When I was a little girl, my sister and I used to play a game where we would wish for special powers. The options were: breathe underwater, speak to the animals, fly or be invisible.
We never chose invisibility, but some women say that’s what they get as they age.
Invisible Women Syndrome is a real phenomenon. Many women complain the moment they turned 50, people stopped seeing them. People push past them in queues, men look through them, and shop assistants ignore them. Research confirms that even data ignores women over 50, focusing instead on women of reproductive age.
So what happens when our ‘breeding days’ are over? Do we become invisible? Or is there another choice?
Self-perception and self-talk
What we believe about ourselves is critical. Sitting around moaning about our weight, age spots, creaky knees, and hot flashes are fine so long as we are balancing those messages with something positive. The way we speak to ourselves – and about ourselves – matters. Why? Because those messages sink in.
If you spend a week telling yourself you are old, ugly, and undesirable, guess what? At the end of that week, you’re going to feel old, ugly, and undesirable. Furthermore, your behaviour will reinforce this. Your posture, your tone of voice, and your choices will align with that self-perception.
And guess what? People respond accordingly.
So what can you do?
You can’t control other people but you can control the way you show up in the world. You can fill yourself with so much strength, encouragement, and daring that suddenly, what’s happening outside of you matters a bit less. Surround yourself with women who genuinely love themselves and who are living lives you respect. You can choose to be a bit kinder to yourself or you can take more risks. You can expand your comfort zone and push your boundaries. Why not abandon vanity, that heavy burden bestowed upon so many girls in childhood. Or, if you choose to keep it, stop giving it so much weight.
I have known women who mourned their beauty far too hard and far too long. They felt like they’d lost their power.
Beauty is power but, like coal, it’s diminishing. Why not switch to clean, green self-esteem?
You might need to do the uncomfortable work of recognising how you might be complicit in your unhappiness. You might want to embrace radical self-love and, in doing so, give all the women in your life permission to do the same.
Maybe it sounds corny or idealistic, but what’s the alternative?
Why being your authentic self is powerful
My sister recently asked me what she should do about her hair. To give you context, she is a board-level executive in her fifties. She is smarter on her worst day than most people on their best day. She is also allergic to hair dye so she’s let her hair go naturally grey. She’s worried that this will inhibit her chances of getting another job. It’s normal to worry about this. She’s worked hard and she wants to pursue the best opportunities.
But my advice to my sister was this: be your badass grey-haired self. By showing up as her authentic self, she is sending the message to every other woman with grey hair: “We’re welcome here. This is our place too”.
Make a choice
Feeling invisible is shitty but it’s also a choice. You can choose to be seen or you can choose to fade into the background. Either option is equally valid. Some people are very happy to wait on the sidelines while others want to shout their presence from the rooftops.
Are you happy to ‘go gently into that good night’ (with thanks to poet Dylan Thomas)? It’s OK if you do. Not everyone wants to climb mountains, sit on boards, or trek 60kms in the wilderness. Life is tiring. Sometimes we only have enough energy to get through the day. Some of us feel like we’ve earned a rest. Why should we have to keep pushing, trying, striving, and straining when we’ve already done so much of that?
It’s 100 percent valid to want to sit back, rest and oversee the changing of the guard.
But, if you’re the kind of woman who isn’t ready to relax just yet – who wants to be seen, in surround sound, Technicolor glory – there is one way to make sure that happens: choose to be seen.
No one can stop you from showing up as your best, most empowered self. What the world chooses to do with that is not your problem. Keeping going. Keep moving. Keep dreaming. And keep being wildly, loudly, obnoxiously present.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg was a Supreme Court Judge in the US until she was 87.
Hillary Clinton was 68 when she ran for the US Presidency.
Dame Quentin Bryce became Australia’s first female Governor-General at 65.
Ita Buttrose was 77 when she became the Chair of the ABC.
And you? How old will you be when you smash your biggest goal yet?