Any discussion of middle age women is incomplete without touching on the fact – not the feeling, the concept, or the belief – but the fact that at some point in our lives, we become invisible to the world. As our youth disappears, these things may happen: our boobs droop and our hair thins, our faces wrinkle, our backs hurt and our waists disappear, our glasses become progressive and we seek comfortable shoes that are still kind of cute…but even if these things don’t happen to us at midlife, we join the land of the unseen and the country of the ignored.
WAIT A MINUTE.
This is true for most of us, but also unimportant. At first, it may feel awful – men don’t glance, salesgirls don’t approach, waiters ignore, receptionists huff and puff – but after a while, the benefits of losing the attention of others – so often unwanted when we were young – can and should be considered not a loss but
No longer do we need to avoid eye contact with men in order to keep them from approaching us, talking to us, or simply looking at us. We are not the women who attract unwanted attention – except, every now and then, from a man much older than we are, which is actually kind of sweet. At midlife, we can walk down the street without the concern that a man will stare at our boobs or, in fact, grab our asses (if that never happened to you, congratulations). At midlife, we can sit in a coffee shop and read a book without some creep asking “is this seat taken?” And even better, if some creep does ask, we are old enough and wise enough and confident enough to say “I prefer to sit alone,” unlike when we were young and naive and maybe insecure and possibly lonely.
Invisibility gives us the chance to observe the world – if we’re clever enough to put down our phones. We can watch, more or less without being noticed, just about anyone. Being off the radar because we are middle-aged allows us the freedom to use our invisibility to really appreciate the entertainment that the world has to offer. If we stare a little too long, no one pays attention – we are just middle-aged women, after all. Harmless, really.
NOT SO FAST.
Because we are invisible, we can now choose to make ourselves seen when it is important to us. We don’t have any problem at all standing up for ourselves, because we are sick of the mistreatment we see others get – and we experience, too. We will use our outside voices inside if we need to, and when we do, our invisibility cloak disappears and we stand tall, able to do so because our shoes are comfortable and our pants are not binding. We will tell the salesgirl what we want and ask her for a different size if we need it, and we won’t feel uncomfortable if that different size is larger. We will send back our salad if it comes dressed and we wanted the Ranch on the side. We will ask, again and again, how much longer the doctor will be, because, at midlife, our time is valuable, tick tock. We have reached the point of not giving a damn about upsetting others, or overreacting, or putting our money where our mouths are. We may be invisible, but we are not unseen.
On the other hand, we also have learned, if we are smart, how good it feels to be kind and helpful, and how easy it is now that we are no longer trying to fend off pervy guys or avoid the gaze of the butcher or the dude who works at the tire store or our doctors or plumbers or neighbors. Because we are invisible, we can choose to be seen when we can make a difference in the world, and we are more than comfortable putting ourselves out there and making a point of helping someone, smiling at someone, holding the door open or letting the person at the grocery store with only two items go ahead of us when our cart is full. We are fully and completely comfortable with ourselves, and whether angry or kind, we know when we want to be seen – and we show up.
We may be invisible to much of the world, but to those who love us, those who find us fascinating and wonderful and funny and smart and want to be around us because we say what we Goddamn feel and think and too bad if others don’t like it, to those people we are seen, we are heard, we are taking up space and, sometimes, we are larger than life and hard to miss. At midlife, if we have been lucky and paying attention, we know exactly who we are and we OWN it, no matter what. We have been waiting all our lives to be who we are, and we’re not going to waste one more minute apologizing, quieting, calming or making excuses. The world may not see us, but we see ourselves, clearly, wholly and lovingly. We are not unseen.