How Do 50+ Women Become Visible?


Do we become invisible, we women past 50? And if so, can we reappear?

A reader emailed me to say she and her her friend had been discussing invisibility, and suggested I write something. OK then. It’s been on my mind for a while.

A couple of years back, I was shopping with my daughter. Out of the corner of my eye, not thinking why, I began to notice how cheerful all the cashiers were towards us. How helpful the salespeople. How smiley the passers-by. We were both in t-shirts and jeans. My 20+ daughter made me visible. The tall redhead for extra points.

I don’t think it’s a mystery, our vanishing act. If we make a few somewhat Darwinian assumptions, that is.

  • The species wants to continue.
  • Female fertility is a required component for continuation.
  • Men have evolved very acute visual scans for fertility.
  • Once we look like we’re unable to create children, without compensatory changes, something like 60% of our visual impact disappears automatically. And in the old days, our power. Things are changing. (I specify “look like we’re” unable, because I am not addressing infertility in youth. A different, and heavy set of issues.)

By the way, it’s perfectly fine to enjoy disappearing. But if you prefer to be seen? You have to choose amongst, or even combat, certain images.

Remember, people are hard-wired to make sense of other people by matching them to a known visual pattern. Infants focus on their mother’s face, and then search everywhere to see that pattern again. They’ll decide that any two dark spots plus a line equals a human. I remember my daughter as an infant, fascinated by the markings on the face of a large stuffed goose.

So imagine the extant visual patterns, the imagery, for women between, let’s say, 50-75. That’s the time horizon I can manage at the moment. These are elder, more universal, quasi-Jungian, Style Archetypes. I’ll name a few, you probably know others.

The Mommom


Mormor, as the Swedes call their mother’s mother. She mothered the mother, she mothers us all. Mothering forever, usually in an apron. Mommom may be a grandmother, but many grandmothers are not Mommoms. It’s quite possible she’ll wear her hair short, gray, and permed. She pays little attention to her clothes, but little people don’t care.

A Bastion Of The Establishment (Note: The Grande Dame fits this archetype too, her images we’ve seen here)


La Bastion has power, financial or institutional, or both. Maybe she earned it, maybe her husband or her father. Possibly her mother, but less likely. Mothers weren’t often earning fortunes when Bastions were young. She’s been living and thriving in the world of men for some time – with crossed arms.

The Vavoom Sophia Loren, Who Unfortunately Degrades To Joan Rivers, AKA The Cougar


Those who continue to signal sexuality in the same mode as younger women will likely have a Come To Resident Authority moment in their 50s. How long to carry on? Does full makeup have an Expired By date? Does cleavage ever need to take retirement? And can we, should we, keep wrapping our backsides as tightly as possible? To say nothing of surgery or other subcutaneous interventions.

The Witchy Woman, Alternatively, The Artist

She’s been with us forever, somewhere out there. In the forest, in the studio. What does she know? It’s in her eyes, framed of course by bewitching gray hair.

The Laborer

Getty Lean In Image "The Laborer" With Helper

In factories Rosie the Riveter rises through the ranks. On the farm, Auntie Em scoops up chicks in her apron, and makes her way through the dust. In another country, somewhere, a white-haired woman squats to weave a basket. They say squatting is better for our health than sitting in chairs.

And Then Getty Images Introduces New “Lean-In” Stock Photos

As it happens, Sheryl Sandberg’s organization, Lean In, has collaborated with Getty Images on stock photos, in order to expand our visual dictionary of women. You can take a look at the full Getty collection here.


I think it’s up to us to keep expanding the imaginary section called 50+. We might have to live the new images before we can photograph them.

I come back to the ‘”And” Model Of Identity,’ AKA, Don’t Box Me In. If my style persona has always been Polished Tomboy, I want that to live on with me. When I was just surfacing from deep water mothering, the song When I Was a Boy by Dar Williams used to make me cry, remembering the freedoms of 9-year old boys and girls. I want to return to that in my second half-century. Albeit creakier, and unlikely to ride a bike without my shirt.

If we amalgamate all these archetypes, at least the deconstructed components that matter to me, we come up with The Artisan. By which I mean she’s Sturdy and Artsy and can assert some authority of knowledge. Making color, making bread, making comfort, making love, making money. I’m working on her picture as we speak.

Woman leading workgroup via Getty Lean-In images as seen on Buzzfeed
Mommom cooking with child, via zsoltika on Flickr Creative Commons
Bastion of the Establishment via anicaps on Flickr Creative Commons
Sophia Loren and Joan Rivers via Wikipedia
The Witchy Woman and Artist via Huffington Post
The Laborer via Getty Lean-In images as seen on Buzzfeed
Getty’s Lean-In stock images interface screenshot by me

Note: I can’t address invisibility without also pointing you again to Patti’s “Visible Monday” blog linkups  Also, Jo Goddard shows another image here, from the collection, of someone who is surely 50+. We’re getting there.

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  • When I hear these discussions about invisibility, I always think about my awareness, working with young people so much, as I do, that many of them are very keen to hear and see and address us, to exchange ideas with us, to benefit from our experience. I’m not quite sure how this dovetails with your thoughtful observations, but I suspect it does, somehow — perhaps in finding ways to be comfortable with the way we hover between invisibility and visibility. Remember how desirable the cloak of invisibility was in all those fairy tales? ;-)

    12:11 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Frances/Materfamilias, Oh I agree. Once we engage, I have found young people to be highly respectful, amused, participatory, all the things you would want in companions. And I’ve never felt invisible at all, in conversations.

    1:16 pm
    Duchesse said...

    Oh yes, ma! I have found young people approach me more than those just entering middle age. I suppose there is some projected grandparentness going on with the younger cohort, which is fine with me!

    8:27 pm
    Frances/Materfamilias said...

    And I wonder if those just entering middle-age are less willing to see us because they want to maintain a distance from us, to make it clear they’re not there yet. Whereas for the younger ones, aging is still an impossible novelty. Or something like that . . .

  • I find nothing sadder than the aging trophy wife who having drawn her entire self-worth from the reflected glory of her husband, finds he’s traded her in for a newer model. You see them working the cosmetics counters, clustered at the gym, and sipping pale drinks while glaring at every 20-something with fear and contempt. How sad to realize your reality was so easily discarded. And how frightening for the 20-something who sees her own image reflected back when their eyes meet.

    7:29 am
    Lisa said...

    @Nikki Lehnhardt, so well articulated. My thoughts exactly.

  • The point I try to make— not too pointedly— to younger colleagues and younger friends is that we older women are still exactly like them. We have hopes, wishes, fantasies, likes, dislikes as do they. Younger women have the tendency to think they will never become what they perceive as “us”— but they will. And so much depends on your attitude as well. You won’t be seen at all if you walk in the shadows. I agree it’s an interesting time as yesterday’s “baby boomers” are reinventing what happens next.

    11:49 am
    Kristina said...

    @Michelle Braverman, Yes! My daughter at 17 is nearly a twin of me at 17-35 or so, and now when she sees videos and pictures of her babyhood and early childhood, she has commented several times something like “I wonder whose baby that is I’m holding?” before she realizes she’s looking at the two of us, 17 years ago. I think it’s been a bit of an object lesson for her, and also maybe helped her see her mother (and I am most definitely a Mommom with a healthy dose of Artist thrown in) as someone who used to be very like her and might still be.

  • Sometimes a cloak of invisibility is good. Mostly though, it’s irritating.

    1:18 pm
    Cheryl Bennett said...

    @pigtown*design, I agree!! :)

  • You are actually talking about two different things, being invisible to random men is not the same thing as being invisible to sales clerks. I was a skinny nerd with the proverbial coke bottle glasses in my youth and had zero dates in college – studying IT with only 2 girls in a class along with 48 guys – now that is invisible. I’m talking the runtiest lowest status male is not interested in you.

    Being invisible when you could make a pile of money by selling products to people who are at their peak of disposable income is just plain stupid.

    If it was 1914 and you walked into a department store as a grey haired matron you wouldn’t have been ignored. I’m an old movie buff and you will see all kinds of older women portrayed as extras, in the nightclubs dancing with their husbands. Many of the hairdressers, makeup artists, writers and dressers were all older women – they have completely vanished in 2014. We actually live in a vastly more ageist society than at any other point in time.

    8:11 am
    lauren said...

    You are actually talking about two different things, being invisible to random men is not the same thing as being invisible to sales clerks.

    i concur. your daughter is the customer more likely to be influenced by casual staff interaction in most retail settings, demographically speaking. twentysomethings make impulse buys more often than fiftysomethings do, per the data.

    on another note, while i find joan rivers terribly unfunny, i think it’s a bit brutal to note that sophia loren types “degrade to” something like her, particularly since they’re wearing approximately the same amount of makeup in the illustrations you’ve chosen. joan is famous for being unapologetic about having had work done, but that hardly makes her a cougar; i think the thesis is muddy here.

    12:13 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Vera, This is true, that sales clerks and random men are not the same. For me they were, I generalized too rapidly.

    Lauren, I should note, I respect the actual Joan Rivers, and was thinking primarily visually, and terms of the way the media talks about her. I guess that’s not quite fair.

  • Lisa, once again you have articulated so well what most women over 50 have thought about but perhaps not have been able to express…

    Another example might be what I would like to call the “Classic”…A natural beauty who only grows richer with age…She exemplifies the true meaning of “endurance” in that she has always walked with dignity, refinement and grace…She has always been AT EASE with letting her hair down…Her style and personality is effortless…AND most importantly…She posseses an Exuberant Soul…

    Thanks for such an insightful and enjoyable blog!

    12:14 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Maude, You’re welcome, and thank you for reading. I think the classic is what many people think to be the ideal.

    8:44 pm
    Julie said...

    @Maude, Helen Mirren comes to mind

  • I’ve noticed a vastly different perspective having retired and moved to Mexico (I will admit to being only 51). Older women are not ignored—for either sexual or economic reasons—and rather are revered. It’s refreshing. Perhaps it is a US attitude.

    9:54 am
    Patience said...

    @Heather Bryan, I think you are right, that this is more of an issue in the United States than in other countries. Aren’t the French famous for celebrating the middle-aged woman?

  • Interesting that you are blogging about this issue, I think about it a lot.
    In fact, last night, I was writing a poem about it. It is bittersweet.
    Thanks for putting it out there and opening the discussion.

  • Excellent post! Invisibility is something I’ve been fighting for many years now (I’m 64). I find that in restaurants sometimes, my husband and I are seated in the rear or near the families with small children(our age possibly?) but we always ask for a different table. In waiting in lines, sometimes, I’m ignored, and I always speak up-loudly and sometimes not so nicely. I don’t mind not being able to produce anymore babies (thrilled actually) but I still want to be noticed, a force in the world. Thank you for talking about this!

  • I care about my clothes (although I don’t give a fig about being stylish) and my apron has a picture of Heisenberg and says “Let’s Cook”, but I guess I’m still a Mommom. Just an incredibly cool one.

    Makes me and The G Man happy – who else matters?

    12:15 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Jan’s Sushi Bar, I think making the Mommom cool is what I refer to when I say The “And” Model Of Identity. Down with stereotyping constraints.

  • I am most likely going to evolve into a “witchy woman” and enjoy it immensely. I will never be totally invisible, because I teach and thus they have to pay attention to me.

    12:17 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Cynthia, Hahahahahaha.

  • I am not sure where I fit in here. I wear an apron in the kitchen ‘cuz I am a messy cook, love the joy that spending the day with my grandchildren brings, delight in lunching with the ladies getting dressed up and going shopping….thinking that although I am a wee bit invisible that I am still a work in progress and one that might not fit neatly inside a box or one with a label. Now let’s explore how we can dress so as not to be swept under the carpet in a society that worships youth. Thinking Ari Cohen’s fabulous NY street snapshots might be a tad “out there” for my comfort but there must be some middle ground where 50+ women can stand up and be counted as part of the living.
    What shall we wear today that says we are here?

  • Women above 50, then what is Sharon Stone at 55? Did you see her lastest photos on IN SHAPE? I think being beyond 50 has an entirely new meaning.
    I feel like 50 is totally new these days and very visible!

  • How long do we have to wait for the picture of The Artisan [as in hurry up!]? I love her already!

    Super great essay LPC.

  • I am 51 so have been dealing with this and thinking about it for about 6 years. It recently occurred to me that part of becoming invisible is not just the loss of attention but also the loss of societal privilege.

    One of the defining aspects of privilege is that a person is unaware of having it. So it comes as a shock when as a wasp female it disappears. We suddenly experience what it is like to be a second class citizen in this country. It has been interesting to realize that the behavior that I find so dispiriting has been the reality for many people their entire lives.

    It is also why there some times is friction between older women and the younger women who follow us. It is galling to suddenly lose something of great value while others continue to benefit from it without realizing how good they have it.

    Men will not be spared this experience either. It just comes later in life for them.

    So as I continue to wrestle with this I am using it as an opportunity to see how easily I was able to slide through life by being at the top of the food chain. How many doors were open for me just because of youth and attractiveness. I am using this time to contemplate how many of our fellow countrymen never get to experience those privileges and I am hoping that it will be a constant reminder to have compassion and empathy.

    12:17 pm
    Lisa said...

    @lisa, A very interesting, and valuable way to look at it, IMO.

    6:07 pm
    Violet said...

    Rich looking white women are not treated like second class citizens.

    The societal privilege may change it’s aspect as we age, but has not gone away. The barrista may not give you a wink and a free cappucino any longer, but you aren’t getting catcalled on the street any longer either. It’s like being an honorary rich looking white man.

    Laura Lewis had a great thought about visibility in her comment.

    Speak up!

    I don’t think bad service is a class or gender or age issue. Crummy goods and services are equal opportunity.

    If it is a question of style – Yes, wear a hat. It doesn’t have to be brightly colored with fur and eyeballs and hands coming out of it. (Unless you want to.)
    It doesn’t have to be a question of
    Hat Wearing>Sex Ever Again Having.

    A straw fedora suffices to distinguish the wearer. No need to rush into anything.

    I will also cast my vote for coral lips.

    8:34 am
    lisa said...


    You are absolutely right. I did not mean to say that affluent white women are treated as second class citizens. Only that in loosing a little bit of my, until then unrecognized, privilege I realized how many advantages I had taken for granted as some kind of birthright.

    I don’t know why but since making that connection, I view this issue a lot more dispassionately.

  • LOVE this column, and your writing is a delight. Some years ago, I looked around at the 50+ and 60+ women around me and thought “that’s who I want to be when I grow up.” I was probably 30 at the time. But I took the wish to heart and I have always dressed, tended, and reflected myself as those ladies I admired so. The times I feel invisible are rare, and usually when I don’t take charge, so I can only blame myself. If I confidently “work the room” with a smile and a few words with everyone, then I’m important to the room dynamic. If I cloak myself with grey, mousy timidity, then I cast my own self into the shadows and – shame on me. I’m so enjoying and learning from all of the comments coming in, and will continue to check back all day.

    12:18 pm
    Lisa said...

    @LornaMi, Thank you very much.

    6:30 pm
    Gretchen said...

    Lorna, you bring up an interesting point. Some individuals invite invisibility no matter their age by creeping around the edges, so to speak. I don’t think that’s what Lisa means here, but it IS an issue. I’m not for the crazy outfits and all, nor hiding behind bland clothes, bland words, nor actions. What I think we’re all trying to discover is that median area where we remain true to ourselves, without histrionics, and society recognizes us as individuals or at the minimum, an interesting prospect to mine, rather than ignore entirely. Finding that median is the challenge. I, for one, am eager to see what Lisa crafts here.

  • Very interesting. I don’t feel invisible at all…I wonder who you mean we are invisible to?

    Maybe I’m being overlooked and not realizing it?

    I feel just the opposite, but maybe that’s what you are getting at. I speak up if I want attention – did I not do that pre-50? Maybe I was afraid?

    That’s a lot of maybes…and question marks…sorry!

  • I think my most invisible years were in my forties when I lived in Los Angeles. I would find myself shunted aside into the street when walking on the sideewalk as if I did not exist at all. Back then, if I remember at all correctly, I was trying to be “young.” Now, while I am not at all happy about some parts of the physical aging process, I am trying my best to embrace others. When I stopped dying my hair, I started being visible again, often with compliments on my beautiful silver hair. Of course, I’ve also over the last three years (for health reasons as well as vanity) lost 100 pounds. So I don’t know if it’s the hair, the weight loss (and concomitant new and jazzier clothes) or that I feel so much more real now without flesh and hair dye between me and the world. And there’s a huge part of me that is so relieved and glad to not get attention because I’m young, pretty, fertile and (supposedly because of those) available to any man. Never was interested in “any” man and that hasn’t changed. Never did want to slide through life on my looks (does that sound too awfully noble, I’m not) or at least solely on my looks.

    11:27 am
    Susie said...

    @Gail Upp, it sounds like your new-found confidence has made you visible again. Great message to all of us: find the person you are most comfortable being.

    12:19 pm
    Lisa said...

    @Gail Upp, Also, LA has to be Ground Zero for this phenomenon, no?

    3:52 pm
    Susan said...

    Gail, Your hair is gorgeous as are you. Thank you for telling us your story.

  • I love this Lean In/Getty project! I could browse through it all day if I didn’t have to go to work. I turn 50 in a few months!

  • I think a lot of invisibility is how you think about it.
    When considering the scene of Lisa and daughter and the enthusiastic salespeople my first thought was that they saw a young woman who looked like she’s fit with the clothing and her Mama who looked like she had cash in her handbag. I imagine that looks like a sale to a salesperson and they would perk up.

    12:20 pm
    Lisa said...

    @RoseAG, Ha! Good point.

  • What an interesting discussion! I confess that at 57, I don’t feel invisible … although perhaps I would at the gym, or strolling down fraternity row. I agree that looking as though you have deep pockets helps with the retail sector. I still get ignored at The Gap, but in stores where people are getting paid commissions, I do just fine.

    And I don’t miss the cat calls. At all. You know the old saying that women dress for each other? I always did, so I don’t mind at all if only women pay attention to the way I look.

  • Sometimes I think of this when younger people hold the door open for me, etc. However, I am never sad about it. I often think I’ve been where you are, I remember being obligated to look fabulous no matter what. I still dress every single day, even if I’m only going to the grocer or the plant nursery. I still get stares and 2nd looks, and I smile. My son and daughter-in-law laugh that I have so much fun with the grandchildren, wanting to take them to lunch or high tea. I also think if we are intelligent, charming, witty and wise we will never be invisible. I am always seated next to the nicest man at a dinner party and continue to be able to have a conversation about any subject. This is work too. You cannot talk about everything else when you are so busy talking about yourself. You are so much more insightful with your writing than me, as we both know, and I appreciate so much your take on this. Do NOT become invisible, women!!

  • Has anyone noticed not invisibility in a hair salon, but a reluctance on the part of a stylist to give you the same hairstyles that the younger ones get? For the first time in my adult life, I went to a New York salon early this year and could actually sense the stylist thinking, now what sort of haircut would I give my mother? Clearly, I won’t visit this stylist again (or, if I do, I’ll go with a very firm idea of how I want my hair cut in mind). But I tried to think back years to when I had my bottle-brown hair cut in a very prominent New York salon, and I don’t recall seeing a woman over 50 getting her hair cut there. I’m aware that gray hair–colored or not–and an aging face works best with certain cuts, but what did aging woman do with their hair a generation ago? Today, I think we all may want something different. Stylists need to know that.

    4:49 am
    RoseAG said...

    @Margaret, I think hair stylists are a different case.
    They’re concerned with their client base. If you’re new they don’t want to give you something too different because they are concerned you’ll walk out, hate it and never come back.
    If you want a young woman’s cut, complete with pink streaks or shaved portions you need to have had a relationship with that stylist and have worked into that cut from your middle-aged bob.
    Someone who would give you a 180 degree change in style on your first visit is reckless – maybe not to you the client who wants that big change, but to her own business where she needs constant bookings. Even if you look good in the new cut, if you don’t love it and give her a good recommendations she’s sunk.
    So I’d give you stylist a break!

    7:27 am
    bettina said...

    @Margaret, I have absolutely noticed this.

    A while back, I was at a salon, getting my long hair trimmed and dyed. A stylist at the station next to me started having a loud conversation with my stylist about how “aging” long hair is on older women. They weren’t talking directly about me, but it was very obvious they wanted me to hear their opinions on this.

    No, I did not decide to get a shorter cut. :)

    7:37 am
    Lisa said...

    @Margaret, So rude!

  • As I age I am working on “Knowing-Eyed Retired Courtesan” for my personal style. What does it mean that both yours and my older-dame style avatars are linked to economic status? How they are seen is the long-term result of whether they’ve stayed at home, worked hard, made the money themselves or been partnered to someone who brought it in. In case you’re wondering, Retired Courtesans like defined waistlines, discreet eyeliner, lacy underthings, and self-funded real estate and retirement accounts.

    7:50 am
    Lisa said...

    @Sadie, Ha! Phew. I knew we needed some more characters in this play.

  • Might we consider that two root causes of worry about invisibility are a) ego, and b) fear of death, the ultimate invisibility?

    I don’t get the looks I once did, or the professional attention. It’s time for me to support others who are leaning in, lending a discreet hand on the small of the back when they need it.

    8:38 pm
    Frances/Materfamilias said...

    This comment really resonates with me, Duchesse. I remember Jamie Lee Curtis, in an interview, speaking of how she was trying her best to step out of the limelight, recognizing that it was time to let her daughter shine (her daughter was in her late teens at the time). I don’t mean that we need to be self-effacing, but there are ways to be appreciated, noticed, without getting the kind of attention we might have when we were younger — supporting others is perhaps one of the best ways, and if we don’t get looked at, we can generally be listened to.
    I recognize, though, that this awareness or sentiment has deepened for me as I’m moving into my 60s, as my daughters move through their 30s, as my granddaughters move firmly into speech and mobility, as my parents and in-laws have died. .
    Oh Lisa, you really have opened up the conversation. . .

    7:39 am
    Lisa said...

    @Duchesse, Oh, yes, ego, death, and then the power of beauty. Here’s to the glories of being the advice-giver, and occasional nudger.

  • I’m 54 and really don’t view myself as being invisible. I live my life and don’t really worry about what others think of me or how they view me. As long as I’m happy with myself, that is all that matters to me.

    7:41 am
    Lisa said...

    @MARLA ROBINSON, I admire you for feeling that way.

  • What I love about this post Lisa, is all the different responses you have elicited. I find myself identifying with all of the responses. Yes, thinking that you have become invisible relates to ego, but it is also a situation that merits discussion.

    Thank you for tackling this. I look forward to more photos!

    I am almost 62 now, way past 50. I have just begun to notice invisibility. I have friends who have commented on this for years. Is invisibility a bad thing? That is up for discussion too.

  • You know, I guess I never even realized I was invisible…I’m sure I have been for far more years than I knew (I’m an introvert, I move fast, get in, get out, hate shopping anyway and, well, I have always been a bit more jolie laide than lovely). But, amazingly, I have more good friends 20+- years my age than not. It’s funny, my oldest daughter, at 19, jokes she’s already a soccer mom, and my youngest, at 17, has always just done her own thing. I think I may not be the correct person to comment on invisibility, but I sure know the type who’s railing against it. You see it here in Annapolis and it seems so sad. You want to hug these women (or run the other way if they’re really brittle) and say oh, honey. Just relax and be yourself. That’s so much more lovely than trying so hard. Exactly the advice one would give their preteen, or post-college child. Or, apparently, anyone who has lost their way. Let’s all help each OTHER be non invisible, without becoming caricatures of someone’s ridicule!

  • We are not invisible to each other. :)

    And I have been noticing for a long time that women 70 and up start to get noticed again in an appreciative light. We have a whole new wave to look forward to. This is just that slightly muzzy interim period between Babe and Sage.

    Grace and style are appreciated at *any* age, by any sex or circumstance.

    Great piece, great comments. Thanks!

  • Fantastic discussion, Lisa…

    Somehow or other I feel much more visible at this stage of my life than I ever have… no Houdini act for me… :)

    And yes, I like the idea of the “artisan” group… happy t join… :) xv

    5:41 am
    Flo said...

    @vicki archer, I am happy to let you know, Vicki Archer, that this photo of you and your marvelous garland of leaves has gone into my Permanent Inspiration File. At 67 I’m surely way older than you, but the exuberance of that garland and the confidence on your face both speak to the Artisan archetype, and I want in!×1024.jpg

  • Lisa you bring up interesting points that I never really considered – I am at the in between age – 40 – so I am neither “young” nor am I “old”. For me personally I can not comment but I do notice that when I gain weight I disappear. I think role models are important though as my mother albeit 60 plus has not disappeared but not in a leary way so I never fear aging and its effects to be honest but it was very interesting to read all the comments and the varying points of view – but this has made me think about a few things – great post!

    4:16 am
    Loretta said...

    @coulda shoulda woulda,

    I can agree with this. I don’t notice the invisibility so much because having been overweight my whole life, I have always been invisible to all.

    7:51 am
    Lisa said...

    @coulda shoulda woulda, The question of weight and visibility is a huge one. I still remember how people who met me when I was pregnant, with a 60 pound weight gain much of which went to my face and thighs, treated me differently when it came off.

  • How interesting. I am 53 and certainly not invisible but think I am firmly a member of the “artisan” group.

    What makes a difference is certainly a zest for life that shows in clothes, demeanour, aura. Is there a spark?

    And if I’m honest and admit to myself how many men are “invisible” to me (and those are many), it’s always that spark that’s missing, not age, money or good looks.

    5:51 am
    Flo said...

    @mademarian, Thank you for introducing the invisible men topic. Yes, I’ve caught myself in that same moment of recognition [usually in the grocery store] when some anonymous man irrationally catches my 67-year-old attention. I always ask myself “what are you doing?” as I’m staring [staring!] in his direction. Yes, the spark, the aura…

  • I never feel more ageism than when my husband and I go into an upscale restaurant for dinner. No matter what the time, when the reservation was made, and what we are wearing (and we are always dressed for the occasion), we are shown the worst table – by the kitchen/not in main dining room/ not part of the party so to speak.

    My husband is not one who speaks up for himself by nature, but now when this happens, he doesn’t even blink before telling the waiter, nicely, that we’d prefer another table.

    Funniest time it happened was when we walked into a very not-upscale restaurant – a Buffalo Wild Wings trying to eat a quick meal before a movie. Never having been in one and never caring to be in one, we didn’t realize it was just a huge sports bar. The server was apologizing about the noise and the crowd so much you would have thought we were 101! It was pretty funny though made me wonder when late 50’s became so ancient.

  • I go in and out of visibility, as I have all my life. I feel I choose it, depending on my mood. It’s a very interesting discussion, and I’m enjoying everyone’s take on it.

  • Ah, the Artisan–that’s who I am! Love this. There are times when I very much enjoy the freedom to be and do whatever I want because I’m wearing the invisible age cloak. But suprisingly, I think I became more visible when I let my hair go gray. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve “embraced authenticity” so carry myself differently or because it’s not so common to see fifty-somethings with gray hair in the modern world, but I do get more attention than I did a few years ago with a tasteful but nondescript dye job. Go figure.

    7:52 am
    Lisa said...

    @Kathryn, The effect of long gray hair should not be underestimated.

  • Great post Lisa. Count me in as an Artisan. I don’t want to lose my identity, in fact, I believe as I age I am more liberated to express myself through the way I dress. This is due to a couple of factors: Firstly, I have more disposable income than I did in my earlier years and so now can enjoy more expensive brands that tend to have nicer fabrics and better cuts, classier accessories etc and can afford to have my hair tended to on an ‘as needs’ basis rather than having to let it grow out for six weeks or more; and secondly, having been married for some ahem, many years now, I am no loner bound to keep the long hair my husband always thought was so sexy, now quite honestly, I please myself. Obviously he’s not hanging around because of my hair. So freedom come get me. It’s when women get to a certain age and they completely lose confidence, have no idea where to start and no idea about who they are that their dress sense becomes boring or shallow. May I embody and embrace the Artisan – never losing confidence, daring, class or style – hutzpah!

  • I’ve read this a lot over the years…once a woman “loses her looks,” she becomes invisible. But I don’t really feel that way now at 54. Sure, men no longer hit on me or stare at me, but that’s actually a relief. Once in a while an old guy flirts with me, though, which I actually enjoy more now that I can relax and not worry that it’s intended to be anything more than a playful little moment. I’m not invisible to my family and friends, which matters most, and who cares what people who don’t really matter think of me? As a “rich-looking white woman,” I get plenty of attention in department stores…although probably even more with my 21 year old daughter…but I assume that is because they know I’m buying for two. The only new thought I can add to this interesting post and conversation is that as we grow older, ideally, we can better control our lives and the situations we find ourselves in. So, perhaps we can avoid feeling invisible by not surrounding ourselves with people who make us feel that way.

    7:53 am
    Lisa said...

    @Patricia Petteruti, “So, perhaps we can avoid feeling invisible by not surrounding ourselves with people who make us feel that way.” Well now there’s a thought!

  • I went grey this past year and I actually get more attention from men than before. The difference is they’re my father’s age.

    7:53 am
    Lisa said...

    @AggieK, You crack me up!

  • I was just listening to an interview with an editor of this Getty Lean-in stock photo project. I thought it was really interesting and i also felt relief as so many stock photos are so stupid and only show successful women struggling with baby, laundry etc.
    Lisa you write about this so well. I’m 43 and I feel that the women going into their later years who are ahead of me are doing such great thinking (and doing) on the subject of ageism, particularly for women (but also for men because us women are inclusive like that). I feel like it’s a good time to be a woman growing older.

  • Someone may have already mentioned this. The UK Guardian newspaper has an excellent regular Invisible Woman column. Have a look, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

    7:53 am
    Lisa said...

    @Sheila Faulkner, Thanks.

  • In defense of Sophia Loren, and to some extent Joan Rivers – these women are in their seventies. If one can make it to seventy and still be motivated to do a full face every day, Salud!

    I don’t want to see anyone denied entry to the Artisan club because they are on the Gay Icon side of the makeup spectrum.

    7:55 am
    Lisa said...

    @Violet, Ah, I think they have their own club. Ari Seth Cohen’s Advanced Style. No? But this is a world in I hope all these clubs have one clubhouse. That at 50+ we converge rather than pull apart.

  • This post *and* comments have made my day; it is the best thing I have read all week. Perhaps it resonates because The Consort (age 59) brought it up about 6 months ago in terms of how it was impacting him. He doesn’t like it.

    The syndrome is real and applicable across many areas of society, as mentioned by several commentors, perhaps most notably when out among the masses: shopping, dining out or at the salon. As someone approaching this (ahem, right at the precipice) it is troubling. While wishing I didn’t care about what others think of me, in some respects I still do. In all candor, the notion of not being “ the top of the food chain…” doesn’t seem particularly appealing. Not at all.

    That’s not meant to sound arrogant or privileged, for I am neither. It somehow has a negative connotation, as do most changes about to be imposed upon me, without my approval. Clearly the lesson, as explained so eloquently here, is to accept it and own it, embracing the opportunity for the next chapter.

    Many, *many* thanks to you and everyone who commented, for I shall bookmark it, knowing it is not only educational, but comforting.

  • This is a fantastic post & a brilliant discussion. Agree with Kathy that I go in & out of visibility & that’s fine. I’m not missing the wolf whistles! And with Materfamilias, when I lecture, young people are keen to hear my views/experience and so I’m definitely not invisible.

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  1. […] Examining archetypes and stereotypes as well as strides and frustrations, this post asks how do 50+ women become more visible? […]

  2. […] reading How Do 50+ Women Become Visible? at the blog Privilege, I have been ruminating on this […]