The Woman Who Refused to Disappear

invisibility, aging women, choices, the male gaze, aging unapologetically

The Woman Who Refused to Disappear

As a woman closing in on age 65, I am supposedly invisible.

How do I feel about that? Do I want to become invisible? Do I have a choice? The real question for me is how do I want to be seen? These are all questions I’m asking myself as I read yet another article about women bemoaning their age-related disappearance.

“As women become older, they entertain a wider set of choices about when and how they are seen.”

Akiko Busch 

 

I like the idea of choosing how I want to be seen and creating that “vision” myself, as opposed to being driven by the cultural preachings of how women are supposed to show up in society.

I acknowledge there will be times when I am ignored. Rendered invisible by ageism as well as by choices I might make. Understanding I can take charge of my visibility appeals to me. It shifts the focus and the conversation. Busch reminds me that I get to define who I want to be right now—from how I dress, to what I say, or don’t say. Where I go and what I do with my life.

I am, finally, ready to show up—on my terms.

Raised to believe that the opinions of others should dictate how I behave and how I look, I’ve struggled with seeking external validation in my life. I was made to feel that my actions, my stubbornness, and unwillingness to play the game would make me unloveable. And in that context it’s easy to see how external validation became a driving force, a motivator.

See me and I become whole. Find me attractive and I am a woman.

 

I am calling out those old stories and learning to love all of me. Setting fire to all the words that threatened to smother me.

What happens when we realize the most important love comes from within? When we no longer worry about how we’re being seen and judged? Our relationship to ourselves changes at that point.

Once I stopped caring about the opinions and judgments of others I stopped trying to hide. I began to “let myself go”, as they say about women who don’t conform to beauty standards. And there’s some truth to this—this letting go of all the rigors involved in becoming the object of men’s desires. The pretty woman. The well-mannered woman. The just right, not too loud, not too opinionated, people-pleasing woman. It requires a lot of effort and Spanx and hair dye and tongue biting. And constant smiling.

Women get to decide how we want to be seen and how we plan to show up in our lives. There will be some who won’t like us. There will be some who reject or judge us for flaunting the rules. Ultimately the choice is ours.

Being seen isn’t going to fix all our woes. The admiring gaze of a man isn’t validation of who we are as much as it’s an acknowledgment that we meet his standards of desirability.

We are constantly reminded that women of a certain age are considered past their prime and of lesser importance. Aging. Going gray. Over the hill. I feel prettier and sexier and more content at sixty-four years of age, than at any other stage in my life. I am seeing someone I’m crazy about and doing things I never dreamed I would be doing. I no longer see my worth as a woman as defined by the opinion of others. It feels good.

Do I feel visible? Yes. Do I feel like men in their 20s or 30s or 40s are checking me out. No.

I am aware of being the recipient of ageism. I know that I’ve slid into the “getting old” category and that’s fine. I’m enjoying my life. It’s expanding, not contracting. I’m not going “downhill”. My sex life is robust and satisfying. I love my graying hair and I’m making peace with my changing body.

Of course I have moments when I stare with amazement and a bit of surprise at my sagging neck or fantasize about therapies to melt belly fat. I think about my mortality at times and it scares me. I need to straighten out my legal papers and leave some notes for my sons. Then I move on to contemplate an upcoming date or daydream about traveling to Morocco and I’m back where I want to be.

I can’t change how people view me and I’ll be damned if I’m going back to bending myself into something pleasing for others. It’s a new journey and I’m finding my way. And finding others who are also redefining their lives and aging unapologetically. I invite you to join me.

Photo by Ian Keefe on Unsplash

8 Comments
  • James W Platt
    Posted at 10:24h, 14 March Reply

    I read this with love and total understanding. It is a parallel track for men. Without recognizing the sexual aspect of attraction and seduction, Mere existence seems to make overnight, disown our own sexuality and hence most of our “place in life,” in at least, my life…………struggle and replace personality with fancy clothes, inner beauty with hair, and with some men, even makeup….and the most disheartening to me, is the head-over-heels love generated toward someone, and the age difference is an immediate road block…in my experience to say, with a light hearted lilt, “I love you,” seems to identify you as a pervert, rather than a caring human being…sooooooooo as I age, even tho the motivation to say it, is in constant change, I find myself almost forcing invisibility upon me.

    • Walker Thornton
      Posted at 11:18h, 14 March Reply

      Jim,
      thank you for being so honest about your take on this. I hear your experience and feel your frustration.

  • Pat Nichol
    Posted at 13:39h, 14 March Reply

    Walker, that is why there is a purple flash in the front of my hair.

    • Walker Thornton
      Posted at 07:09h, 15 March Reply

      One day I’m going to play with color in that way!!

  • Christine Bailey
    Posted at 16:05h, 14 March Reply

    Excellent article, I am 64, some how I find people close to my own age more attractive. We have character and experience that shines ourof slightly worn or tired eyes. It is about the person, who they are, where they are going that draws me in. Beauty can be a fleeting physical thing, we tend to lose muscle tone but not the will to work and play hard.

    We are the Elders, and have earns our place in the sun, celebrate we are still are, too many loved ones are not.

    Yes Jim, men have a similar journey of adapting to new challenges 😀 May we all live as well as we can, time goes by so quickly in was January a few weeks ago, lol.

    • Walker Thornton
      Posted at 07:08h, 15 March Reply

      thank you for adding your experience. Like you I am drawn to the depths of a person not the physical attributes.

  • Anita Irlen
    Posted at 12:28h, 18 March Reply

    “I like the idea of choosing how I want to be seen…” I think this is it, you nailed it! Anita

    • Walker Thornton
      Posted at 09:25h, 19 March Reply

      Thanks!! You seem to be fully embracing this idea as well.

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