It seems that during our entire lives as women we are under severe scrutiny by society. Until we hit middle age. Then slowly, we seem to become invisible. As a 24 year old woman, I’ve got the world at my feet. But I’m all too aware that this won’t last forever. In fact, as I approach 25 I’m receiving more and more comments that my ‘good looks won’t last forever’ and that I’ll soon feel my body start to change once I hit 30. 

Already, this has instilled a fear in me. Once I pass my ‘prime’ how will I cope? How will I feel validated? I’m not saying I’m a 10/10 but I know whatever attraction I possess probably does help me feel valued in everyday life. Even if I know I am more than my physical appearance, will society? 

I had a conversation with my mum, aged 62 and a single pringle, about her experience of hitting middle age and feeling like, as she calls it ‘The Invisible Woman’. 

We’re in Barcelona for one night only. I’m showing my mum the city and I’ve dragged her to some far out restaurant on a busy alleyway, where we sit at on stools at a high up table and snack on pinchos. With two pints down us, we’re both fairly tipsy by this point and so the interview has been slightly tweaked for the sake of clarity… 

 

What a beautiful, beautiful baby
Said the face looking down from the sky
The neighbour joined in and tickled my chin
What a beautiful baby was I
Growing up I made sure of attention
Everyone’s eyes were on me
And into my teens I was never not seen
The whole world revolved around me, me, me
I was here for the birth of my children
I was here, the belle of the ball
80 years have gone by in the blink of an eye
Now it seems that I’m not here at all
Here comes the invisible woman
She’s been on the planet for years
You can’t make her out but there’s never a doubt
The invisible woman is here
I strolled down the high street on Sunday
In clown shoes and lace underwear
Did they notice my dance? Not one single glance
So I guess that I can’t have been there
I can’t recall when it first happened
Don’t know how I became so unseen
When my tangible self was put on the shelf
These words on the label has been
Here comes the invisible woman
She’s been on the planet for years
You can’t make her out but there’s never a doubt
The invisible woman is here
Why should I feel so much less than I am?
There’s so much more of me now
Grey hair, whiskers, wrinkles and such
Dressing for comfort, longing for touch
It should be so simple
It feels like so much
To ask you to see me
It’s only a feature of nature
You will start vanishing too
You will get old, left out in the cold
The ghost army’s waiting for you
Like the leaves that fall before winter
Like the day that turns into the night
We may not have a choice but we still have a voice
The invisible gals love a fight
Here comes the invisible woman
She’s been on the planet for years
She has plenty to say, she won’t go away
The invisible woman is here, here, here
The invisible woman is here

Peggy Seegar’s ‘The Invisible Woman’.

What is The Invisible Woman?

Me: Where did you hear the phrase ‘The Invisible Woman?

Mum: It’s only a recent thing, but Peggy Seegar wrote a song about it which encapsulates it quite nicely. 

The Invisible Woman is someone who is middle aged, neither seen as old nor young and it’s like they’re overlooked by everyone. It’s as if they have no importance or agency: they’re not an old lady or a young woman, and most of all they are a woman, ie: not important. Whereas for instance, a middle aged man would probably not be overlooked in the same way. So it’s kinda like you feel that in the eyes of society you’re not there because you don’t have a label as such. 

Personal Experience

Mostly, it’s in everyday circumstances. Like walking down the street. Or standing at a bar. You’re not a young girl standing at a bar- (desirable). You’re not an old person standing at a bar- (unusual, or at least worthy of attention). You’re just a woman.

Me: And have you found that to be true personally?

Mum: Yeah sometimes yeah. It’s a subtle thing, it’s like your opinions don’t count. You’re not important.

It’s not something I would say you could point out but it’s just a time in your life as a female you start to feel that way. You’re past your best in the eyes of society in terms of attractiveness and sexuality and earning a living. You get that feeling that people think you’ve lost your vitality. 

Me: Can you think of any examples when you’ve felt that?

Mum: It’s something very hard to pinpoint. When I had kids, I was still visible, because I was a ‘mother’. But once your kids turn to adults, and once you’re around the menopause age, your importance starts to fade. It’s difficult to point out because it’s not something done to you. It’s something taken away from you. It’s not like active, overt discrimination. It’s just nothing. Just not being seen at all. Whatever importance you had in society seems to be taken away or at least reduced.

Mostly, it’s in everyday circumstances. Like walking down the street. Or standing at a bar. You’re not a young girl standing at a bar- (desirable). You’re not an old person standing at a bar- (unusual, or at least worthy of attention). You’re just a woman.

Me: How about in a work environment?

I definitely feel it. In meetings at work young people are very keen to push their ideas, which is great. Sometimes though, as someone who has worked at the business for a while, I know that an idea they suggest has already been tried and didn’t work, but people don’t really listen to you. Of course there’s no harm in trying again, and maybe this time it will work, but there’s just this general feeling that as an older person, your opinion isn’t valued. 

Me: What about sexually and romantically?

My libido hasn’t decreased at all. But it’s like, if you’re no longer sexually attractive to wider society, you, as a sexual being, are blacklisted. It’s like people suddenly assume you don’t have any sexual desire, or your desires are laughed at.

Mum: Absolutely. I’m single, but I have no sex life. In my head I’m no different to a youth who is 27 who would like to go and find a partner, but as a 27 year old you have more natural opportunities for that to happen.

I’ve never had to actively persue sexual or romantic relationships, I was on the receiving end.  But now I’m never in the scenarios where people would hit on me, and most of my friends are married. So I’m alone, and although I’m fine, I have become a lot more isolated as a single middle aged woman. I haven’t had sex for a while. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to.  Any of my female friends who are single and middle aged, do want to be sexually active. But society assumes we don’t.

Me: So that’s a wrong assumption?

Mum: Absolutely. I hate it. In the blue zone areas like Japan, where people live to be very old, they say the key to their long lives is not only good food and clean air but a fulfilling sex life right into your 80s and a general huge culture of inclusiveness. Whereas here, people think that after menopause your libido decreases and you lose your ‘womanhood’. Out of all the hormonal changes women go through (puberty, pregnancy) menopause is seen as the most hush hush and taboo. Therefore it’s the most misunderstood. My libido hasn’t decreased at all. But it’s like, if you’re no longer sexually attractive to wider society, you, as a sexual being, are blacklisted. It’s like people suddenly assume you don’t have any sexual desire, or your desires are laughed at. Middle aged women are the butt of many sexual jokes. It’s horrible. 

Women get plastic surgery because they are all too aware that they live in a society that ignores women who are old or stereotypically unattractive.

It’s no wonder that women get so much surgery to alter their appearance and look younger. Society (especially men) deem women who do this as being stupid, and obsessed with their looks. The reality is that they are smart. They have noticed a clear correlation between a youthful, attractive appearance and their societal worth. Women get plastic surgery because they are all too aware that they live in a society that ignores women who are old or stereotypically unattractive. I’m not saying surgery is the answer. But you can’t blame women for doing it. 

Me: Do much older ‘elderly’ women also count as ‘Invisible Women’?

Mum: In some ways hitting middle age as a woman is the beginning of a rocky road of invisibility. It’s the beginning of decline. However in other ways I would say that when you’re that bit older, you’re at least an elderly woman- you have a label and a place in society. Whereas as a middle-aged woman, it feels like you don’t belong in any box. Which can lead to you being completely unacknowledged.

Me: Do you think that because people don’t see you it’s easy to start to shrink yourself? Like a knock-on effect?

Mum: I think it can be easy to start to shrink yourself in your external behaviour around others. However, internally, not at all! You know that you have the weight of all your experiences, everything you’ve done and achieved in your lifetime. That’s what makes it so sad. Because you know you are an experienced and confident person, but it seems that the rest of society doesn’t acknowledge it. Your opinions, requests or desires aren’t taken seriously. 

Me: Do you think that even women with very strong personalities are suddenly overlooked when they hit 50?

Mum: I do. I know people with very strong personalities, who are also very successful in their work, and when they’ve reached middle aged, they’ve suddenly found themselves to be not taken seriously. And they’ve had to fight harder to make their voice heard. They’ve had to find a way to assert themselves as an older woman. I think I need to find a way to do that too. 

Compared to Middle Aged Men

A woman in herself knows she is just as experienced and assured as a middle aged man is, but because her worth is based upon physical attraction, her experience is reduced to nothing. She no longer has the beauty and submissiveness of a young woman but she isn’t regarded with the same respect that a middle aged man is. Where does she fit?

Me: And men don’t have to worry about becoming invisible at middle age. When you’re a 50 year old man you’re confident, powerful and even desirable. You’re a silver fox etc. whilst a woman is manically dying her hair to cover the grey.  

Mum: Exactly. And an older woman liking a younger man is seen as weird. She’s called a cougar. An older guy going for a younger woman is much more normalised.

Me: I guess men get a free pass. I definitely don’t help in that department…But I saw this tweet that said we should stop giving men free passes. So many girls romanticise the ‘dad bod’, basically meaning a male body that is a bit overweight, whereas you never see men saying that they love a ‘mum bod’.  Men are usually  brutal about women who are more curvy. 

photo source: @thetlowshow on Twitter.

Mum: Exactly. The more dominant a man is, the more society approves of him. The more beautiful a woman is, the more society approves. So the ageing process works to men’s advantage, both physically and internally. His wrinkles only prove he’s experienced, more assured. Whereas a woman becoming less beautiful means her worth decreases. 

Me: Which must be so frustrating because a woman in herself knows she is just as experienced and assured as a middle aged man is, but because her worth is based upon physical attraction, her experience is reduced to nothing. She no longer has the beauty and submissiveness of a young woman but she isn’t regarded with the same respect that a middle aged man is. Where does she fit?

No More Invisible Women

Me: How do you think we could try and change society’s view on middle aged women?

Mum: I saw with my mother’s generation that getting a husband and putting all of your energy into that was very bad for her, because when my dad died my mother was left with nothing. She didn’t know who she was. Women often end up sacrificing so much more of themselves in a relationship than the man. When they have kids, the woman is left to take care of the baby whilst the man goes out to the pub with his friends. I know that this is changing now, and you probably rarely see your inner city middle class London circles, but believe me, in Blackpool, this behaviour is still the case.

I think it’s so incredibly important to hold on to your female friends. Strength in numbers! If or when you get a partner, you mustn’t forget your friends. Hopefully your generation will be middle aged women that empower one another and manage to make your experience and desires as an older woman in society just as respected as older mens!

Me: Would better media representation also help?

Mum: Oh absolutely. Again, slowly older women are more represented in the media. But still they are more stereotypically attractive older women, who have ‘aged gracefully’ or they are unusually flamboyant. To hell with that! We are as we are, it’s important to represent all sorts of women in media, you shouldn’t have to be a ‘special’ older woman in any sort of way in order to be noticed by society.

Me: Anything else?

Mum: I know ‘respect your elders’ is a bit of an outdated phrase. In other cultures such as Chinese culture it’s very important to respect your elders. And I do think there’s some sense in it. Older people have all this life experience, and it’s not visible. Older people can be seen as weak and frail on the outside but on the inside they’ve lived entire lives. So I think it’s important to make a little effort to respect older people- especially women, as it is so lacking right now. 

Me: Amen mama! Thank you for taking the time out of our lovely holiday to do this with me.

If this interview has taught me anything, it’s that I don’t want to rely on male validation for societal power. I definitely can be guilty of relying on what I know men find stereotypically attractive in order to make myself feel worthy. But this is a short term win and a long term lose.

I don’t want to find myself feeling worthless when people don’t pursue me any longer. No matter how old and wrinkly I get, I will always crave for romance, sex and physical touch. So I’m going to try and be more sexually assertive, and focus on my desires in life rather than getting validation from other people’s desire towards me.

Educational
mature
Sex
Iso

Iso

Author

Iso is a writer and filmmaker based in East London. She is passionate about all things erotic and leads a sexy, shame-free life in hope that she can inspire others to do the same. Originally from a Northern seaside town, she is naturally drawn to the best things in life: candyfloss, trashy karaoke bars and heart-shaped sunglasses.


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