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Have You Started to Feel Invisible?

Here’s how to stand up, stand out and be heard.

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gif of sad face on turned off lightbulb, feeling invisible
Vincent Kilbride
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Here I am, strutting my stuff on a gorgeous spring day in Manhattan. My hair is long and wildly curly. I’m lean and strong. I love what I’m wearing: a simple, short black dress and my fave black sneakers. And then I notice: No one is looking at me. Not just because they are glued to their phones but because I’m invisible to them. It’s because I’m an older woman, and many people seem to make assumptions based on the softening of my jawline or the sagging of my neck.

Maybe they think I’ll be grouchy. I’ll be slow. I won’t have anything interesting to contribute to a modern conversation. How can this be, when I often feel like a teenager, curious about life, with exciting plans for the future? We women of a certain age know it’s clearly time to transform this disconnect.

Below are some suggestions on how to shift from invisible to a standout. How do I know this? I’m a woman in my late 60s who has written 13 novels, including one, Cruel Beautiful World, that features a stylish 80-year-old woman who finds her first love in a retirement community. This story was based on my gorgeous mom — and I have to say this character was the one critics and readers fell most in love with.

I know this stuff because I talk to girlfriends about the lack of admiring glances we get — or any glances — when we’re out. I know this from what I’ve observed: older men, with paunches and thinning white hair, getting attention far more than we do.

Challenge the thinking

Some believe that Madonna was standing up to society with shocking plastic surgery, refusing to stop being the center of attention in a business that prizes constant attention-getting. But ask yourself, how did seeing Madonna make you think about changing your own face? Madonna certainly was not invisible when she showed up with a dramatically different visage, though that’s not at the core of what will enhance our depth and visibility.

Hillary Strong is an elementary school psychologist by day and a novelist by night, in her mid-40s, based in Pennsylvania. She stresses how this way of thinking starts early, but we don’t have to buy into it. “By picking a girl’s beauty to praise, rather than intelligence or a way with a paintbrush, you’re telling them that this is what matters,” says Strong. “And while smarts and art can both grow with age, beauty, as we all know, fades.”  

She practices what she preaches, pointing out it’s never too late to sparkle, and you don’t need a doctored face to do it. Recently, Strong decided to invest in her lifelong dream to be a novelist and was signed by a top agent. She knew who she was, that she had strengths in both psychology and writing, but most importantly, she knew what she wanted to do next and she acted. Age wasn’t keeping her back, nor should it be for anyone else.

Engage

When I walk into a party, beyond how I look, I know I have other means of getting — and keeping — someone’s attention. I know how to charm with humor. I have a deep curiosity, ask good questions and give people an opportunity to talk about themselves. And I am not shy about sharing my own opinions.

Realize that glowing health is your best calling card

At intergenerational events, I shift the conversation if the first questions I get are about grandchildren or ailments. Instead, I talk about how I bounced on my mini trampoline for hours that morning to a Bruce Springsteen album, and that the blush in my cheeks is from consistently exercising, not from cosmetics.

I mention that I have a new novel coming out, that I’m still engaged in and excited by what I do with my life. How you feel is so much more important than how you look.

Want to boost that feeling? Find an exercise you love. It lifts your mind and body and spirit, all at once. Staying fit and remaining purposeful not only build self-esteem, they are also a magnet that draws people to you.

Get personal with style

Ignore any media that tell us women of a certain age that "here are 10 things you should never wear over the age of 50"; or articles on hairstyles to make you “look more youthful."

We should be the arbiters and architects of our own style. Who says you can’t rock a sleeveless dress or a miniskirt? Who made up these rules? I always wear large, outrageous earrings. Not only does that make me feel as powerful and playful as I am , but people notice them and stop to talk.

Thinking of going gray? I began coloring my hair in my 30s because the gray was coming in. And back then, gray had not become as chic as it is now. Even in my high 60s now, I still color my hair. I’m not trying to hide my age. I color my hair because it makes me feel better. More confidant. Because it looks like who I am. Want to go gray? Great. Many people think long hair after 50 is a no. But my older sister didn’t listen. Now, in her 70s, she’s stopped on the street with compliments for her gorgeous down-to-her-waist white hair.

The only person you need to please when it comes to your personal style is yourself.

Follow in the footsteps of visible heroines

Although I am inspired by active stars like Helen Mirren and Jane Fonda, my mom was my heroine. She thought her life was over when she had to enter an independent living facility. Instead, she found the love of her life in her late 80s, a man with whom she had great romance and connection until she died at 101.

Beyond her wild outfits and oversize glasses, centenarian designer Iris Apfel is an iconic influencer because of her spunk and confidence. She exemplifies a crucial lesson to all women: to know our power, and create our visibility, at every stage and age.

Do you ever feel invisible? Let us know in the comments below.

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