I am invisible. I am not seen when I walk down the street, not seen in the back of an elevator, not seen in a crowd.
I remember very distinctly the moment that my invisibility became clear to me. It was my 42nd birthday and I was in Las Vegas with a group of friends. We were camped in a cabana on the grown up side of the massive pool area (the other side was dominated by families frolicking in the wave machine and kicking up sand on the fake beach). We ventured out for a dip, protected from the blazing sun with big floppy hats, and made our way gingerly toward a pool crowded with string bikinis and the hard, tanned bodies of the under 30 set. There we stood, five of us, mostly in our forties and of varying shapes and sizes and realized how terribly self-conscious we were surrounded by hot-bodied vixens with perky boobs. We marveled at this one’s tattoo and that one’s perfect ass and lost ourselves in self-critical nonsense until suddenly I realized the thing that has become the most liberating and also most crippling fact of my forties. No one was making fun of our wrinkly faces or wobbly knees or soft bellies. No one noticed our saggy boobs or cottage cheesy thighs or imperfect shapes. No one noticed our imperfect shapes because no one was looking at us. We were invisible.
Don’t get me wrong – this is a group of very attractive women, all in pretty good shape and mostly looking younger than our 40-something years. But it seems that in general, being a middle-aged woman means being invisible. I can't remember the last time I heard a whistle aimed in my direction or had a man flirt with me. In part, my invisibility is self-perpetuated. I am married, and madly in love with my very handsome husband. So I certainly don’t create opportunities for flirtation. At work, I am aware of maintaining a professional air at all times. And professional air flowing around a 43-year-old woman is not sexy. In fact, I guess it’s so unsexy as to become a cloak of invisibility (and not in a cool superhero kind of way).
But it isn’t just that I’m married and trying to maintain a professional façade. In large part, it really is just my age. I was at dinner the other night with three male colleagues and realized it was incredibly comfortable and easy and fun and in part that ease is due to my being a woman of a certain age. I am not a girl to flirt with. I am not some broad to get drunk and hit on. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of the boys. I’m treated differently – my sex is acknowledged. But I’m a dame – a woman of a certain age who commands a degree of respect. And very often, I enjoy being a dame. But truly deep down and dead honest, I miss being seen.
Some people feel invisible as children. Some when they are teenagers and some their whole lives. I never really knew what it meant to feel that way until very recently. To be clear, I don’t feel invisible at home. Sig Other sees me as a woman, as a partner and as a sexual object. And that should be all that matters. But it isn’t. There is still a part of me that wants to be visible not just to my husband. There is still a noisy, turbulent part of me that wants to turn heads, inspire a whistle, make a man smile. The challenge of my 43rd year is to find a way to quiet that part of me, to feel relevant, to feel visible, to still be a dame but also to be seen.