Invisible But Not Unseen at Midlife

Any discussion of middle age women is incomplete without touching on the fact – not the feeling, the concept, or the belief – but the fact that at some point in our lives, we become invisible to the world. As our youth disappears, these things may happen: our boobs droop and our hair thins, our faces wrinkle, our backs hurt and our waists disappear, our glasses become progressive and we seek comfortable shoes that are still kind of cute…but even if these things don’t happen to us at midlife, we join the land of the unseen and the country of the ignored.

WAIT A MINUTE.

This is true for most of us, but also unimportant. At first, it may feel awful – men don’t glance, salesgirls don’t approach, waiters ignore, receptionists huff and puff – but after a while, the benefits of losing the attention of others – so often unwanted when we were young – can and should be considered not a loss but a gain in our lives.

No longer do we need to avoid eye contact with men in order to keep them from approaching us, talking to us, or simply looking at us. We are not the women who attract unwanted attention – except, every now and then, from a man much older than we are, which is actually kind of sweet. At midlife, we can walk down the street without the concern that a man will stare at our boobs or, in fact, grab our asses (if that never happened to you, congratulations). At midlife, we can sit in a coffee shop and read a book without some creep asking “is this seat taken?” And even better, if some creep does ask, we are old enough and wise enough and confident enough to say “I prefer to sit alone,” unlike when we were young and naive and maybe insecure and possibly lonely.

Invisibility gives us the chance to observe the world – if we’re clever enough to put down our phones. We can watch, more or less without being noticed, just about anyone. Being off the radar because we are middle-aged allows us the freedom to use our invisibility to really appreciate the entertainment that the world has to offer. If we stare a little too long, no one pays attention – we are just middle-aged women, after all. Harmless, really.

NOT SO FAST.

Because we are invisible, we can now choose to make ourselves seen when it is important to us. We don’t have any problem at all standing up for ourselves, because we are sick of the mistreatment we see others get – and we experience, too. We will use our outside voices inside if we need to, and when we do, our invisibility cloak disappears and we stand tall, able to do so because our shoes are comfortable and our pants are not binding. We will tell the salesgirl what we want and ask her for a different size if we need it, and we won’t feel uncomfortable if that different size is larger. We will send back our salad if it comes dressed and we wanted the Ranch on the side. We will ask, again and again, how much longer the doctor will be, because, at midlife, our time is valuable, tick tock. We have reached the point of not giving a damn about upsetting others, or overreacting, or putting our money where our mouths are. We may be invisible, but we are not unseen.

On the other hand, we also have learned, if we are smart, how good it feels to be kind and helpful, and how easy it is now that we are no longer trying to fend off pervy guys or avoid the gaze of the butcher or the dude who works at the tire store or our doctors or plumbers or neighbors. Because we are invisible, we can choose to be seen when we can make a difference in the world, and we are more than comfortable putting ourselves out there and making a point of helping someone, smiling at someone, holding the door open or letting the person at the grocery store with only two items go ahead of us when our cart is full. We are fully and completely comfortable with ourselves, and whether angry or kind, we know when we want to be seen – and we show up.

BE YOURSELF

We may be invisible to much of the world, but to those who love us, those who find us fascinating and wonderful and funny and smart and want to be around us because we say what we Goddamn feel and think and too bad if others don’t like it, to those people we are seen, we are heard, we are taking up space and, sometimes, we are larger than life and hard to miss. At midlife, if we have been lucky and paying attention, we know exactly who we are and we OWN it, no matter what. We have been waiting all our lives to be who we are, and we’re not going to waste one more minute apologizing, quieting, calming or making excuses. The world may not see us, but we see ourselves, clearly, wholly and lovingly. We are not unseen.

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11 Comments

  • I love this!

    I feel like the people I need to see me, see me. I’m not worried about the rest of ’em!

    Happy International Women’s Day to you.

  • I don’t feel this way (accept for the aching back.I feel like people still see me. Maybe I’m delusional but I like it here. 😉

  • Elaine

    A few years ago I took my daughter and her friend to Boston. They were 2 beautiful teenage girls and that was the first time that I felt invisible. It was an awful feeling and made me feel so sad. I love your view on this invisibility cloak. It will help me look at things in a better light!

  • Cheryl

    I’ve begun to notice ‘being invisible’ and it’s bothered me. My job is highly visible and I have no problem making my presence known. It’s in the everyday-ness of life that I feel less than now. Your perspective is just what I need to hear and internalize. Thank you!

  • Kathleen

    Sharon, I admit, there have been times I’ve felt like this even before midlife. In the past it was not about being seen, but being heard and remains true. Thank you for the insight.

  • Lisa

    I love this blog but so far this has been my favorite post. Last year I told a friend I feel invisible. This post shared exactly how I felt. It also discusses with so much clarity how I’m moving on. I just don’t think you could have explained it any better. My heart was truly touched as I read your words and related completely. I have even had a really old gentleman tell me I was beautiful. It caught me off guard and made me giggle. Thanks for quiding me into midlife with truth and clarity. It has been a blessing for sure.

  • Brava! Brilliant post! Brenda

  • Thanks Sharon for this post. Yes absolutely invisible. I tell others that I consider this to be my superpower. As you point out, however, with this power comes great responsibility. Sometimes it appears as we age (and I kind of see this in women specifically but I bet it is gender neutral) we become a bit too particular–a tad too rigid about our daily routines and preferences. I’ll use the phrase “old biddy” just because it succinctly describes the persona I’m meaning here. I observe this and make note I’d like to avoid it if I can. That said, I do take license with my wonderful aging and say things I think are funny. In a group of younger people, for example, I might joke that I have no problem pushing them aside in a line as I have less time than they do. So there! Anyway, thanks for your post. So well said and so true. Now let’s put on our capes and get out there and be midlife!

  • Peggy

    I’ll chime in only to echo the comments already made: not only is this is a perfect description of what happens to women’s “visibility” as they age but also the perspective I have been trying to keep–enjoy the invisibility when I want, and make myself known when I want.

  • Judy Williamson

    Given that I am your mother, I am obviously way past midlife., BUT, there are gifts at any time of life if we don’t focus on recreating the past. After all, didn’t I get married at 70 years old? And love at this age is deeper and
    more wonderful. I . love your words of wisdom, Sharon.

  • So hard to accept the disheartening facts of the first paragraph, but I really love the reframe on the phenomenon of mid life invisibility.
    Thank you for your perspective.

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