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The Invisible Woman

The Invisible Woman
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BY NINA MALKIN

For Karen Parker*, it felt like being trapped in a 1950s sci-fi flick: I Disappeared Overnight! “One day I was turning heads, getting good service and generally feeling secure that I existed on this planet,” the still fit and fashionable 54-year-old New Yorker says. “And then the next I wasn’t.”

That sense of not being seen is virtually endemic. “As we get further from the youth-focused ideal of attractiveness, seeing fewer media images that look like we do, we tend to feel invisible,” says Southern California-based psychotherapist Tina Tessina, Ph.D., (www.tinatessina.com), author of The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty.

Such invisibility isn’t restricted to ladies only, strikes in the business as well as the social sphere and really has the power to hurt—especially if one’s physical presence was never in doubt before. “If you’re used to a lot of attention for being attractive, losing that can be painful,” says Tessina, who counsels moving from a narcissistic looks-centered mind-set to something deeper and more meaningful. “Changing your focus away from appearance can offer a chance to grow emotionally, express your true self and become more caring and empathetic.”

Sound advice, yet since no one enjoys being ignored, here are two ways to approach the inevitability of invisibility—and outsmart being overlooked.

Embrace it. Though it doesn’t feel that way when trying in vain to catch a bartender’s eye, invisibility is a superpower. In fact, it came in as #2 out of 100 on the online gaming site IGN.com. Of course, that’s selective invisibility—what’s frustrating is having it thrust upon us. Still, even uninvited invisibility has its perks.

There’s a certain serenity that comes with walking through the world without being ogled, accosted or otherwise bothered. After all, how many young women actually appreciate the catcalls of construction workers or bosses who stare down their blouses? And not that an upstanding website like Fifty is The New Fifty would ever advocate shady activity, but if ever there was a time to sneak into an extra movie at the multiplex, it’s now!

The writer and chaplain Kate Braestrup prefers the word transparency to invisibility, and says it’s an asset in her work counseling young men (read her take here: http://www.womansday.com/life/real-women/a8211/invisible-after-50/). Or let’s consider our younger selves Kardashians and our current selves Garbos or Pynchons. Florid, fawning attention is a tad gauche, is it not?

Defy it. It’s almost like we hit fifty and are given a choice: Disappear, or make a spectacle of ourselves. “Often, older people trying to look young open themselves to ridicule,” says Tessina. “Dressing as we did in our glory days can make us stand out in a negative way.” We may still feel punk, but a hot pink Mohawk—or anything resembling Johnny Rock, 58-year-old Denis Leary’s character on Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll (fxnetworks.com/shows/sex-drugs-rock-roll/episodes)—just doesn’t fly anymore. And cosmetic surgery is more than a slippery slope, it’s a losing battle.

So maybe the goal, instead of chasing youth, is to recognize the worth in how we look now, and champion it. That involves some introspection to take responsibility for our vanishing act. In an effort not to seem desperate, have we erred on the side of appropriate—too much beige, too much blah, too many pairs of sensible shoes—till we’ve blended in with the woodwork? Karen Parker, for one, admits to purposely toning down her funky flair when job-hunting after getting downsized in 2012.

While short skirts, low necklines and teen-friendly trends are off the table, true style is ageless—and the time has come to step that up a notch, not down. Color is key. So are unique accessories. Think long, think flowing, think elegant, think fitted (not tight). Think big—and dare, if you never did before, to think big bucks: Old Navy and its ilk are for the young and the penniless, or moms dressing broods on a budget. We’ve earned a treat, be it a sizable chunk of jewelry or a leather jacket so luxuriously buttery it might just melt.

For inspiration, check out Advanced Style (advancedstyle.blogspot.com). Both blog and documentary are the brainchildren of Ari Seth Cohen, a young man intent upon celebrating the fashion statements of his awesome elders. Cohen posts outfits from the sublime to the (at times gleefully, defiantly) ridiculous—and every single one of his real-life models is the opposite of invisible.

Thusly sparked, let’s wear our personal style with attitude—excellent posture, a touch of imperiousness, the conviction that all we’ve accomplished is valuable. Then, to give invisibility a further smackdown, speak up! Upon spying fellow fifty-plussers—male or female, friends or strangers—who look fantastic, tell them so.

Yet as Karen Parker found, getting noticed may have as much to do with who you are as how you look—your vibe as well as your visual. “One gorgeous day early this summer I got off the subway a stop before my office to walk, and when I reached my building I felt so good, I must’ve been smiling a mile wide,” she says. “I naturally caught someone’s eye waiting for the elevator—he just happened to be a young man—said, ‘Good morning,’ and we chatted. It wasn’t a pickup by any means; it was just nice!” Parker makes a point of doing that often now, calling it “getting my existence on,” and there’s no reason it can’t work for any of us. See you there!

* Name has been changed.

 

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An all-around wordsmith, Nina Malkin is a journalist, novelist, copywriter and memoirist. She’s also an avid collector of lovely things from eras past—read her musings at http://www.vintagevirna.blogspot.com/