The Invisible Woman, Revisited

The invisible woman, revisited. It’s been just over ten years since I wrote a post about women becoming invisible in our later years. Is it still relevant? Here it is, with minor updates:

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 culture.

While in the big city a few months ago, 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 hunky 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 have done some reading (this and this, among others) 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 Instagrammers and bloggers. Growing up and growing older is not for sissies, indeed. The trade-offs must be accepted and savored.

Lights on, we’re still here! Not dead yet, not done yet.

“It didn’t work,” said the King. “The cloak of invisibility didn’t work.”

“Yes, it did,” said the Royal Wizard.

“No, it didn’t,” said the King. “I kept bumping into things, the same as ever.”

“The cloak is supposed to make you invisible,” said the Royal Wizard. “It is not supposed to keep you from bumping into things.”

“All I know is, I kept bumping into things,” said the King.”

James Thurber

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

Stay fabulous, xo

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  1. Invisibility….I don’t mind. I used to mind when I was in my 50s and 40s. I just wasn’t being ogled any more by men. I missed it. But in hindsight, that ogling always made me uncomfortable when I was a young woman.
    Other than that, most people treat me well. (Except my relatives!!! )
    I don’t feel that I’m treated any the worse in public, now that I’m 68.
    A quick way to get some attention in public, however, if one is feeling the need for some…wear bright colors! People notice color; and the bright colors are uplifting for ones mood.

  2. Yeah, I am at the age where “Ma’am” and “young lady” both annoy me. I had my share of men who appreciated my look during my life, but for the most part, I’ve rarely received unsolicited comments on the street. Perhaps because I look annoyed so much of the time 😉 I am definitely less visible to a certain portion of the population now.

  3. Now that I’m over 60 I enjoy giving a big smile to handsome strangers, usually half my age, and the reaction is great. Recently I had a few days in London (UK) which is known for straight faces and sober looks but I played at ‘smile’ and got lots of positive reactions. Go for it girls!

  4. Great topic, Patti. I love your blog. At 64, I find a big difference in my attitude if I get up in the morning, do my skincare routine, put in a bit of makeup and then throw myself a kiss in the mirror every morning, pandemic or not. I suppose I still get male attention, but it does creep me out when young men make comments about my body on the street. I’m old enough to be their mother, for gods sake. I don’t think that it’s because of my being “hot.” It is a lot more about them and how they think they should relate to women. I have a wonderful husband who is much older than me and has had many health challenges this year. I am thrilled to have him and if he thinks I’m attractive, that’s the best thing ever for me.

    • Hello Denise and thank you for your kind comments. It sounds like you enjoy a great relationship with your guy, and that’s priceless. Stay well, xx

  5. Call me oblivious, but I was never aware of being noticed in a lust-worthy way. I just don’t think I have that kind of look. I am also aware of having been the only woman that was never hit on by a few skeevy men in my local professional circle (theatre directors, and notoriously VERY skeevy), and I’m just not sure what that says about me. There was a little part of me, back in that day, that was like, “hey, am I that repulsive or something??”
    Now that I’m old and unquestionably in that category of invisible older women, it mostly doesn’t bother me, except on those occasions when I’m waiting (and waiting and waiting…) for service in a store or restaurant and a guy can step up and effortlessly get the salesperson’s attention. It pays for us to develop the skill of saying EXCUSE ME loudly and forcefully.
    Other than that, it mostly doesn’t suck to be invisible.

    • Hello Paula and thanks for coming by and commenting. I’ve used the “excuse me” quite a lot, I think I may have to be more loud and forceful : > You’re right, it doesn’t suck to be invisible! Stay well, xx.

  6. Validation from strangers feels good! And we miss it as we age. Patti, you inspired me 10 years ago to “not go gently” into being invisible! I never had the male gaze when I was younger, but in my 50s, I get flirted with all the time, all ages and genders, which is kind of nice! So I have not only the Flirty Butcher but also the Sexy Server!

    • Good morning Sheila and thanks for the kind words. Gotta love the Flirty Butcher and the Sexy Server, adding a little fun to the day! Stay fabulous and well, xx.

  7. I’ve survived a major health crisis, and at 57, I’m happy to be walking around. Sometimes I still get flirty comments, and that’s fun. If we live long enough, by definition we get old. I’ve decided to just appreciate the process. Thank you!

  8. This topic really interests me…the desire to be desired no matter our age…is it acknowledgement of sexiness that we miss or simply being seen and appreciated in general? I agree that the attention of some men is not complimentary at all, and has disrespect and even aggression behind it. My 21 year old daughter has had older, married men hitting on her in predatory ways for the past few years in her job at a bakery of all places. And for those who would blame her for attracting these attentions…she wears a baggy tee shirt, jeans, and a hair net! Seeing what she experiences has made me kind of glad to be under the radar, but I’m also glad my husband tells me often that he finds me attractive!

    • Hi Jane and thanks for your comment. I think you hit on a key point: the desire to be seen and appreciated, and to receive the occasional compliment. Sorry your daughter is going through all that predatory behavior! Stay safe and well, and as visible as you’d like to be, xx.

  9. I try not to feel to wistful for the male gaze. Several weeks ago, I was out walking with Nordic ski poles in my NYC neighborhood. A rather disheveled, older man shouted at me as I passed, “Looking good, mama. I would still f-ck you.” The male gaze is sometimes not benign. All things considered, at 71, I don’t miss it.

    • What a rude, vulgar man! And you are right, Therese, the male is gaze is not necessarily benign. Many men are worthy, but that one was disgusting. Stay fierce and true, xx.

  10. I also remember and am glad to have been noticed with those looks of male approval when young .I am also so very grateful for having experience that Love of your life person .I now find contentment from memories and being noticed for my self by friends and acquaintances I interact with at various book clubs and organizations I have joined.

    • Hello Joan, and always nice to see you. Being noticed for one’s authentic self is the best way to go. Enjoy your week, and stay safe, xx.

  11. I was out with my family in Durham the other night and they were all chatting so I went to the bar for our drinks. The difference in the way I was treated to my husband was interesting. I got called “Madam”, then, when I’d placed my order they said, Oh sit down we’ll bring the drinks over. My son’s thought it was hilarious, but for some reason it made me feel really old.

    • Hi Alison and thanks for coming over. I do not like being called “madam” either! But at least they brought the drinks : > Stay well and safe, xx.

  12. You look fab to me. But why the hell fo you care what people think? Its how you feel that counts! And lucky you with an adoring hunky husband!

    • Hi Mary and thanks for coming over. Of course you’re right – it’s how we feel that counts. Have a wonderful day and stay well, xx.

  13. I find this the most difficult thing to accept about aging, especially as a single woman. I am quite fortunate at the ago of 80 to have retained much of my mobility while so many of my peers have not. I am not rich but have the financial stability to travel and indulge some of my passions. My intellect is intact. Yet so many lump those of my age in a single category, old lady. the other morning I was doing my regular walking when a man in an automobile drove by, rolled down his window, and shouted out words of “encouragement”. He undoubtedly thought he was doing something positive but I was not amused.

    • Hello Darby and thank you for your thoughtful comment. I hear you about being “lumped” into groups solely on age. We’re all unique. Let me guess, the man in the car shouted something like “You GO.” Keep doing *your own* thing, and stay well, xx.

    • ugh the arrogant guy who thought his words would uplift the older woman out walking

      I might have flipped him off

      • similar to the grocery store guy who thinks he’s being cute by calling me “young lady” like im going to get all giggly and feel flattered

        • yes, most of us have experienced that “young lady” thing, which they never say to young ladies. Grrrrrr. Thanks for coming over, xx.

  14. When we were in our late 40s & early 50s, my husband & I used to frequent a particular coffee shop. We were always greeted in a friendly manner when together. If he went in by himself, the barista would say, “Richard! Do you want your usual?” If I went in by myself, more often than not, he or she would say, “What can I get for you, ma’am?” If I said I would take my usual, they looked at me blankly. Unbelievable!

    • Hi Terri! That’s just like my cat, Skinny G. She loves only my husband, and tolerates me. You make an impression at the coffee shop too I’m sure! Maybe the barista isn’t good with names : > xx.

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