The Invisible Woman

Common wisdom holds that at a certain age, women no longer garner the attention of men in public. We are still loved by our husbands and partners, and told we are beautiful, but the world at large no longer sees us as noteworthy. I am not agreeing with this wholesale, just reporting what is commonly tossed around in popular literature.

While in the big city last week, I found myself rather invisible. There’s nothing bad about my appearance. I look good without looking “hot”. I have good posture, crazy curly hair and, most of the time, sport a cool casual outfit. But no one looked at me. I mean “looked” at me, as they used to when I was in my 20’s, 30’s, even 40’s. As a feminist, I am supposed to be happy about this, as I am no longer a sexual object for men to lust after. Hooray, right?

May I confess to a tiny bit of grief for the loss of lust-worthiness? May I still keep my good-feminist card? Is it sheer vain foolishness to miss the double-take, the furtive glance or secret smile? I have good self-esteem, based on my innards. I’ve accomplished a lot and have a husband who adores me. I have never been model-beautiful (only about 2% of us have, and at what cost?) and I know whatever physical charms we have will inevitably change if we’re lucky enough to grow old.

I’m doing some reading (this and this, among others) this week to help adjust my thinking about the Invisible Woman. I am truly happy to be the age I am, to be healthy and productive. I still enjoy gilding the lily too, or I wouldn’t be sharing here, and reading so many talented fashion bloggers. Growing up and growing older is not for sissies, indeed. The trade-offs must be accepted and savored.

Image via

Have you ever struggled with feeling invisible? Younger readers, is this something you worry about, or are you more bothered by unwanted attention now?

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  24. I found this blog online and had to chime in so thank you for the opportunity and for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I have often been told by women that I am so "beautiful" and "attractive" but…I have lived in "no man's land" for a loooong time. I live in a world of women, lovely though they may be, and gay men. People, including men, are shocked when I say my age. I am an official member of the Miss Lonelyhearts Club and feel like I've been thrown into the trash by life. By the way, this happened years ago so although I'm past the 50 line, it evidently means that once one is past 35 (perhaps) you're doomed to loneliness, even if called "beautiful" and "attractive' constantly, unless you already has found Mr. Right or deigns to go the online route, which ain't for me. I feel quite hopeless about ever finding true love again.

  25. it is not the point of being no sexual object any more moreover it is the point to be noticed as a human being at all and to be taken seriously as well. my whole life i have to prove that although i am blonde and interested in fashion i am able to ponder. now the signs have changed, i am no longer put into the "silly"-corner.
    but therefore because i am over 50 i am no longer noticed as a woman. the wrong glance as well as the ignoring are bothering me. both include an demotion that i will not accept. therefore i am actually thankfull for visible monday which gives us a forum to make ourselves apparent.
    however i do not take part for a long time now it has immense positive influence on my life. even in real life i am now more visible, more present and get more feedback from women and men.
    it is not a privilege to be young it is a status. but to be old but healthy and feeling good and comfortable in my skin and to be noticed by others as the one i am, that is a privileg, i feel.
    what a long comment, surely full of of linguistic faults, but i hope you understand what i want to say. thank you patti for sharing your good thoughts.

  26. Perhaps I can give a man's perspective here.We also have egos (no kidding) and also suffer from increasing anonymity as our hair turns grey or begins to disappear. At a certain point we have to recognize that all those hotties no longer furtively check us out either.

     What's worse — unless we're rich, which few of us are — both young women and men start to look past us increasingly regarding other things, such as jobs, work, and even opinions (which, admittedly, can begin to become tiresome for them).
     Kathy, I am like you in terms of needing/wanting to work as long as possible. So I try not to let the insults about my work, intended or not, get me down. I plan to continue learning new things, and working in some capacity for as long as I'm still standing. 

    One good thing about aging — you take yourself far less seriously (you have no choice) and start to laugh at yourself much more. You're far more comfortable in your own skin, which I prefer to the fears and unknowing incompetence of youth. 

  27. I am beyond mid-life but not quite an "senior."  It's a weird limbo. Like Marsha,  I do remember a turning point when I felt invisible because I was no longer noticed because of my appearance, look, fashion or style. I guess a could still make an impact or entrance but it takes me four hours of prep time. LOL. I simply don't have the interest or energy for that anymore.

    I still need to work (I can't afford to retire until I'm about 70) and I do compete with younger men and women for jobs and contracts. Sometimes, I think ageism is alive and well and I've had to learn to overcome those obstacles.I have developed strategies to feel involved, engaged and appreciated through the community work I do. It helps me deal with the fear that I will slip into progressing degrees of social isolation as I age. Now, I might not be noticed because of my youthful hotness but I do still have the ability to command attention for my ideas, work and innovation.  As long as I have interesting ideas and variety of tools to communicate those ideas, I feel satisfied.

  28. I am 42 and I have been noticing this – especially at a highly populated place like the mall.  I see the heads turn at the 20 something blonde with the short skirt and the low-cut tank.  It's funny though, because it doesn't bother me as much I as I thought it would.  When I leave the house, I like to feel good about myself. So, I try not to wear the "mom" clothes that I wear while I hang out inside the house doing chores.    My husband compliments me often and that means more to me than getting the stares at the shopping mall.

  29. That's definitely a topic that comes and goes through my mind. I'm 44, with luck, I will grow much, much older. And I wonder about that. To some degree, I've always gotten attention. I don't take it for granted, especially these days. I think to myself, enjoy it while you're still getting it. 

    After reading some of these comments I'm thinking more about why I get attention. By no means do I look like a sweet 20-something, nor am I perfect. I often think that people respond to the beauty within me that is shining out: my smile, my happiness, my generosity. Is some of it physical? Probably. But I don't believe it's limited to my external shell. I think there's a lot to be said for what shines through. I notice older men now when I didn't used to. As we age, our awareness and what we consider to be beautiful attributes change. 

    While we are changing how we see the world, we are changing how the world sees us. What fantastic food for thought. And may I say, I needed to read something like this at this very moment. 

    🙂 f

  30. I feel semi-invisible. I'm in my 50s and haven't had a date in well over a decade. But sometimes when I'm on the street men call me beautiful. Of course, it's never men I'd be interested in.

    No one wants to be invisible, but it angers me when some women, who now have enough examples from older generations to know better, keep focusing on their looks instead of pushing for parity with men in all spheres. And I see women referring to themselves as "girls" all the time.

    Was there a feminist movement or did I imagine it?

  31. I resent far more the experience of being overlooked in my career. I am a teacher – a good one – but my current principal will actually walk right past me without a Hello – and chat for forty minutes with the pretty young things. They are offered chances for advancement – few in the teaching field – and I am not even spoken to. The bitterness for me is far stronger than any resentment about physical/sexual attention, though perhaps they are related.

  32. I'm one of your younger readers and for a long time I was bothered by the wolf whistles and stares. But then in the last couple of years I realized this won't be happening forever, and that there'll be a time when I'll miss it. I often wonder how I'll feel when that time comes. Yes, it scares me. I'm 30 years old, and always been complimented on my looks. I don't care for all of that too much now, but I know there will be a day when I'll miss it. I know that sounds vain, I'm just being honest. I know that looks aren't who we "are" as women. I think it wouldn't worry me at all if I didn't hear from so many of my older friends how much they hate aging etc.

  33. When I was young I got a lot of attention as I was very large busted in the time before there were many women with implants. I hated the attention. Sometimes I found it funny when men would almost trip over their own feet trying to look, but mostly I did not like it. Now, being older, plus size, and having had a bilateral mastectomy, I get no attention whatsoever. It does make me feel a bit lost.
    I still dress nicely when I go out–even to Walmart. Even if no one else notices, I know that I look nice. I also enjoy wearing my jewelry and being creative.
    Beverly Johnson, supermodel, told a story on Oprah about how the mailman handed her her mail and asked if she knew that there was a famous model to lived in her building. It was an eyeopener for her. Gosh, even a beautiful older woman wasn't noticed!

  34. One of the reasons I started my blog was to get past this feeling. I have become much more daring in the past year and something about me, perhaps not the clothing, but the confidence to be bright, has attracted attention.

  35. Patti, what a powerful post! I'm 44 and while I don't necessarily feel invisible (I don't know that I have ever felt VISIBLE….never really felt like I would be that tempting to the opposite sex), I do feel DIFFERENT. I don't know what the answer is….confidence is only attractive if it's not artificial. By that I mean, I can put on my game face, but if I'm not really feeling confident, I can't pull off the air that only real confidence gives. You're right! Aging is not for the faint of heart! LOL Big hug to you my very visible friend! ~Serene

  36. My take on this has always been weird. In my teens, I thought that not being noticed was the best I could hope for. In my twenties, I just assumed that nobody would look, so didn't notice when they did. Suddenly, in my 30s, I became more confident and heads started turning and I didn't know how to deal with it. Now, that seems to have mostly passed, or at least I don't notice it any more.

    But (and perhaps this is my imagination), I think people smile at me pleasantly now. I hope that they think I look like somebody they'd like to know. I like that. I'll take that over a leer, any day. (But is it wrong to still be flattered when somebody looks)?

  37. Patti~I think Terri will admit that being invisible was one of the main reasons she started her blog! (Rags against the Machine). I don't think she feels that way now, but many people do experience the same thing. I don't know if its society, or if we change inside a little. Interesting….

  38. I am 60, and I remember going through a long period of invisibility, but to my eternal surprise, it ended, and I seem to be visible again – not that 20-year-old boys whistle at me, but I do seem to merit approving glances from grown men. I first noticed this in Europe maybe five years ago, and later back in California; I think the experience in Europe changed something in me, perhaps promoted confidence or just a "take it or leave it" attitude that is more attractive than my previous blend-into-the-background stance. In discussing this with friends, we concluded that it isn't so much an issue of not being seen, as of people, or men at least, not quite knowing what to do with women who aren't hot young chicks; I think they shy away from women who are old enough to have the experience to judge them in return, whereas European men don't limit themselves in this way, and European women don't expect or want to blend into the background. Just a hunch.

  39. It may be that you're still turning heads, just different ones. I will always remember the day, when I was in my 40s, that I noticed that my fifty-something boss was being seriously checked out by a seventy-something man. It cracked me up. We still look, but what we want to look at changes. It sure has for me. I have nothing against a pretty young man, but what'll make me look twice is a nice-looking man who's old enough to be his father.

  40. Here, Here Ann! I think confidence trumps invisibility! I think if you feel confident about your appearance you will portray confidence and walk down the street looking at others and not looking away! I actually think I feel the best I ever have at 57…why? Because I feel confident of who I am…what I am doing…and how I look! It feels great! I refuse to accept that in my 50s my attractiveness goes away…in fact, I think it is ramped up! Confidence is atractive and sexy!

  41. I am 49 and I have noticed this too. Never fashion model worthy, I always knew I could turn heads. Now they are calling me "ma'am and I have to admit that gives me a little pang. I am so muc more interesting now than I was then,and still think I loo "not so bad" Now they look at me from the back, I have younger girl hair, and when they see my face they turn away….thanks!

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