What’s with the invisible woman thing?! Am I imagining it?

Why do I feel invisible? Am I invisible now I’m fifty? Is that younger women in the queue really getting preferential treatment?

Is it because we are starting to lose our (youthful) looks, our social currency, that we are not seen to be interesting anymore? If we are single, it’s not just potential romantic partners that seem suddenly unaware of our existence either. We might find ourselves being passed over for promotions at work — or even that our voice isn’t as valued in meetings as it once was. Suddenly it can feel like people everywhere are looking through us.

Where did I go? Why ‘women of a certain age’ feel invisible over 50

The truth is that we haven’t gone anywhere — but the culture around us doesn’t value us for our true worth. We live in a world where we’re bombarded by images of fit, gorgeous much younger women that serve as shorthand for what it means to be healthy, smart, successful and caring. All those glossy magazine images and movies have perpetuated the belief that social worthiness is inextricably linked to youth and beauty. We’ve ended up inadvertently building a youth dominated culture where the wisdom of many and diverse life experiences has no value.

So when our own face and body don’t come close to that youthful ideal, we begin to feel isolated. There aren’t many role models to look up to — how often do we see a blockbuster film headlined by a leading lady with greying hair or visible crow’s feet?

There’s no doubt we live in an ageist society where youth and beauty are extremely valuable. There’s even a formal name for it – erotic capital. When we start to lose this, we lose our power. It isn’t fair, but it’s very real.

Apart from the loss of youthful looks, middle age is also accompanied by other losses, too. We may have lost a spouse or life partner to death or divorce. Our children are growing up and leaving our sphere of influence, leaving us without our life’s biggest project as they gallop off into the future without us. We may also be struggling with lost opportunities at work as we reach the limits of our achievement at work — whether that’s a rock-hard glass ceiling or simply the end of our interest in our chosen profession. We judge people by the power they wield, and as women age, they lose a lot of cultural capital — and along with it, their confidence.

The dubious pleasure of being seen. Why do we need to be visible over 50?

Feeling invisible simply highlights the fact that, as women, our power and our worth are calculated in terms of our looks. That’s a fundamentally sexist notion, and women have been fighting it for ages — yet there it is, coming back with a vengeance as we get older. None of the chatter around aging is positive, and it most often serves as a wedge that companies can use to make us feel like there’s something wrong with us that needs to be fixed.

There’s another way to look at this though. When our ego is bound up in the state of our physical body, we’ve bought into the very worst of sexism and ageism — and we’d better believe that salespeople will seize on that uncertainty to convince us that their dodgy anti-ageing product is the one that can turn back the clock.

The one truth in life: time and ageing cannot be stopped. And why would we want them to? Staying stuck in our twenties would rob us of major opportunities for personal growth, so we must be diligent when it comes to fighting against the forces that seek to stifle us in this regard. Do we want our daughters and granddaughters to feel the pressure of having to look fabulous as a means to being ‘seen’? Do we want them to think — even for a second — that they are no more than trophies and that once they lose their shine, they will be discarded?

Defining ourselves as ‘visible’ or ‘invisible’ is a fundamentally passive way of being in the world. It requires us to be seen, and that takes all the power of action and puts it into someone else’s hands.

Why worry about being seen when we can be the one with the vision instead?

Get real: tips for seeing — and valuing — your self

In the movie Pinocchio, Pinocchio starts life as a puppet. He’s a wooden toy made by a man, and all Pinocchio wants in life is to be a boy — to move around of his own free will instead of having someone else pull his strings. He wants to be real.

As we age, this is what we want for ourselves, too. No more having to comply with someone else’s agenda and having to do things we don’t really want to do. It’s time to let go of the way others see and define us and instead decide how we want to see ourselves. In this way, we can turn invisibility into a real gift, because it gives us the opportunity to embrace who we are in our own skin without caring about what others think.

Here’s how to get started on your journey toward seeing and valuing yourself:

Visualize your life’s purpose

Part of seeing yourself accurately is getting in touch with your hopes and dreams — and they may have been buried beneath years’ worth of other commitments and expectations about what you ‘should’ be doing. If the thought of naming the purpose of your life is too overwhelming, just start to notice what you like and dislike about your life right now. Use a journal to record your thoughts as they come. This simple exercise will help you be more present in your life and will clarify your vision of who you want to be for the next phase.

Get educated and inspired

Tackling the transition into your forties, fifties and beyond is no small task. The midlife crisis is real, but you can use it as a launching point to grow into the person you’re meant to be. Pick up some books to guide you as you sort through the psychological changes that come as you age. If you’re pressed for time, choose titles that are available as audio books or podcasts so you can listen as your commute to work or before bed. Seeing into how others have made this journey successfully will help build your confidence.

Write down what you want

Once you begin to understand your vision of an ideal life and have gotten inspired by others, it’s time to put pen to paper to design the life you want. Try making several categories: money, family, career, health, personal relationships, etc. Then list what you want out of life in each of these categories. Also and very importantly, write up how you’ll feel as you bring in these changes to your life. It’s important to flesh out your ideas so they aren’t just fluffy notions in your brain. By committing your desires to writing, you’re making a declaration of your intentions for your new life — a crucial foundation for a new and empowered you.

Get healthy and fit

One thing in this world you have power over is your own body. No one has got to the age of fifty without murmurings of disease, so take charge of your health by seeing a doctor for a full check-up. If you are not sleeping or don’t feel full of energy, get these sorted first. If you are overweight, smoke or have elevated blood pressure, these need to be addressed as a priority as they are risk factors for many chronic diseases. Get help from a supportive community and commit to starting a healthy eating and exercise regime. Once you see results, you’ll be motivated to keep going because it feels so good.

Accentuate the positive

The other thing in life you have complete control over is your mind, so don’t fill it with negative thoughts for another second. If you find yourself in a damaging cycle of self-criticism, get help from a trusted friend or therapist to put your mind back on a healthy track. Notice and ignore negative thoughts and notice and generate positive thoughts. Use your thoughts to create your new future. Change the way you manage your thoughts, and you’ll change your life.

Accept the things you cannot change

You may never be able to change the ageism and sexism in our society — that’s a long, slow evolution that’s unlikely to be finished in our lifetimes. Rather than dwelling on the injustice, do your part to be the best role model of empowered, healthy ageing you can be for your daughters and granddaughters. As you work on regaining power over your own life, you’ll find that you care less and less about how the rest of the word sees you. Instead, you’ll be too caught up in the pleasure of seeing your own life with total clarity and knowing that you have the power to turn your vision of your self into reality.



Last Reviewed: 27-Dec-2017

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Whilst wielding a couple of dumbbells in a gym class in 2003, Kate experienced an epiphany around the lack of accepted best practice guidelines when it came to staying well and avoiding disease. Kate realized that she had no chance of slowing her own aging process unless she became better educated about her options.

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