The (middle) age of becoming invisible

Photo by Simon Launay

I’m clearly not alone. I did a search “invisible middle-aged women” on Google, and got 36,400,000 results.

It was 1983 when it happened to me for the first time. I was riding home from my local library and as I cycled past a group of young men who were standing at a bus stop, one of them whistled at me.

I couldn’t believe it! I had heard about it. I had seen it happen in films, but it had never happened to me. I was only 13, after all.

So, someone thought I looked “hot”, I concluded but was not entirely sure what exactly it meant. I had grown a pair of boobs, sort of, so perhaps that was it, I reasoned.

The incident made me feel a little proud, a little excited—and weirdly a little sad, too. I didn’t realise it at the time but looking back I understand that I was sad because the incident marked the end of my childhood as I knew it.

When you’re a young-ish woman, men—and people in general—look at you. I don’t mean that it’s always sexual but you’re acknowledged all the same. You’re a person who exists and is visible to other people.

“It’s just that I don’t seem to exist anymore.”

That’s what you kind of get used to so when you hit midlife, it takes you a while to understand what happens. Something changes.

Perhaps you first notice that men don’t give you that certain look anymore (which is not altogether bad news as things can get really creepy). Then people start talking over you in meetings. Then they don’t seem to realise that you, too, are walking down the street and try to walk through you.

Gradually it dawns on you: This is what my mother was talking about! I’ve become invisible! Not only as a potential partner but also as, well, a person in general. It’s not that anyone thinks ill of me or stopped liking me. It’s just that I don’t seem to exist anymore.

Call me a late bloomer but now that I’m fast approaching 50, I finally feel at home in my own skin. Or perhaps I should say that I finally feel at home in my mind. It can take a long time for a person to come to terms with their flaws and shortcomings, but as you age, you become kinder to yourself.

“Us people are funny that way. We tend to see those who see us.”

As a result of that kindness, you reach a whole new level of quiet, content confidence: This is what I’m like and I’m happy about it. Ready to be friends with the world just the way you are. If only the world could see you.

I’d like to be able to finish off on some empowering note. Isn’t that what us middle-aged women are supposed to do: Say to ourselves and our fellow-middle-aged women that it’s not all bad, that, in fact, it’s all pretty good and now we can shine, take control and finally make our dreams come true!

But that’s not really me, we don’t have to shine and some dreams are better forgotten.

But there is one trick that I do have up my sleeve to make us visible again.

Next time you walk past someone, look at them in the eye and smile. I promise that more often than not you’ll get a smile back.

Us people are funny that way. We tend to see those who see us.