Invisibility, aging, and perspective

Lots of my friends are sharing this piece, On the invisibility of middle aged women. 

The author, Dorthe Nors, talks about wanting to speak for “for the many women who are no longer young, no longer the sexy one, no longer worth helping out in the subway, no longer worth stopping your car for when she stands there with her grocery bags and her saggy breasts, no longer worth the intellectual conversation, no longer on screen, no longer in the movies, no longer counted, no longer… somebody—or as I asked an older Swedish feminist once: What would you say is the strangest thing about becoming an older woman? And she answered: Woman?! I’m no longer a woman, and then she laughed her heart out, because what else can you do when the only alternative to becoming an older woman is dying young or—as many women choose in their fight to stay visible—subject themselves to Botox, knives and scissors, pain, and ridicule.”

In the comments thread under all my friends’ Facebook shares, there’s this: Amy Schumer’s Last Fuckable Day. If you haven’t seen that, go watch it. It’s funny.

But that’s about beautiful women in movies. They’re extra high visibility so the slump to invisible might be felt as a sharp shock. How bad middle aged invisibility is depends on how visible you were in the first place. Another friend commented on Facebook that there are a variety of perspectives on whether this is a loss, how much of a loss it is, and how much or how little you care. In my recent blog post Midlife is an odd time of life I wrote that some women find invisibility a relief. It was never attention they wanted. Others never got the attention in the first place. Too plain, too fat, too whatever we never got the attention and so don’t feel its loss. Youth may be necessary for male attention but it isn’t sufficient.

We live in a society where looks matter a great deal. Even in my world, the university, they matter a great deal. Attractive actors who just memorize a script get better teaching evaluations than actual professors. Worse yet, students seem to learn more. They pay more attention and retain more knowledge when it comes from a good looking source. Yikes. We joke, but it’s not really funny, that for women the best route to getting higher teaching evaluations is losing 20 lbs.

So if women range in attractiveness in our youth but no women are noticed in middle age, then middle age is the great leveler. If you’re among the always invisible you can say to the others, welcome to my world.

Maybe we can teach people to care less about looks. That’s a great strategy. Start to care about something else besides looks and the way people look at you. Maybe focus on being a good friend or contributing actively to politics. It’s good for the world and good for happiness in old age. See Women who care most about their looks have the toughest time aging.

A similar thing is true about menopausal weight gain. Those of us who’ve always been chubby might not think it’s such a big deal. See The unexpected advantages of growing up chubby.

For me the kind of invisibility I’ve worried about is usually not random men thinking I’m good looking, or noticing me, it’s being seen as who I am. Sometimes that’s wanting to be seen as an athlete and other times it’s wanting to be seen as a member of the queer community.

What’s your experience been? Do you worry about the invisibility of middle age? Which bits bother you? I’m curious. Let’s chat!


3 thoughts on “Invisibility, aging, and perspective

  1. This is my greatest fear associated with aging. It’s petty and vain, but I like (some of) the attention I receive for being young and attractive. It’s depressing how little society values older women. I actually like the way my face looks better now at 32 than I did at 18. I think I’m getting better intellectually and emotionally with age, but society doesn’t seem to agree.

  2. This reminds me of the time I came home from the gym and said to my husband that “I’ve apparently reached that age – when I get approached at the gym it’s not for my phone number, it’s for the phone number of my tattoo artist…”

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