It’s hard to pinpoint when it started, this feeling of invisibility. Was it when I became a mother? A wife? Or when I became “old”?
I wrote a post on Instagram in 2021:
What do you see when you look at me?
Do you see a middle-aged woman who has “let herself go”? A woman past her prime. A woman who should really dye her hair to cover up those greys, who should really consider botox? A woman who should take more care of her figure, should get her gut to the gym and lose some weight? A woman who should know better than to make a spectacle of herself in public?
Or do you see a woman comfortable in her own skin? A woman confident in wearing vibrant clothes, tattoos, and her silver hair as jewellery? An accomplished professional at the top of her game? A creative soul experimenting with art, having fun? A loving mother and doting grandmother? A woman who is living life in spite of the traumas and stresses it has thrown at her, embracing each day with gratitude and love?
What do you see?
Or do you simply not see me, my presence nearby not registering? Just another older woman blending into the background of society?
As my children were growing up, I was aware that it was the things that I didn’t do that were noticed rather than the million and one things that I did do. The daily tasks that kept the home running smoothly, so everyone was happy and could get on with their lives. The unseen (and often unacknowledged) workload of running a family home, alongside the full-time day job to financially support the household. This was made up for by the cuddles and the time we spent together, being Mum.
What I have noticed over recent years is that with the change in relationship with my children now they are older, the invisible work still goes on, but there is less in the way of compensation. That warmth and connection is lacking now, as they are older and have their own lives to lead. Within the marital relationship, there is a lack of physical connection too, and this leaves me feeling invisible in other ways.
As women get older, they are less “desirable” in society - they have either already served the purpose of child-rearing, or are overlooked by potential mates as they are no longer suitable for procreation. It is animal nature for males looking to “sire an heir” to look for a younger, fitter, healthier mother for their offspring. So sexually, we are less desirable. We may become less “desirable” in the workplace too. Although we are less likely to take maternity leave, we are more likely to be called upon to care for and support ageing parents, to help with grandchildren. And what about those menopausal symptoms… another black mark in some workplaces. It feels that the expectation is that we now take a step back, blend into the background, fade from societal view now that are no longer "useful."
What is overlooked is our experience. We get shit done. We have managed the spinning plates of working and raising a family and running a household. We know how to prioritise and time-manage. We have years of experience in our professional fields. Ok, it may take me a bit longer to mentally process things on certain days, but I know what I’m talking about, I know my job.
We have lived many years and can see the pitfalls and failures, the unfairness in the world. We are struggling against a system that wants to keep our voices quiet, but I think a shift has started. Older women are speaking out and making themselves heard.
And in terms of personal relationships, we have often had to work through all manner of crap to get where we are. We may not be as lithe and virile as our younger counterparts, but again - experience! Sexually, we know what we want, what we like, and how to please a partner. We’ve had years of honing the craft.
Part of my struggle with feeling invisible is that I have relied on other people - men - to make me feel desirable and sexy, that I needed to feel wanted in that way. I haven’t been wanted in that way for a long time. I recently sent a message to my beautiful friend Debbie, who is a hugely talented photographer, saying “I want to feel sexy again!” She responded to my plea, and we had a wonderful beach sunset photo-shoot. The images are amazing. Looking at them, I realised that, after all these years and time spent talking with counsellors and friends, I still look for validation from others to feel visible. To feel sexy, desirable. I can look at these pictures and see a beautiful woman. The woman looking back looks like she is strong, self-assured, knows her power. I need to be that woman, to reignite my fire and shed the perceived cloak of invisibility. The only validation I need is from myself.
You may see (or not see!) an older woman. You may think she’s past her prime. I like to think she is just getting started.
Photo credit: Debbie Fowler