Invisibility

A great blog from Around my Kitchen Table about invisibility in older women and the sacking of Arlene Phillips has got me thinking. Get over to her blog for some fascinating thoughts on both of these subjects and apologies to her for nicking the idea as a topic for a blog. It just struck such a chord with me and is something I found myself thinking about quite a few times as I have grown older.


When you are a teenager the last thing you want is invisibility, unless your parents are being excrutiatingly embarrassing. My best friend and I used to walk our family dogs after school every evening and when we were about fourteen we used to wear our shortest shorts (this was New Zealand so it was warm!) or tiniest skirts and the aim was to see how many wolf whistles or beeps of car horns we could get on our circuit. Looking back there seems an innocence about it. Look at me, look at me! our behaviour said but we hated it if anyone actually stopped or tried to talk to us. That was not the game. We were practising, playing, trying out our new female power in a way that now seems somewhat reckless but then was more funny than anything else. It was a game.



In your twenties you might sometimes love a bit of invisibility. A good looking girl is public property in all sorts of ways. Builders shout and whistle. Complete strangers tell you to "Cheer up, love. It may never happen." Older men press up to you on crowded tubes and won't meet your eye even when you have the space to stamp hard but discreetly on their foot. Sometimes it is great. You are dressed up and made up and know you look good and the glances as you walk by affirm your general gorgeousness. Sometimes you just wish you could go for a run without men calling out as you pass. This double edged sword is with you through much of your thirties and then, sometime in your late thirties or early forties, you begin to feel the first early signs of the dwindling of your visibility. If you are happy and busy, maybe with children, maybe not, this doesn't seem to matter too much. You can still turn it on if you want to and you are too busy living your life to notice very often that you are being ignored or to mind very much when you do.



And then in your late forties and early fifties comes the next stage: actual invisibility. You can go into shops and buy petrol and find that people don't seem to look at you, don't notice you at all. You thought when you were younger that the kindness and jollity of the older man in the bike shop was just a reflection of the fact that the world was a nice place. Now you realise that people like talking to young and pretty girls (and why not?) and what you understood as a general benevolence, if you were cheery and naive like me, was actually something else. Not necessarily something bad, just something else.

At work I found the combination of the sharp suit, the high heels and seniority meant it was easy to be listened to and hence to be visible. Outside work, in the jeans and the t shirt and the trainers and the ubiquitous fleece, I just blend into the background these days. And astonishingly, I really like it. There is a freedom in invisibility, in not being looked at, in not being noticed, that is wonderfully releasing. As a woman in her fifties you can, if you like, wander about like the Invisible Man without his bandages. You can look at things in shops without being asked every five minutes whether you need any help. You can read half a book in Waterstones without anyone noticing you are doing it. You can smile at small children in the street without their parents glaring at you for being a stranger.

And then if you like you can take the invisibility cloak off. You can adopt your ringing complaining voice and people's heads turn. (You might not get good service but that won't be any different from anyone else!) You can put your lipstick on and have a blow dry and pretend to be someone who might spend some money and miraculously appear in shops again. You can wear your eccentric clothes and have people glance at your green shoes or your green feet. I never realised how much I would like having both options!

Comments

  1. Once again you are spot on with your observations - I too find it enjoyable to take the invisibility cloak on or off as I please - however I suspect that as I get even older and my ability to be visible dwindles away to nothing it will start to make me very cross. However, the very nice thing is that in blogland we are all equals. I like that :-)

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  2. Yes, spot on. I remember my late teens, but not with any happy nostalgia. I remember being wolf-whistled at, but also grabbed (my chest, in a busy high street), pinched, groped, pressed up against etc. I didn't dress provocatively (I went everywhere in jodphurs reeking of ponies). Invisibility has been a blessed relief (I'm 43), but like you say, have a nice blow dry, put on a bit of lippy and stop being invisible. Nice to have a choice!

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  3. I have to say that I'm happier now than in my 20s. I really don't care if any man finds me attractive! I wish I could take some weight off but only for my health. Otherwise, I'd not care about that either. I feel settled.

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  4. Ah, but wait. It comes around again as you get older..I'm talking 60 -70. Then people notice you and want to carry baskets for you, and open doors.
    I'm practising wearing purplr.

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  5. What a lovely piece of writing! I think invisibility to a certain extent lies in the mind rather than the body. Some people would not fail to be visible not matter how they were dressed. But it's certainly pleasant to fade into the background and observe and imagine all these people as characters in novels.

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  6. not quite there, but practising already with the trumpeting Mrs Middle Aged voice. The freedom of just not caring (so wince-worthy to my children) is one of the payoffs of getting older. Lovely blog, em.

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  7. yes, very lovely blog and so true. I went from desperately wanting to be invisible at school to being totally outrageous (but maybe another mask in itself)....now I just don't know. I have to think about this one...and thank you for making me think!
    PS - love your blog awards - most deserved - you paint a divine picture of Wales and would tempt anyone to visit. Here, as you already know, you are preaching to the converted!

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  8. I used to live in the village where I was Deputy Head at the Infant School so I always felt incredibly visible. Wherever I went little voices would call my name - across a road, from the back of a shop, down my garden path - wherever my little pupils spotted me!! Now, I am just another middle aged woman out and about - its not half as much fun but at least I can nip to the shops in my gardening clothes without recognition.

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  9. Just chortling at the idea of Mags with her gorgeous mane of auburn hair being invisible!

    I suffer a bit when I'm running - tend to get leers and lewd comments from the back and shocked faces from the front - a touch of the 15/51s!

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  10. An amazing post - I, vain thing that I am, frequently look in the mirror at the woman I have become and try to square it with the realisation that I never was in the first pace and am quite unlikley to now. I never did wear make up or trotted around in sassy clothes - so it's a bit late now I suppose:)...maybe when I'm 80...

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  11. Absolutly agree with all you have written - so beautifully too once again.

    I have slight regrets about what the passing of the years has done to me and my body - but as one door closes others open. I do like the confidence that has come with maturity, and yes the choice to dress up or down and not give a hoot is great.

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  12. How beautifully observed - it came as a bit of a shock to me when I first realized that I had become invisible - but now I think it wonderful.

    Although on reflection - I may have become visible in a very different way - as a rather mad women, in very muddy clothes, with dirt on her hands, who can never remember her pin number (sigh)
    (Oh, perhaps I should mention - I work as a gardener, hence the dirt)

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  13. Wow, this is a great post and neatly ties together some thoughts I have had. No wonder some older women just let go and become wildly eccentric! I shall start hoarding purple... ;)

    Thanks for your comments on my blog!

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  14. Wonderful observations. You have put into words what I have been slowly realizing these past few years. (I am 50). Very interesting phenomenon.

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  15. I's intersting to hear how many other people share this experience! I wonder if we shall get less and less visible as we grow older as sue suggests or just so eccentric we cannot be ignored? I think I shall plump for veering from one to the other when I am 80!

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  16. Great post Elizabeth. I find that, living in the middle of nowhere, I have slipped on my cloak of invisibility earlier than I might have otherwise. I dress for practical purposes not aesthetic ones and often have to bully myself to remember to make an effort. It is, as a you say, a double edged sword. There is something very pleasing about not being noticed and just getting on with things, but I don't like the pitying looks of those who seem to be saying 'oh dear, if she just tried she would be perfectly presentable'. I also really notice how hard everyone tries in London. Even in my best clothes I feel like a frump when I go there...

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  17. So very well said! At 59 I am happy for what measure of invisibility has come my way (usually) and in fact it is still not quite enough for me. On the other hand, if I am being really honest, at other times I miss the feeling of being "exceptionally desirable looking" to the world out there. Just depends on where I am and what I'm doing. But mostly, I'm glad for the peace and confidence of this age to be freely who I really am.

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  18. I don't mind a bit of invisibility either, though occasionally it irks me in work settings - I don't do the sharp suit and blowdry thing, I still dress like the ageing hippy I am, just a fraction more expensively than in my youth. It probably has more to do with the fine coating of dog hair that seems to follow me everywhere, rather than the actual clothes, though! I prefer dogs to diplomats, so mostly I don't care :)

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  19. A really interesting subject, Elizabeth - I know exactly what you mean. Remember clearly walking along the road with my friend Caroline in hotpants and counting how many wolf-whistles we got. Now, like you, I think I'm at the in-between stage, and it is quite an empowering feeling being able to slip in and out of that invisibility fleece. Mind you, it does raise some interesting issues - I don't think men ever quite seem to be invisible in the same way women do.

    PS Thank you for your lovely comment on mine - MUST sort out that trip to Wales soon...

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  20. Hi Elizabeth,
    I am invisible only when I choose to be, wearing the equivalent of purple and certainly running my stick along the railings, metaphorically. I think self-confidence and visibility go together. It is possible to remain visible even in Jeans and wellies, a positive attitude and nature will always command attention.

    Thank you for visiting my blog. I think I have written on your blog before; I too am a cancer survivor. I hope all goes well with you.

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  21. I agree Friko that it is possible to be visible in jeans and wellies and sometimes choose to be! What I enjoy though is sometimes choosing the freedom of invisibility!

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  22. Honey I am wearing my purple, using my stick, but not chewing tobacco. An amazing post today. Blessings
    QMM

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  23. I have just smiled at Elizabethd's comment about wearing purple! This is thought provoking. I'm glad you're enjoying your new invisibility. It's good to read.

    At 37 I do I'm invisible as my appearance is at the bottom of the list below caring for two little ones and keeping things going. You touched on this. I had my first night out in over a year a fortnight ago. I applied eyeliner! I was noticed (by a younger stranger) and it had become such an unfamiliar experience that my friend and I laughed about it. It was flattering in a strange way but I no longer seek it or need it. My security and mood boosters come from Mr P and the little ones - our life.

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  24. This is a professional secret. I'm sharing it because I know I'm in discrete company.

    Do you know how to tell that a clergyman is getting older? He thinks the mother of the bride looks better than the bride.

    Quote me on that and I'll deny it!

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  25. Hello Elizabeth! You certainly nailed this one! Absolutely spot on with your observations, but at 41 I can hold my hand up and say "I'm there already". But I think that's also to do with living in the country,don't you think, where you can get away with going to the shops in your wellies and paint splattered trackie bottoms, without anyone paying the slightest attention.

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  26. Totally on the spot! I feel completely invisible when I go shopping. People walk straight into me and never apologise! And if on the odd occasions I am using a mobility scooter, they walk straight across my path and never, ever see me!

    Not sure what I have to do to be visible! Sharp suits and high heels are well and truly out, and running down the high street in purple waving a sword is also out!

    Ah well, at least *I* know I am here!

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  27. Oh elizabeth you really really do have a talent for observing and writing so beautifully.

    I've missed reading you these last couple of months so it's great to be back...ish (wall to wall work, family and visitors still).

    Lovely post.

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  28. Thank you for mentioning my blog. I was wondering why I had a few comments from people whose names I didn't recognise. I must get around to their blogs now.

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  29. Your thoughts struck a chord with me, except that I'm more with Preseli Mags in that I didn't usually find visibility pleasant when I was young.
    I found your blog on someone else's list, and am glad I visited.

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