The Invisible Woman, Revisited

It’s been about a year since I wrote the post The Invisible Woman. I wrote it after a trip to New York City, during which the changes of middle age were pressing on me. I was feeling and mourning the loss of youthful beauty and all the power our culture attaches to it.

I returned to NYC this year for the same event (the World Science Festival), and did many of the same activities as last year. I tried hard not to force any feelings about (in)visibility because I want my evolution to be (always) authentic as possible.

There is an evolution going on – not a revolution, to be sure. Writing on this blog and reading dozens of others has been a large part of it. Understanding that I am part of a whole, not on an aging journey alone, has helped tremendously. An attitude of gratitude for all I have: a joyful marriage, good health, and a fulfilling career, helps me “major in the majors,” not focus on physical flaws.

Well since you asked . . . Yes!

Walking down Manhattan streets this last visit, I held my shoulders more proudly and let the sheer joy of being in my favorite city slip out. I trained my attention not on my own appearance, but outwardly on the beauty (yes, the city has great beauty) around me. Old and young people, old and new buildings – all have beauty and stories to tell.

The new Freedom Tower under construction, seen from Washington Square Park

On one of my walks I was wearing a long black skirt, black tee and colorful scarf. I had my hair pulled up and wore a small silk scarf around my head and large sunglasses. Nothing very Vogue, but my walk was confident, my mood serene. A charming 70-something man said softly as he passed me, “So elegant, you are.” Ahhhh, the smile lingered on my face for many a block.

I have been reflecting on, and have adapted, a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior [or invisible] without your consent.” Italics mine, from her 1937 book, This Is My Story. So I am not going to consent to feel invisible!

How about you? I think I know the answers, and I love to read them.

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  1. This is such a wonderful revisit to your original post and it's inspiring to hear how you've developed on your journey to visibility. Also inspiring is the Visible Monday's you've run here and seeing week on week all these wonderful women taking care and pride in how they dress at any age.

  2. Thanks Patti.  I can always rely on you for thought provoking posts.  I have been more accepting of myself in all areas since I began blogging.  Which is truly a gift.  I think you nailed it with Eleanor Rosevelt's quote, but it is a process or evolution, as you state.  With a lot of affirming 'self talk.'

  3. I like the quote. Feeling invisible in a fabulous outfit and hat has never really happened to me! I think that many people would have more heartbreak over those they love treating them as invisible than strangers not making eye contact on the street.

  4. Thank you for your original post and the follow-up. I'm sure this is a universal issue for women as we age.

    About 5 year ago, I was also mourning my loss of visibility. Then I was diagnosed with cancer and became very distracted for a year and a half. After that I had an attitude shift — I didn't mind growing old when I now had been faced with the alternative — being dead! Now I have more fun with clothes than I've had in decades and I get compliments from people on the street. In fact, the striped jean I'm wearing in yesterday's Visible Monday post got a compliment from a handsome middle-aged man the other day — although he may have wanted them for himself 😉

    There are many ways to be 'attractive' and having someone admire your style and confidence — or elegance — is appreciated too.

  5. Hi Pattie! I've been a quiet visitor of your lovely blog and I'm so interested in this topic.  I'm 36 and part of me has been an "old soul" since college, thanks to chronic health and pain issues and difficult life experiences.  When I read last year's post, I wanted to comment about the invisibility of being a young person with debilitating health issues that aren't always readily seen physically.  The general assumption is, if you look healthy, you must be healthy and you can be (mis)treated based on that assumption.  Anyway, the point is that for me, that issue is mixed in with the invisibility of getting older.  Right now I watch the changes happening fairly objectively because of my somewhat unique perspective.  I've always had a deep wellspring of self-esteem and learned early in life what is really important.  But as I get older I wonder if I will have any self-esteem or confidence or even identity crises as time passes and the blush of youth fades further away.  On the other hand, I've always been drawn to people several decades older than me and I love the abundance of vibrant, intelligent, thoughtful women aging gracefully and beautifully that I've run across online.  I'm glad to be able to be part of the discussion and I hope to participate in one of your "Visible Mondays" soon. Such a grand idea, that!! 🙂

  6. Lovely post Patti!
    Believe it or not i think i said it before – i am happy to be where i am at now – Being in my 50s is a blessing for me – I have been miserable, unhappy, anxious, ect all my life – 50 gave me freedom and confidence – I no longer have to prove anything to anyone-  i can be myself more and more –

    Being called elegant Patti is a hell of a compliment i tell you! it is better than to be told you are pretty – Elegance will last!

  7. This is a great post Patti. I have also felt better about aging as I have blogged and followed other bloggers. It is nice to know we are not alone and I am grateful to have found you and many others as I approach hitting the big five oh. Going back to being fashionable after dropping all of it for years has brought some excitement back to my life again. It is not good to bury style is what I have discovered. It is so amazing to be able to blog and connect, just so much fun. Thank you!

  8. I love this story of the man who blessed you!!  I am currently teaching summer school speech and I tell the teens that CONFIDENCE IS ATTRACTIVE!  I want them to exude it even if they don't feel it, because soon it will be a habit. in my 50s I have enjoyed learning to be strong, confident, and joyful no matter what is going on in my life or with my appearance!  Great post! 

  9. Two summers ago we enjoyed NYC for the first time (before "we got too old to do the city right") and I've been reading your blog for a couple months now. Since I'm in my 50s too, you seem to just articulate what I'm feeling so well and your style and smile are beautiful. Feeling visible, cute, stylish all help me to also act kind and loving and interested in others. I'm glad I found your blog.

  10. One compliment can make me sing all day long. I'm glad your compliment was that you were elegant – it's the best one of them all! You are so right that it's about seeing the beauty outside of us that enables others to see the beauty inside of us.

  11. I appreciate how you confront and wrestle with the issue of aging.  As one of the older bloggers myself, I think about it, too.  I find having a good attitude helps.  Dressing with confidence creates the life we want regardless of the number on our driver's license.

  12. This is a beautiful post.  The line that the man whispered to you actually gave me goosebumps…I can only imagine how it made you feel!  And it is true that the more we focus on the beauty in the world, the less self-focused we are.

  13. Your story put a smile on my face. It makes me happier than anything when strangers are kind to one another. 

    I've always been pretty out-there with my clothing choices, from goth to punk to candykid raver – now a fusion of all that with more "normal" attire I still do not blend into the background. I've always been cool with that. It makes it easier for me, someone with social anxiety, to be approached/approach others.

  14. I'll admit that as a 30-something I like feeling like I blend in sometimes, but I am sure that will change in time.  Being called elegant is a huge compliment!

  15. Such a lovely post Patti.  I do so agree in the 'evolution' process being so much more tolerable…and may I almost offer…exciting when not done alone.  Through you and your blog and sharing with others I have been able to come to terms and have more acceptance with the transformations of age. It is inspiring woman such as yourself that make me proud to be part of such a group!  Thank you! 

  16. I'm always kind of pleased when a significantly-older-than-myself person compliments me. I once had an elderly lady express her delight with one of my more vividly orange get-ups, and it totally made my day.

    I do sometimes appreciate, and strive for, invisibility, but through my own style blogging, and the vast number of blogs I read, I find myself becoming more visible, and also seeking to let other people know I see them too.

  17. Such a wise woman you are, Patti! I love having been part of your Visible Monday experience as you've come to terms with being VISIBLE and beautiful – at any age!

    Isn't it interesting that a compliment from a stranger can linger with us for so long, and yet our own negative thoughts about our perceptions of ourselves can be so pervasive?

  18. Youth is inherently pretty. So lots of people can be pretty when they're young. Later, style and ATTITUDE become essential!

  19. This is an interesting post and I love that you wrote this! A couple of years ago, at my Dad's house where there are walls filled with  beautiful professional portraits of my beautiful younger half-sister (she really is a stunner- 10 years my junior.  There aren't any photos of me except perhaps one tiny group shot as a 18 year old out on a shelf in the hall) and I was suddenly struck by how few photos there are or were of me from teen years to about 2-3 years ago.  Those there were were awkward and gauky- I was always caught in shots not in a way I'd be liked to.  As I approached 28, I thought to myself, that I didn't want to suddenly be middled-aged (I know 28 was not middleaged at all, but I tend to think about things deeply well before time!)and not be able to look back on my younger time and at least remember it with some fondness- so that's when I started posting photos on my blog (a year ago?)!  Things like outfit shots so I could know that I was young and frivolous once and capture myself at a time when I was happy with myself- not young and insecure (or AS insecure) and not older and full of regrets that I didn't take photos!  So blogging is a way for me to avoid the invisibility of the future!  I think my boyfriend and family think it's a bit biazarre that I blog outfits.
    Just for the record, I think you are really beautiful and I always notice the beauty particularly of people older than me (be it 5, 10 years, 20, 30, 40, 50), even as a young girl, I did! I appreciate beauty in all its forms! xx
    Have a lovely day Patti!

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