How to stop feeling invisible, once and for all
Not all cultures prize youth and physical perfection in the same way as the West. For example, in Japan, the aesthetic of wabi-sabi places a higher value on age and imperfection than it does on youth. Wrinkles and signs of aging are treasured as unique and precious and viewed as adding to a woman’s beauty. How great would it be if we could choose a different attitude that saw our life experience as beautiful rather than something that made us increasingly culturally and sexually invisible?”
We: A Manifesto for Women Everywhere.
Recently I have been hearing the word invisible used by women 50 and older, to describe how they feel viewed in the workplace, and more generally, in day-to-day life. I decided to conduct a search of the popular and scientific literature to see if I could learn more about this idea. I was surprised to find that a Google search of “invisible and older women” returned thousands of hits, and searching peer-reviewed, scientific articles revealed almost 200 studies on this topic. What is going on?
The vast majority of women in the top positions of power in the world are over 50. Women in this age group have also had multiple defining experiences beyond work. I’m going to assume that if you have made to this age you have likely had a few serious relationships, had your heart broken (at least once), reached a level of competency or success in your career, maybe had a child or two (or not), been a caregiver, buried someone important in your life, had a challenging health issue, overcome some type of adversity, and likely have had many of these things happen at the same time. We are the most experienced and accomplished group of women in the world and yet, we are invisible?
It is undeniable that North Americans worship youth culture, even though younger women typically have the least amount of agency. When the women in positions of power are the same ones who feel invisible, we have a serious problem. And, we are far more likely to pass on a world that has more gender inequality to the women behind us.
What can we do to reduce this feeling of invisibility? Here are seven ways that you can join the movement to make a change:
1. We can feel strong in our bodies. One of the best ways to stop feeling invisible is to appreciate and celebrate the strength of your body. Remember all of those trials and tribulations of life that I listed above? Your body got you through all of that. Even if you have had health problems, if you are still able to read this post, celebrate the fact that your body has made it this far and continues to run that brain that keeps you involved in life.
2. We can take care of ourselves. At menopause, women finally become equal in one way – our chronic disease risk suddenly rivals men. One of the best ways to lower this risk is to be physically active. We are capable to be highly physically active at any age and exercise is truly one of the only therapies that can scientifically turn back time. The added bonus is that when we push our physical limits, we realize that our bodies are more powerful than we could have ever imagined.
3. We can practice self-compassion. Breaking the youth-obsessed mindset starts with us. We need to stop looking in the mirror and saying “yuck” about our wrinkles. Seriously. Let’s stop that.
Your face, like your personality, is way more interesting now than it was when you were 25. Those wrinkles are reminders of the times that you’ve held someone who was hurting, the pain your felt with loss, the joy you felt in new beginnings, and all the learning that you have so successfully integrated that makes you the amazing, powerful, capable, beautiful woman that you are today. Remind yourself of this fact regularly.
4. We can take back our power. In fact, let’s not take it back. Let’s just claim the power that we already possess. We have the experience. We have the autonomy. We are the mothers. And most importantly, we vote. Let’s exercise the power we have to celebrate aging and get off the “fighting aging” hamster wheel already.
5. We can take care of each other. I know that you’re already a great friend to other amazing women your age. But what if we all made a commitment to encourage each other to stop trying to look 25?
I’m all for taking good care of yourself (and I love a good lip gloss as much as the next person) but let’s collectively focus on doing things that better our health and our physical strength rather than ones that are purely for our appearance.
6. We can claim our place as leaders. Leaders are not typically invisible. Women who are younger than us need our leadership to reinforce that their life goal should not be to obsess about appearance before their looks are “gone”. Women of our age need to claim, and redefine aging as a positive phase of life.
7. We can ignore the anti-aging movement. Have the anti-aging marketers ever stopped to to think about what the opposite of aging is? I personally prefer aging to the alternative. Let’s face it, anti-aging is anti-older women. Let’s send a message and stop buying their products.
I refuse to be invisible. Are you with me?
Your sister in wellness,
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