Just Saying: The Invisible Woman

by Shelley Wildgen

Marion said it first. “Look at the young woman, almost wearing that gorgeous dress. I remember doing that before I became invisible.”

I was appalled. What did she mean? Invisible? My decade older friend explained very matter of factly exactly what she meant. After a certain age (on a sliding scale depending on the woman) we all become background.  For her it happened when she let her hair go white. I daresay it probably happens to men of a certain age, as well, but I am a woman so that is where my observations land. 

I think my mom told me of the same occurrence in her late forties. She wasn’t lamenting so much as noticing the difference in her day to day life. An intangible sumpin’ sumpin’ had quietly packed up its bag of look-at-me tricks and left the building. ‘It’ was gone and had become noticeable – or not noticeable really. Now it’s my turn and, surprisingly, it’s not bad at all – possibly because I never had a whole lot of ‘it’. Truth is some days, being invisible makes life easier. Fun even.  

No more passing upper torso glances or ensuring that it’s supported properly. The sands of time have shifted everything and comfort over cleavage feels great. Haircuts and colour, though still applied, just don’t make it to the top of the priority list. Body temperature and sensible shoes do. Oh, and checking my lipstick before heading across the lawn to pick up the mail has been ditched. Cutting the lawn in my nightie is my new normal. Freedom 55 at its most liberating! You can get a lot done when nobody’s looking.

Like all newfound pleasures there is the occasional snag – like when the man standing next to me for a full 15 minutes at Swiss Chalet eagerly gave his seating requirements to the hostess, until I cleared my throat. I’d been standing there waiting when he arrived and took his place next to me. He smiled, a little startled like, and apologized. “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t see you.” I was shoulder to shoulder with him and wearing a jaunty plaid cape! How ruuuuuude. But then, I really can’t luxuriate in invisibility and expect people to notice.

The infrequent offences are far outweighed by relief, relaxation and even exhilarating times. My women (of a certain age) friends and I can get away with many things due to our diminished appearances. My friend, Carissa, and I regularly roll through the Dairy Queen in our pyjamas prior to cruising Belleville looking at houses, gardens and places we remember. No make up, no street clothes, no problem. No one sees us and we like that. I keep a brooch in my purse just in case we get stopped for suspicious trolling.

As I write this, it is the day after the American election. I am shaken, stirred, and very sober. So many takeaways, not the least of which are the optics attached to this very in your face campaign. What did we see? We saw America hire what they see as the biggest, brashest leader to take them through their haunted house of horrors. He knows the way because he said so. There’s a lot you can say about Mr. Trump but unconfident is not one of them. He commands immediate attention. Hillary Clinton? Not as much. Commanding attention was different for her and not because of her policies. Much was what we saw…or didn’t see. Compared to her larger than life opponent, Hillary’s message got a little lost due to her height, her voice, and maybe an unspoken contributing factor - her inevitable invisibilty. The double-edged sword of the mature female.   

The sharp truth is Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel – and Margaret Thatcher would have had trouble running for serious political roles when they were young cupcakes. Rightly or wrongly, aging helped to afford them the acceptance of the masses. How long did Hillary stand beside Bill, looking the picture of blonde beauty, just waiting for her maturity to set in so she could take a grab at the reins? Then, when no one was looking, she seized them….for a while. Or how about all those young actresses who complain about the lack of good female roles after a certain age? Maybe they really mean pretty roles, because clearly many a long-toothed leading lady has done her best stuff after harnessing the benefits of invisibility. Meryl Streep? Lily Tomlin? Patricia Clarkson? Annette Bening? And a whole slew of Dames…Maggie Smith and Judi Dench leading the wildly talented pack. 

In summary, the age of invisibility isn’t only about being invisible, as Marion forecasted. It is about appreciating the process of growing older. The invisible woman wields a great deal of personal power. Beings as we are largely unseen, expectations are lower. We become quietly confident, ordering the food we like, wearing our favourite clothes over and over, expressing previously unspoken thoughts, and hanging with all manner of people when we want to. Whether the pressures surrounding younger women are societal or put on by themselves matters very little. Worrying about how one is viewed is there and it can be a struggle. To eventually let go of that struggle while leaving room for more enjoyment is a well-earned right of passage. So relax, Liebchens, your days will come and you won’t have to do a thing to get ready for them.