Saturday, 24 August 2013

The visibility question

It is a truism that women of a certain age become invisible.  You hear it again and again.  The phenomenon even spawned a response in the blogosphere where older women posted photographs of What I Wore Today, trying to reclaim the right of the older woman to be interested in clothes and style and what she looks like.  Occasionally I would stumble upon one of these posts, rarely perhaps and only because it was written by someone I read for other reasons, such as the thoughtful and erudite posts of Materfamilias.  Recently Mater posted about a certain disaffection with the idea of these posts and it got me thinking about why I had never wished to join in. I like clothes.  I am interested in the way I look.  But I also find clothes deeply boring and am far more interested in what I do than in what I wear.  What is going on here in my head?  Do I think the older woman is truly invisible and if so do I care?

When I was young I was reasonably pretty.  The world was nice to me on the whole.  People smiled at me in shops and held doors open for me.  I got served quickly and cheerfully in bars and pubs.  When I accidentally cut someone up at the lights and made an apologetic face, people (not just men, people) smiled at me forgivingly.  I was nice to the world too.  I tried to be considerate and appreciative.  I smiled at people and stood up on the tube to offer my seat to pregnant women or the elderly.  I thought the world was nice to me because the world was a nice place.

It was in the milk stained, exhausted weeks after I had my first baby that it first occurred to me that it was possible that the way I looked influenced the way other people behaved towards me.  I know, what an innocent I was.  Standing, with unwashed hair, baby vomit on my shoulder and the grey face of the terminally sleep deprived, I eventually got to the front of the queue in the garage to pay for my petrol.  The fiftyish man at the till had been smiling and chatty with the two girls and the attractive older woman in front of me as each got the counter and got out her purse.  His eyes flicked to me and the smile switched off.  I was too shattered to care but I did notice an unusual cursoriness to the transaction.  It happened a lot in those exhausted first few months.  I was less visible, less interesting, less worth a smile or a chat.  I didn't really think about it much as I struggled to work out how to care for my new baby but when sleep slowly returned, the baby settled into a routine and I began to have time to wash my hair and put my mascara on I did notice that my interactions with the outside world had got back to normal.

Looks were a help at work too.  I worked in a man's world.  To be female in such a world was ok only if you were extremely competent and looked attractive.  Looks without competence meant you were not taken seriously, whether you were male or female.  Competence without looks was ok in a man but a cause of irritation to the men who dominated that world in a woman.  Such a woman might do you a good job but, in a world where looking after clients was as important as professional ability, a plain woman was rather letting the side down and was considerably less useful than her competent and attractive colleague.

I remembered those days of early motherhood in my late forties when looking good began to be something I had to work harder at.  Style the hair, apply the slap, put on the smart clothes and I could still elicit the smiling response from the equivalent of the man in the petrol station.  But make no effort and I could begin to feel invisible.  In a world where looks and youth count I was beginning to lose my currency.

Maybe it was a good thing that at about the same time I was seriously ill and in a glancing, squinting, screwing up my eyes sort of way had a brief, terrified look at my own mortality.  When I came out the other side of that hard year I found I didn't really care.  I was alive.  That, and the people I love, were all that mattered to me.  A couple of years later I left the job and began the slow process of working out what to do with the rest of my life.  So far the answer seems to be to make soup with courgettes.

And invisibility?  I quite like it.  It is quite peaceful and private to be able to wander about, apparently under everyone's radar.  I find at this stage of my life I can choose how visible I want to be.  Wear a lot of bright colour and bounce about and everybody sees you.  Wear old scruffy jeans and no make up and it is like the invisible man unwinding the bandages to reveal empty air.  I quite enjoy pulling out all the stops every now and then but mostly I am much more interested in what I am doing than in what I am wearing and whether anyone is looking.  I look at my beautiful daughters and feel very strongly that it is their time in the spotlight, with all its pleasures and pains.  I would be lying if I said that I don't mind getting old because I do mind the loss of energy and physical vitality and I work hard at physical fitness in order to hang on to those for as long as I can.  But I caught a few minutes of a dreadful programme on Channel 4 called "How not to get old".  It was appalling.  You can throw all the money you like at plastic surgery and lazer treatments and £200 face creams but age you will, just with a little less money in your purse, and a look which is not young, simply worked on.

There is much that is difficult about this stage of life, principally the aging and ill health of parents and loved ones, but there is much that I like too.  There is a freedom from work which is wonderful and a huge freedom from caring at all about what others think.  My children have grown into the kind of adults I would wish to be friends with and I love that.  I know what brings me down (crowds, negativity, consumerism) and try to avoid it.  I know what makes me happy (yoga, walking, family, wine) and try to include something in every day which makes me smile.  The question of the invisibility of the aging woman does not seem very interesting.  Perhaps when women are young we are too visible, too judged on what we look like and what we wear.  Maybe redresssing that balance with a little invisibility is not a bad thing.  So for me a degree of invisibility is part of what happens at this stage of life if I choose to let it, and I sometimes do and fall quietly into it with something like relief.  And sometimes I wear orange and turquoise and make a lot of noise.  But it is not very important. It is only a tiny part of who I am and perhaps that is why I never wanted to join in.

What about you?  Do clothes matter to you?  Do you find yourself more or less visible as you get older, and more importantly, what do you think and feel about it and other aspects of ageing?  I would love to know.


55 comments:

  1. Being forced to wear my specs recently has made me take a long hard look at myself. Ultimately, it's been empowering because I've realised 'I'm' still here, but, my initial reaction was one of deep insecurity, though some of that's simply because I can't see properly in my glasses! I've noticed that as I get older, I feel more strongly about women being judged on their looks... especially since those unwritten rules don't apply to men, but some of that comes with being a mother of two daughters and wanting a better, more equal world for them. I watched the first of the programme you refer to and was deeply saddened to see a beautiful young woman who had chosen to have surgery to 'correct' breasts changed by weight loss and pregnancy. I particularly felt for all the women watching the programme who might be left thinking that paying for plastic surgery in order to conform to some spurious notion of what is considered beautiful is the only answer. Sorry, I've gone on a bit!

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    1. That was the part of the programme I saw Chris! We are losing our tolerance of variety and change I think and becoming very stuck in a vision of what is beautiful which is extremely narrow. Our obsession with youth and hollywood style beauty is altering our perceptions of what is normal. Wearing glasses in your fifties is normal!

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  2. In my mind I am heading towards "middle age" (70 this year). I very rarely wear any more makeup than just lipstick. I keep active and had lost a lot of weight with the worry and stress of my husband with dementia (now back up to 57 kilos.)

    Now I have met a wonderful man who cares not only for me but helps by visiting my husband with me. He tells me I am beautiful and I am starting to believe him. He travels between our houses usually twice a day.

    I have never felt invisible though. Perhaps when I get old.

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    1. You have travelled such a hard road. How good to hear you have someone with you now.

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  3. I'm surprised at how interested I am in other oldish (60) women and how they dress. If I see a good one (thoughtful and effective, not expensive) it gives me a real kick. I'm hopelessly lazy about grooming, can barely manage moisturizer and I admire the consistent effort some people put in. But not if they're not interesting people too who forget about it when they get on with the real business of the day. When I look too awful I depress myself, and that seems like a bad thing. I do feel that the slightest glint of interest in absolutely anyone else's eyes always makes you feel better and I think it's probably good to make an effort. But surgery and stuff seems a million miles away, though teeth, hair and a little bit of slap seem fine to me.

    As for the youth, it all seems to have got a bit out of perspective. Just saw the Bling Ring, one emerges just desperate for some conversation, an opinion or two, sick to the back teeth of shoes and jewellery. That seemed to be the point. But who knows what others will see?

    Invisibility is a funny thing. A bit self-fulfilling too. Useful sometimes, highly irritating at others. I think you're right -it just comes around and goes around.

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    1. I think you put your finger on it when you talk about forgetting about it and getting on with the real business of the day. That is just what I mean when I talk about how clothes both interest me and don't

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  4. Very impressed that you pulled this post together in the brief time since you read mine -- it's so thoughtful and articulate. I really like your point about not being too quick to dismiss the value of invisibility -- and I'm fascinated to see how the conversation continues over here. Above all, I suppose I hope we take a bit of responsibility, at our wise age (?!), for showing younger women, our daughters, granddaughters, nieces, etc., that our visibility isn't our only dimension, albeit an important one. There are other considerations that are at least as important as we move through the world.

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    1. You put your finger on it precisely. Our visibility is important but in a world where looks and youth are paramount there is no chance that women will miss that message. The message that other things matter too is perhaps in danger of becoming a whisper.

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  5. Fascinating post, Elizabeth. But I think you haven't talked about how a person sounds and behaves. Let's take an extreme example: Ruby Wax. Put Ruby in any clothes you like and she would be noticed. Not necessarily loved by everybody, but noticed. She couldn't be invisible unless she wanted seriously to be so. I think so often what happens is that people lose confidence as they age at a time when they should be enjoying its senior fruits. And confidence to dress and look and behave how you choose is one of those few compensations allowed by the ageing process - as in when I am 60 I shall wear purple! The cardinal sin is to be boring and it is a sin so easy to commit as the ears roll by. You are most certainly not boring, but so many people are, and become also so limited in their aspirations as to become invisible by default. On another note: I do think you should become a columnist: what you write (about anything) is always such excellent brain fodder while always being completely approachable. Can I say that? If you are condemned to make courgette soup - at least take the nation with you.

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    1. I am deeply flattered that someone who writes as you do thinks I could be a columnist. You have made my highly visible day!

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  6. Hi Elizabeth. I have a friend with a husband who is older than she is and she tells me it happens to men too. And she finds it very painful to see him overlooked, for example, in a shop. (makes you think people who serve in shops and garages have a lot to answer for and heavy civic responsibilities). But but... apart from getting the necessary attention (eg at a bar) isn't it also about how we engage? You know that Northerners always like a bit of banter, and I suppose I do often try to make contact with people that way, to cheer their dreary serving-people days.

    We get a lot of coach parties here full of people of age (how about that for a description of us?!) and most look terribly boring and samey. I love to see someone wearing something beautiful or unusual and wish people (any age) would risk that more. I believe that if we can't look young we can be stylish or interesting - and that is what engages me in others too. Lightens my day. Charles and I sometimes seek out places eg in London, where we can sit and watch an attractive and interesting world go by and then discuss their clothes and 'look'.

    I think a lot about ageing - it's a kind of metamorphosis I think, like adolescence, and I welcome all thoughts and ideas about how to navigate the transformation. Thanks for this. Would be great to talk about it too...?

    XXXXXX

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    1. I do very much agree that visibility is also about how we engage and, as another northerner, I too tend to chat and smile. It is interesting that the periods of invisibility I experienced when I was younger involved both not caring how I looked and having very low energy in that post childbirth fug so there is something going on besides youth and looks! I love beautiful clothes and both buy and make them and love a really singing colour, in fact at the moment I am wearing a fabulous turquoise waterfall cardigan. I do agree about the metamorphosis and yes, it would be good to talk about it.

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  7. O - and I love this website = http://advancedstyle.blogspot.co.uk/

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    1. Sorry to butt in but brilliant link! I wish we had some of that in the UK, rather than that single grey-haired woman who appears in the Guardian on Saturday.

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  8. Dear Elizabeth,
    I love your post and agree whole-heartedly. I have finished an almost 300 page manuscript about the question of how women can cope with getting older, and think you are right: one can play the drum (and I am doing it often) and then one is still not invisible. Far from it. But: it is not the utmost important thing any more (though it still is important). I can look without envy at young girls and women and enjoy their beauty and smoothness, and I love their conversations (and hear a lot of worries too - every age has its own). They tell me that they feel encouraged to see older women who make an effort and succeed - effort not to be like them - that would be ridiculous - but to be dashing in their own age. Show them that it is not all despair or decay. I abhor botox and cosmetic surgery and think it downright silly: no young man will mistake me for a second for a teenager. The men of my age are still interested, not wanting to look into a plastic face with pouting fish-lips (not for a long time at least). :-) And here I come to one of my important conclusions: I think that being invisible is often a question of still wanting sex or not. There are quite a lot of women who think: 'I have played my part, thank you - enough with that'. They become invisible - but that might have happened even at forty - and I think that is OK for them. IF one still is interested to be sexy (and one doesn't need to look like a hooker) - men will notice.
    As you wrote: I too like the choice. The work that I do - and my appearance: both important. I don't rejoice in seeing signs of age - I do a lot to stay fit and healthy - but I can accept it, and glow from the inside (through a well-done make-up :-)
    So: I enjoyed till now every stage of getting older - and intend to do that further!

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    1. Interesting idea about whether visibility is connected with wanting sex. I am not sure. I do think that wanting to attract makes you more visible and by that I don't necessarily mean attracting a new partner. I certainly take pleasure on knowing my husband finds me attractive as well as dressing for my own pleasure. I am also interested in your assertion that you have enjoyed every stage of getting older. I think that I can say that with honesty for the journey so far (I don't meand that enjoy the signs of ageing but that I enjoy the life stage I have reached). I do wonder if there will come a time when I can no longer say that I a always pleased when I meet women who are further along the journey than I am who remain passionate and engaged and engaging.

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  9. If you had been speaking to me Elizabeth I would have been nodding and agreeing all the way through, even to all your likes' and dislikes. I deliberately avoided that Channel 4 programme, How Not to Get Old, I thought it would be 'degrading' to older women, after all as my husband says...everyone gets old (if they are lucky!). I also notice how men noticemy daughter when we are out together and I am just invisible, it always strikes me as funnny. Only 'old' men still look in my direction when I am on my own - that makes me laugh too.

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    1. I like the reminder that we all get old "if we are lucky"!

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  10. Clothes matter hugely to me Elizabeth - and I am 80! I still spend as much as I can afford
    on what I wear, my hair etc. and I must say I really don't care whether folk notice me or not.
    I want to feel nice and I make sure that I do.
    I have a huge group of friends of about the same age and we all feel the same way - we meet often
    for lunch or for coffee and have loads of laughs.
    My husband never fails to tell me if he thinks I look nice and he buys me nice (not over the top expensive)
    jewellery for birthdays and Christmas. I do think it is all an attitude of mind and you must not let yourself
    feel unnoticed and ignored (not you personally but women in general)

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    1. I am sure you are right that you can choose not be invisible and indeed I generally do! I have found it interesting to discover that to choose to be invisible can be quite a pleasant and oddly relaxing thing to do as well. I like the fact that you are driven by how you want to feel. That is a very good way to go about it.

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  11. Elizabeth, how well you have written about a topic that is surely in the air as a certain female generation who knew additional freedoms in youthful days now finds another sort of freedom as years pass by. So many books, magazines, films and television programs attempt to address the invisible woman syndrome.

    I guess that each woman "faces" this in her own way year by year. I've alway looked younger than my actual age, and find this continues now that I am closer to 70 than to 60. As you know, I am still employed, and work in a fashion retail environment. I see many women of varying ages every working day and find ways to help them enjoy selecting additions to their wardrobe that will please them. I hear many confidences and encounter many personalities. Our company has been somewhat identified with the invisible woman demographic, but currently is attempting to broaden our appeal to much younger women. We are in very interesting times.

    I will not write more here, but could email you a bit more of my thinking ... if you'd like. xo

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    1. I would very much like to hear Frances. I thought you would have some interesting thoughts on this!

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  12. I wanted to be invisible when I was young, I was embarrassed if people looked at me, it's only as I grown older that I realize I don't care if people look at me, I'm indifferent to their opinion, it's my husband I want to notice me, and he does. I feel sorry for women who are afraid to grow older, yes I hate the aches and pains, but being older has made me freer too.
    I hate it when someone older is being interviewed and the interviewer says and you're 76 years young. I'm not young, I'm older, older than I was and damn proud of it.

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    1. Oh I do agree, there is such a patronising edge to the idea of being "76 years young"! Pride in how we are and what we have achieved is the right way to go.

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  13. Hmm - most thought provoking, Elizabeth. I think the last time I wore makeup was when I was on a TV quiz show in 1990 and before that, it was probably my 18th birthday party. In my head I'm still the scruffy student I was back then and that's the style I feel most comfortable wearing.

    I think when they made me they forget to add the girlie genes because I absolutely loathe clothes shopping and I feel distinctly uncomfortable when dressed up (and it shows too). It doesn't interest me and I'm far too busy thinking about stuff and investigating how the world works. I was pretty successful at work (also in a man's world, not in your league though), so I don't think I lost out because I didn't glam up. Though admittedly my style there wasn't scruffy student either!

    I've never felt invisible and I think that's because I'm pretty comfortable with who I am and my lot in life. And if I am invisible to others, then luckily I've never been aware of it. I think being interested in people helps too. If you show an interest (i.e. look outwardly at the world), then you get a positive reaction.

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    1. Lots to think about here Michelle. I know just what you mean about being comfortable with yourself and think I would say the same about myself. I have always been quite confident and find it easy to talk to people. Interesting that you have not experienced the invisibility phenomenon!

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  14. I identify with much of what VP has just written, though I occasionally wear eye make up and lipstick and often have painted toenails (never ever pink and rarely paint my fingernails) and I was incredibly shy and lacking in confidence when younger.
    I don't feel invisible - but then as I work mostly in my studio at home I'm not out and about a lot. I love clothes and fabrics - and unusual jewellery. I've stopped dying my hair (I started finding white hairs when I was 20 and used henna or non permanent colours) and find that with a shorter style that emphasises the longer silver fringe, I feel a lot more confident than with the ubiquitous ash blond or auburn.
    In fact I've had more complements about what I'm wearing from complete strangers in the the street or shops, since I've been confidently 'grey' than ever before.

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    1. I don't generally feel invisible either Celia. Like you I am at home a lot and love clothes and fabrics and usually have pained toenails. It is the fact that these days I can become invisible if I choose that intrigues me!

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  15. I think I really prefer to be invisible most of the time anyway. I never was particularly pretty (just very average), so I didn't really miss all of the attention that very attractive people have to contend with letting go of as they age (gosh what a convoluted sentence.) I think 'bling' of any kind looks ridiculous on me and the plainer things are, the happier I am. I'd like to spend my later years as fit and as active as possible, and to that end I do exercise and try to make healthful choices in food and behavior. I do agree that how you are treated in this world is based a great deal on how you present yourself. I know I'll never impress anyone with my clothes or physical appearance, so to that end I just try to be neat and clean - But I work *very* hard on being intelligent and articulate and - most of all - kind. One just hopes that those things, at least, will last...

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    1. I hope very much that I too achieve intelligent, articulate and kind. Like you, I would say that kind is key!

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  16. Hi Elizabeth, going slightly off piste, I hate it when I go into a more upmarket clothes shop and get ignored or looked down on. I know it is purely down to wearing jeans & probably a fleece and only lippy & mascara. It has happened a couple of times lately whilst looking for wedding outfits. If I had been more 'glamorous' I'm sure I would have got better service from the start.
    So it is not only work & at the garage that other people make assumptions. It can be a cruel & cynical world at times.

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    1. You are so right. I think all shop assistants respond with great negativity towards fleece! and yet sometimes nothing else will do!

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  17. It can be deeply depressing to realize that you've just spent all afternoon, trying to look decent to go to a cousin's wedding, and then to realize that your husband only spent 15 minutes -- and he's the one people look at! "Oh doesn't he look wonderful with all that wavy white hair!" Well, yes, he does, and I'm glad people have noticed. But it wouldn't go amiss if someone occasionally said, "Gosh, you look nice today!" Oh well -- as my oldest and dearest friend is fond of saying, "Sadly, that ship seemes to have sailed."

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    1. I love your friend's phrase! I think I will adopt it.

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  18. Very interesting indeed - really made me think. And I saw that stupid programme too; it reminded me of an episode of Ab Fab where Edina and Patsy were discussing how someone very think who'd also had fake boobs would look in her coffin: 'just bones, and little bags of silicone'… Quite.

    I think I overdid the visibility thing as a Punk and then a Goth, because after that I've never given a damn. I'm also reacting against all my father's French family, and my mother who caught it from them or who was just naturally elegant, spit, but then they never seemed that obsessed. Style was something that just happened, mais bien sur. Having said that, I am a different person when I'm in Paris (as those of my UK friends who have witnessed the transformation always say), I've been known to wear make up, something other than jeans, designer coats, nice shoes. In fact - agh - I turn into a Frenchwoman...

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    1. I wouldn't mind adding to my ability to be invisible at will, the ability to turn into a Frenchwoman when I choose! I might only do it a couple of times a year but it would be fun!

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  19. A fascinating post, Elizabeth. I think I live in a part of the world where being well-groomed is very important to many people (women and men) A local village has lost most of its shops but still has a beauty salon! I'm imagine because I'm older I have become more invisible, but as long as I'm treated with respect I'm fine with it. My outdoor lifestyle is a bit different to the norm, here - but it must show that I'm happy with it; I think that is about confidence and contentment with who you are. I do think it is a shame that young women here wear so much makeup and talk about cosmetic surgery, but that's a fashion - I'm sure the natural look will come back.

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    1. I think there is a spreading obsession with grooming. We have a small town near here with half a dozen beauty salons. What is that about?

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  20. I loved this post Elizabeth.

    I am in my late 30s now. Like you I was relatively attractive when I was younger and do not doubt that it helped my life maintain a pleasantness. My career and studies required a high level of competence and while looks alone wouldn't cut it, they helped make interactions easier as you said in your post. I can remember other people in teams I worked with sending me to ask a grumpy senior colleague for help or being told to hand requests in "in person"!

    Now I am getting to the stage where it takes a lot more work to pull a decent look together. Sometimes I bother and sometimes I don't. I still work and I do still try and look decent when I go as I feel it shows I am a "grown up" and have a certain level of organisation and also shows respect for those I work with. Given that I work in a smallish country town I think this demarks the professional from the personal also.

    Like you (I could have written the first few paragraphs of your post!) I have recently had a year or so of ill health such that I am now grateful to be up, around and able to look after my family. It was a wake up call for me and I am now more concerned about how my body functions than how it looks.

    I have no plans to try and turn back the clock in the future. I don't feel the need to face any more medical risks than I need to and would rather put my time and energy into more rewarding things. I don't feel invisible yet but definitely feel less visible if that makes sense. It doesn't really bother me - maybe it will in the future - who knows?

    I hope all is going well for you - I am off to catch up on your garden posts!

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    1. Very interesting to hear your experience too. I am clearly not alone! It doesn't really bother me either, but it does interest me.

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  21. Beautifully written, as always. I think because I live in a small area, I am known for who I am rather than how I look or dress. And I was never 'gorgeous' so I think I've always been noticed if the person knows me, but not if they didn't. (if that makes any sense) I live in Carhartts and teeshirts, and rarely wear a skirt or dress. The whole hippie thing was about who you are not how you look, and how you live was most important, and it saddens me to see it isn't like that so much now. Girls and boys seem way too concerned with their clothes, their things. And I fear it is the outside not the inside that matters most. I hope the pendulum will turn again someday.

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    1. I think it is both sad and strange that the trend in the last few years has been for boys to become more obsessed with their looks. When I was young and feminist we thought that the change would be for women to become less defined by how they looked. In fact what has happened is that women and girls have become even more enslaved to hyper grooming and men and boys have begun to be judged and to judge themselves in the same way. Gets down off soap box.

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  22. Great post Elizabeth, and one which I thought I'd replied to already ... oops.

    I have a slightly different problem ... due to my own glancing look at my mortality a few years back I've been on meds that make me, frankly, fat. I never used to be over weight and after a recent med change the pounds are already starting to drop off, but I have a long way to go, and fat and fifty brings it's own kind of attention and it's own kind of invisibility.

    Thankfully I don't actually care all that much ... this is the body I have and every wrinkle and age spot and fold marks it's passage through life and the world ... there's nothing wrong with celebrating that journey methinks. And I'm quite happy to do that unnoticed if that's the way it works out, although I'm so chatty that mostly doesn't happen :)

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    1. Ah yes, weight adds a whole additional dimension to this I am sure. And the chattiness is something I identify with, except when I am not, if you know what I mean. The invisibility thing requires one to be quiet!

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  23. I love the fact that I'm invisible if I don't make an effort with make-up and clothes, although I have to pick the time and place for this because I hate running into people I know when I look like this, like me, in other words. However, I do find that I can cheer myself up if I'm feeling down by making the effort of putting on basic make-up and straightening my hair, which is when I realise that I 'keep up appearances' for myself as much as for others.

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  24. I love the fact that I'm invisible if I don't make an effort with make-up and clothes, although I have to pick the time and place for this because I hate running into people I know when I look like this, like me, in other words. However, I do find that I can cheer myself up if I'm feeling down by making the effort of putting on basic make-up and straightening my hair, which is when I realise that I 'keep up appearances' for myself as much as for others.

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    1. I agree that there is pleasure in "keeping up appearances" which is purely personal and I often do it just because I feel like it but I am interested to find that you too take a different sort of pleasure in occasional invisibility. It is an odd thing!

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  25. Thank you! Your post articulated thoughts and feelings I've been having for years ... and have been struggling with. My personal challenge has been a combination of weight (but not obesity, I add hastily) and structural issues that affect the way I move. For a few years in my mid-20s, I won't deny that I enjoyed being observed, but children, economic challenges, health issues meant that this experience was short lived. Most recently, I find it very hard to be taken seriously and, indeed, the past few years have seen me experience several incidences of quite pointed discrimination. But, one of my biggest weaknesses is a craving for approval; something that many people will gladly deny you if they're feeling vulnerable themselves. After your post, I endeavour to embrace anonymity and to pursue those activities I know give me pleasure, like craft, research and family. Again: thank you.

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    1. I think you should embrace anonymity only just as much as you want to Sarah but it does have its advantages. Everyone deserves to be treated with courtesy though!

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  26. This is my first visit to your site and you've certainly given my brain something to chew on today. I suppose every women likes to feel pretty at least some of the time, certainly I do, but at 55 and with children grown the interaction I look forward to most (outside of family) is time spent with women friends...working together on a community project, traveling to visit gardens, or just going to a movie. Outside the cozy nest of established relationships, I suppose I'm not too worried about the approbation of others. Most days, I like to look my best, but I don't fret. And Lord help me if I have to spend more than an hour or two shopping or sitting in a hair salon.

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    1. Interesting that your looked forward to time is with women friends. I think one of the luxuries of getting older is being able to be a better friend than you can easily be when all your time has children or work written all over it!

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  27. Hmmm...not sure how I ended up with the B link, I'm at http://marianstclair.wordpress.com

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  28. I always enjoy your thoughtful posts and this one will keep me musing all afternoon. Throughout my career I was always fighting to be recognised for my abilities and not for my image. Tired of bouncing off the glass ceiling I left the corporate world and became self-employed. I was however pragmatic and when required still used the business suit and sharp haircut to create the required image.
    Now I live in a community were image is not important, weather and lifestyle dictate the uniform of jeans, wellies/boots, waterproofs/fleece and often a woolly hat. Every day is a bad hair day. My one concession to femininity, pearl earrings! Am I invisible? Not on the island, the community is too small. It is different on the mainland, I don't mind the invisibility factor but I will not tolerate rudeness.
    I like good clothes and fine fabrics, and appreciate a good haircut, but I can live without them. Beauty comes from within and nothing can match the wonderful aura produced by a healthy life style and contentment. If you have this you will always turn heads but the appreciation will only come from those who can see you as you are and not the projected image. These are the people who matter.

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  29. I love your writing style and your thoughtfulness about this issue!

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Comments are great. Thank you for taking the time!