Think I’m Invisible? Just Watch!

There are so many good things about getting a little older. But a few bad ones too. Renee Fisher, co-author of “Saving the Best for Last: Creating Our Lives After 50,” has found out about one of the bad ones and turned it into something good!

Renee Fisher

Do you ever feel invisible? When my friends and I decided to write a book about women over 50, I asked a lot of women my age what sucked about getting older. I expected to hear the sagging/bagging/dragging thing, or maybe the memory thing, or maybe even the empty nest thing. But no, I didn’t hear any of that. What I heard over and over was, “I feel invisible.” Well, you could have knocked me over with a pair of sensible shoes.

I could relate to these women. I remember certain events in my own life vividly: My first kiss. The day John F Kennedy was shot. Going (ahem) “all the way.” My college graduation. My first wedding. The births of my three children. My second wedding. The day my grandson was born.

Whoops, back up. As much as anything, I remember the day, no, the moment, when I became invisible. Walking down the aisle at Safeway. Man coming toward me; man passing me; my brain registering: He never saw me. I don’t mean he didn’t oogle me. I mean, HE DIDN’T EVEN SEE ME. I simply wasn’t composed of any molecules that took up space in his world. Had someone asked him if he had passed anyone in the aisle, I’m sure he would have said “No.”

It was a real turning point for me. I never had to think about my visibility before. It was just sort of there. But from that day on, I didn’t take visibility as a given. I made sure I looked people in the eye and smiled when I passed them. I spoke up when sales people started to deal with other customers when I had been there first. I no longer allowed people to cut in front of me in line or to take a parking space I had been waiting for. And I got rid of all the long baggy jumpers I had been wearing just because they were so comfortable. In other words, I began to think about how I was going to be visible in the world. The result was incredibly energizing.

The conclusion I came to was that being visible has little to do with youth or sex appeal. It comes from a feeling of empowerment, and from a belief that I should be noticed. There’s a commercial on TV now that shows a woman all dressed up, coming down the stairs. The voiceover says, “It’s (whatever the product is) the difference between ‘I’m here’ and ‘Here I am’.” That pretty much sums it up for me.

All this is not to say that there aren’t times that I choose to be invisible, to fly under the radar. Sometimes, under the right circumstances, that can be liberating and/or comforting. At other times, it allows me to get away with things, like eating the nuts that haven’t been weighed yet while I’m standing in line at the checkout. Visible. Invisible. I simply want the choice.

Note to the guy at Safeway: If we ever share the same aisle again, I’ll bet you’ll notice me.

Follow Renee online … click here.

16 Comments

  1. Thanks for bringing this up. I had my first major experience with this just the other day. An attractive younger woman literally looked right through me at a conference. Made me wonder if she won't be able to see herself when she's my age!

    I love being in my 50s!

    Laura Lee aka the Midlife Crisis Queen!

  2. I remember a line from the show thirtysomething, when the character Elliot noted that he now had a new sign of his aging -‘invisible to teenage girls.” I’m sure that I ignored 30something men when I was a teenager (unless they were fronting a cool band), so I wonder if I was just as guilty in my younger years of ignoring middle-aged women. Probably yes.

    But the truth is that I don’t feel invisible now that I’ve passed 50. I do, however, feel that once people hear how old I am, I get categorized as irrelevant until I prove otherwise.

  3. Great article. I agree 100%. In April I was laid off from my job ( I worked at a Wellness Center), while I had an office in the back I also came to the front desk to sit while people went to lunch and took their breaks. I worked there for 9 years and knew a good percentage of the people by their first names.

    I live in a small town and I continually run into people who go to the Wellness Center. Most enter into a conversation about the Wellness center when I see them and when I tell them I don’t work their anymore – they are truly shocked. It made me feel invisible. At first my feelings were hurt, then I thought so much for all that customer service. Now I accept it, it is the way it is.

  4. Hi, Nantzala. I see that many age groups must deal with invisibility in one form or another. So good that you don’t feel invisible now. And I like that you ended with “until I prove otherwise.” Proving you are, indeed, capable, is so much more empowering than feeling like a victim to someone else’s assumption about you.

  5. Hi Billie, thanks for joining in on the discussion. You performed such a valuable service for others for years. Even though you aren’t there anymore, what you did when you were there continues to serve people. You can take huge pride in that. I’d consider telling people “I loved my time at the Wellness Center. I left in order to pursue other interests, but I continue to care deeply about what the Center does.”

  6. Interesting, there are at least two articles at this one online site alone written by women discussing feeling invisible. You DO know WHY all those men were looking at you in younger years, don’t you?

    An article seemingly quite pertinent to this very subject was published in Psychology Today a few years back. Males between the ages of 16 and 60, it was determined, sexually evaluated every child-bearing age female they came in contact with. Like blinking one’s eyes, this was an unconscious, involuntary event that took only a second or two. Many men were not even aware they were doing such a thing. Apparently, the article concluded, this is a spontaneous and perfectly natural thing for a male to do, harkening back to primitive times: to quickly determine the suitability of a female for mating and likelihood of such an event occurring. Remember how annoying you found this as a young woman? LOL The likely reason you may now be feeling invisible is that you are no longer of child-bearing age, hence no longer being sexually evaluated … and no longer getting “those looks.”

    This is not to say that women of a certain age are not still extremely attractive, or even wildly sexy, to men. Indeed, the women authors pictured in both the articles here look quite youthful and very attractive. It merely means they are no longer being evaluated as potential baby makers. It would seem this could be viewed as quite liberating.

    So, if you are no longer getting “those looks,” in what way is it that you DO want to be noticed? How about as a strong, relevant, dynamic, intelligent PERSON. Much of the reason for the Womens Movement of prior decades was due to wise women knowing the truth: That fecundity and fertility fade with age and to truly be a woman of substance – rather than merely a baby making machine – a woman must obtain a good education and pursue her goals outside of the procreational arena. Assuming you have accomplished this, why would you want to spend any time lamenting the so-called invisibility factor? Enjoy it!

  7. You make some great points. In order for the species to survive, men must be hard-wired to make a determination about which females will be the best child bearers. This is based on physical characteristics. The concerns many older women have are not about not getting eyeballed or whistled at. They are about not being acknowledged in stores (by female clerks as well as male) or in people assuming that we are incapable of competing with younger people in the employment arena or in being ignored by the popular media and advertising. We deserve the same visibility as anyone else. Your closing statements are really interesting, since many of us WERE part of the early women's movement. We were surprised, therefore, that given our level of education and purpose, we were being overlooked as we aged.

  8. Ok, if it’s not that you miss “that look” from men, then what is it? Apparently, this invisibility problem is something that seems quite real to some women, as I’ve now seen it written about in several different forums … and all the comments to your article are from women.

    Quite frankly, I’ve never experienced this problem and have never heard it mentioned by anyone whom I know personally. I’m over fifty, run my own business, manage a staff and employees, still have school age children at home, still doing the whole soccer/swim team parent thingy …. Suffice to say, I’m busy, busy, busy. When I enter a store – as you suggest – I do not feel ignored or invisible. Store clerks don’t know who I am or what I do with my life any more than they know what you are all about. So why would they treat you as invisible? And, I DO see our demographic represented in the popular media and advertising: Sally Fields (even older than I) has her own TV show playing a mother – as do lots of other over fifty men and women. Plenty of ads on TV and in magazines with models over fifty. Sorry, I just don’t get it.

    Wait, let me correct that. There actually have been times when some zoned out teenager seems to ignore me. In fact, I was talking with my sixteen year old nephew just last evening. I asked him the same question four times and all I got in return was an indifferent shrug. This did not cause me to feel invisible, it caused me to laugh (out loud) at the idiocy of being a teen – something I likely was guilty of at that age, too. As an adult, why should I care whether a child tunes me out? I AM irrelevant in the eyes of a teenager. Who cares?

    My own mother, when I was in my teens, used to say that time being idle is time usually spent finding things to complain about. Could it be that SOME women over fifty are empty nesters with just too much time on their hands? Too much time to think about me, me me? Why not throw yourself into charity work, or DO SOMETHING constructive and rewarding with that valuable education and smarts that you possess … and quit worrying about being invisible – because I truly doubt people and the media are ignoring you.

  9. This is a great dialog. Focusing out and making a difference in the world is what every human being should be doing, and those who realize that are lucky, indeed. Yes, a life without purpose can, indeed, result in dissatisfaction. But most of the women who see invisibility as an issue are educated, outgoing, independent women. Many are still working in high profile jobs. Please understand, these women aren't saying invisibility is ruining their lives or creating their problems. They aren't victims. They are merely acknowledging that visibility in society diminishes as we age. You sound like you have a full, powerful life and have never experienced any of what these women have. Bravo to you (and to your friends).

  10. Funny that mishe wants to assign blame here, and dismiss the issue as so much vain piffle. Basically she has argued that the women who feel invisible are no longer physically attractive and/or lack confidence/vibrancy. She doesn't feel it, so it should not exist, she seems to say.

    Great for her that she has no problem adjusting to her 50s. Maybe owning her own business or having kids still at home is part of that. Maybe she's just better than every other woman out there and has something to teach us.

    As I said, I don't feel invisible when I go out into the world, but the fact that some other women feel that way does not surprise me.

  11. Thank you for this comment. Your line "If she doesn't feel it, it should not exist" applies to a lot of situations in life. I'm always aware that my own personal experiences don't speak for the world. When I hear women over and over say they feel invisible, I respect that. When a woman tells me she doesn't feel invisible, I take it as her own experience. It doesn't imply anything for those who do.

  12. I just watched an interview with gorgeous 57 year old baby boomer, Christie Brinkley. Gee, I wonder if SHE ever feels invisible. lol

  13. Renee, this is SUCH an important topic. Boomers have changed every part of the norm as we grew and aged and I’m certain we’ll change the face of aging too.

    I write a column for Kalon Women about ageism and it’s rampant. Everywhere I look, I see examples of it. Becoming invisible is the height of ageism so I’m very glad to see you writing about it.

    Keep writing about it please?

    Marcia

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