people.
      I too, hold doors open for people, I thank men by calling them “sir” and I do my best to brighten people’s day. It just plain feels good.
      Looking forward to meeting you!!

    2. Beautiful comments.

      My own mother is 75, and I’m surprised at the anger and bitterness I see in her. She had a great life, and accomplished a lot. and some sorrow and disappointment. It seems to me that there is a trap laying ahead of us – and I wish to avoid it as well. Likely it takes commitment and a lot of grace to age ‘gracefully’.

      I hope we find that path. Sounds like you’re on the right path.

  29. Such an interesting topic. I must be oblivious, because I have not felt this. Okay, I am oblivious because I haven’t really paid much attention to attention since I was maybe 20? Hmm – wonder if this is a weird chip in my head? I will say I have struggled s bit to stay me as I age and carry 20 extra pounds and refuse “interventions” (except hair colour) and decide how to dress that is not trying too hard… For some reason I feel like I’m getting more visible as I age and able to command my space. I don’t know… But I’m going to watch this while in NYC and will let you know!

    1. I love that attitude Wendy! I feel I can “command my space” more too, which is why this incident with the woman bothered me so much.Keep us posted and have fun in NY!

  30. I never really think about being invisible so I guess it does not bother me. I just do my own thing. What other people do or don’t do tells me much more about them than about me.

    1. So true. I noticed that I was becoming a “Twilight Woman” but realized my life is full, I still take good care of myself and my husband thinks I’m beautiful. What more can I ask?

    2. I too, judge people by their behavior Josephine! It’s the only way to determine their character.

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