It seemed only a few years ago that I attended my stepmom's 50th birthday party. I remember how cool she was, with all of her kicky, nutty friends, all guzzling champagne and prancing around like Bianca Jagger clones. I remember being the young one, the 30-year-old, the unmarried, child-free punk sporting platinum spiked hair and clad in a man's tux.
I was in awe of these women. I imagined that each one of them went home to closets filled with Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, and that their bathroom shelves were cluttered with high-end beauty products that a mere youngster like me could only dream of having one day — when I was rich, older and perfected in my female fabulousness.
These women were lawyers and writers, consultants and artists. They'd each known their fair share of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Despite the facial lines that told the tale of lives well lived, they were each, in their own individual way, sexy as hell.
I caught up with one of them in the ladies' lounge that night. She was one of those marvelous British beauties, a Julie Christie type, so full of bounce and mischief. Sweeping a stray lock of sandy bleach blond hair out of her eyes, she said to me, "You know, Dori, of all the women here, you are the only one getting any male attention."
That took me aback. I had noticed that a few men had struck up conversations with me, but I didn't pay it any mind. It wasn't really much different from any other day. Besides, I told her, look at what I was wearing. My hair was bleached, my eyes were lined in streaks of black, my skin was alabaster — and I was wearing a tuxedo, which, if I recall, was part of an ensemble that included a top hat and a walking stick. I was Brigitte Nielsen doing Putting On the Ritz. You'd have to be several kinds of blind to not notice me.
She smiled knowingly, and explained to me that it wasn't my outfit that turned heads. It was my youth. She went on to tell me that although she felt she was a popular and attractive woman, barely anyone seemed to noticed her anymore when she walked into a room. She said she felt like she was bordering on transparency: that she was becoming an 'invisible woman'.
I spoke with my stepmother about this and she agreed; her days of turning heads were over. In fact, they'd been over for almost a decade.
I suppose, at the time, I could see their point. I wasn't looking at these women for their superficial beauty — though that was a part of what I noticed. I was looking at them for their sophistication, their worldliness, which I found to be far superior to anything physical. The idea that even these women come to feel invisible to men past a certain age was not even a concept to me at the time. And it certainly wasn't something I'd anticipated for myself.
Recently, a younger woman of 35 expressed this 'invisible woman' idea to me. She said it was already starting to happen to her; that her grand entrances weren't causing the same kind of splash that she had once received — that she wasn't even being catcalled anymore (ironic how we tend to miss things we once loathed). She wanted to know if I, being a card-carrying member of the infinite sophistication and worldliness club, had experienced this, how it had made me feel and what, if anything, I did about it.
Knowing why the she came to me with this question, I initially felt like Ye Olde Crone, and immediately pictured myself draped in the robes of a hag, my once dandy silver-topped walking stick replaced by the dead branch of an old oak tree. But I sucked it up and gave the woman the only answer I thought truthful: "Yes, it sucks. It all bloody sucks."
The truth is, youth — no matter what it looks like — is perceived as beautiful. And even more so, appealing to men. Youth glows. Youth is what allows us to get away with everything. Too heavy? Doesn't matter. Youth makes it look alright. Not particularly attractive? No problem. Youth will gift you with skin that's elastic enough to soften your flaws and an overall vibrance that people pick up on. Put a fine looking 55-year-old woman next to a not-so-fine looking 20-year-old woman, and there's a whopping chance that when it comes down it. the sexual choice is going to be the 20-year-old.
Because, as long as we're hormonal, being someone's sexual choice seems to mean a lot to us. Which brings me to the real answer to my younger friend's question: Yes, I've noticed that I no longer create a stir when I enter a room. And yes, it was a harsh realization, having identified as and interacted with the world for so long as a young, attractive woman. The time I cared most about this transition was back in my hyper-hormonal midlife crisis between the ages 40 and 50. Yes, those damn 40s. That's when you really feel like an invisible woman. All that good skin, all that tight stuff: it starts to get wigglier and wobblier. And that's just the face I'm talking about. Don't even get me started on the body!
More juicy stories on YourTango: