Now You See Me, Now You Don’t

In the past five months that I’ve spent interviewing women for my forthcoming book on navigating midlife, something rather interesting has come up. In almost equal numbers, midlife women are lining up for or against feeling “invisible” as a result of being 40 and older.

I wasn’t really expecting any one answer when I asked the question about whether or not they felt the media was ignoring them, but I guess I was assuming the responses would be less divided between two opposing camps of thought.

After talking with more than 60 women from all across the country, about 50% expressed concern that they were becoming marginalized because of their advancing years. The other 50% had no such concerns, in fact, I had to define more clearly and concisely what I meant by “invisible” in order for them to answer the question. It just wasn’t on their radar.

It got me thinking about what could account for such a stark difference in perspective. Did it have anything to do with how each person felt they were noticed in their younger years? Would someone who was attractive and used to having attention paid to her because of her looks be someone who begins to feel the world is seeing past her as she ages? Does it have anything to do with attractiveness, or is it something else entirely?

I do know that regardless of which camp these women landed in, neither side had any intention of actually being invisible. Whether or not they felt that the media has failed to keep pace with the midlife woman, they weren’t buying into the outdated belief that any woman past the age of 35 should be fitted for support hose and a rocking chair.

The women I’ve talked with are keenly aware of the various challenges that come with aging, and especially with aging as a woman in our culture. There are few, if any, role models to show them the way, so once again they are the trailblazers for the generations of women coming up behind them – just as they were in the previous decades. It’s a responsibility they don’t take lightly.

I’ve interviewed women who are changing their careers at midlife and beyond; who are going back to college to get their advanced degrees (one woman shared with me her decision to get her PhD so that she can work with teenagers- she’ll be 82 when she’s done with school); who are becoming artists, writers, vagabond travelers, social activists, and the list goes on and on.

What truly makes the difference between aging positively and aging that smacks of loss and decline is attitude. What women should be focusing on – and many, many already are – is acting their stage, not acting their chronological age, since improved health, wealth and resources have given most of them the opportunity to live another 25 years or more once they pass the 50 mile marker. That’s a tremendous stretch of time to spend sitting idly by, watching the world move on without them. Trust me, that is not a role I expect these boomer women to accept.

As a woman who sits squarely in the 50+ demographic, I have never felt more alive, more certain of who and what I am, and more passionate about what I want to share with the world. I do find it rather ironic that just as I feel like I’ve got it all together and am ready to explode out into the world, I’m sensing the cloak of invisibility nipping at my heels. But no worries – I can and will definitely outrun it, and I expect to have a lot of company along the way.

For those of you who are 40 and older, I’d really like to know where you fall in terms of feeling “invisible.” Do you feel the media and advertising does an effective job of marketing appropriately to the 40+ woman? If yes, tell me why you feel this way. If it’s no, please share your reasons and suggestions on what can be done better. Let’s dish, ladies!

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Jenni Proctor

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