Becoming Invisible

Sometimes my kid asks me what superpower I’d want. He doesn’t know it, but I already have one – invisibility.

I didn’t used to be invisible. I was young and girl-next-door pretty and petite and I got the attention (positive and negative) you’d expect. Now that I’m older, apparently I’ve become less easy to see. I get bumped into on the sidewalk.  Doors swing shut in front of me.  I stand in the bank queue and wait to be seen.

I went into a consignment boutique the other day; it’s a nearby haunt and I’ve been there dozens of times. I spent 45 minutes searching the racks and as far as I can tell not a soul noticed me. Maybe they had a point – I used to buy things there, but I found myself thinking uncharitable thoughts about most of their stock, which was weird, and not in a good way. Dresses in hideous patterns and (for example) a striped, button-down shirt that was all Brooks Brothers in front and then, essentially, backless, with long straps that laced up. It’s like the stock was chosen based on how unwearable someone (like me?) would find it. But would anyone wear these things?  It made me feel so odd, because I love clothes.  Honestly, I would have been hard pressed to find a single outfit I could wear.  The whole experience had just a hint of a bad-dream quality to it.

On the other hand…. I work downtown near the newly fancified commercial district — Hermes, Moncler, Louis Vuitton and the like. I’m close enough to browse on my lunch hour before I get bored and head off for a gelato. I may be invisible elsewhere, but the clerks in those shops seem plenty delighted to see me, dressed for work and sporting some decent jewelry and a nice bag. Hey, I may not be a Japanese tourist there to buy up the store, but I could probably afford something, based on appearances.

Has anyone watched Grace and Frankie? There’s that great scene where they go into a store and end up standing at the counter, invisible to the young male clerk who works there, and then he finally wanders over when a pretty young thing shows up. I feel their pain, although I’m a little too gimlet-eyed to be ignored for long if I need something. I will mad-dog you into noticing me. Ask any of my friends. It’s the eyes that give you away, right?

So do I want to be noticed or not? Both, I suppose, but I want to do the choosing about when.  I don’t want someone else to make me invisible.

25 Comments

  1. I love Grace and Frankie! I guess we all need to invest in assertiveness training when we are “women of a certain age.” I wonder what fragrance each of them would wear. I picture Grace in Chanel No 5 or 31 Rue Cannon and Frankie in L’Air de Rien or something with lots of hippie-style patchouli.

    • Anita told me about Grace and Frankie for ages, and it IS wonderful — and I agree with you about the fragrance! Grace would wear some classic Chanel she chose as her signature decades ago. Frankie’s clothes are interesting — they’re hippie but actually quite upscale. So she’d know about obscure patchouli perfumes…

  2. In the UK I know exactly how you feel and I agree it’s maddening to become invisible against your will. Now I’m white haired as well as short and plump I am apparently a waste of space in fashion stores. Many brands just don’t want to be associated with people like me. I have addressed the situation by colouring my hair bright pink (as it was in the 70s) and it’s helped but now I suppose I am just visibly a bit crazy. I now enjoy the discomfort I engender in the young who don’t know what to make of it. Off to find Grace & Frankie on Netflix-it sounds like my kind of show!

    • Pink hair sounds lovely! And why not, they’ve got so many great color products on the market now. Grace and Frankie has a lot of truth in it, which is funny and occasionally sad. It’s a lovely show.

  3. This … sort of. In middle age, with some weight that’s hard to shift, and glasses, things can be variable. But the time I was absolutely invisible was with a toddler in a buggy. Still won’t return to one upmarket London perfumery after a particularly irritating experience. The best experiences with being totally visible I’ve had recently were in NY last summer with two teenage boys in tow. Perhaps people felt sorry for me between my appearance and the two teenagers (‘oh, you poor thing’, though the boys are both great and know how to behave in public and I don’t think I looked ‘that bad’), but anywhere — restaurants, shops — people fell over themselves to be welcoming and helpful. Hideous patterns seem to be of the moment. Is that about hipsterdom?

    • No, see, I think you stumbled onto the truth about New York. Everyone says “they’re so unfriendly!” but absolutely not in my experience. What they are is *in a hurry* so get to the point, but I’ve had plenty of New Yorkers come up to me as I’m staring at a map on my phone and ask me what I’m looking for. My favorite New Yorker thing is, they’ll tell you where the bagel/cheesecake joint is that you’re looking for, but they will add that X is better and it’s right around the corner.

      If you’d like to meet some truly unfriendly people, come to DC! Pretty offputting public face. However you and I could have a great time together.

  4. I’m 52 and don’t dye my hair, so it’s got a lot of white/gray. It’s cut really short, but not in any punk/hipster way. I haven’t noticed any invisibility yet, but perhaps it’s coming. My husband, who is 66, gets it a lot though when he goes into nice perfumeries to buy things for me. The young sales girls ignore him, until he whips out my shopping list and they discover he’s there to actually buy something. Not surprisingly, he has better service when an older woman/manager is working and knows a man of his age traveling in Europe probably has money and is in that shop for a reason. 🙂

  5. I remember being invisible when I was young, like in my 20s. I was really shy back then, too. Then I wasn’t. Now I think I am invisible again, though I go almost nowhere to test the theory. 🙂 xo

  6. YES to your comment that you don’t want someone else making you invisible! As a super-power, invisibility is awesome, but on consideration, it’s best to have control over when your super-power comes out to play. I find it amusing that when I wander into Sephora, someone starts trying to sell me skin care, regardless of what I went in for. Obviously, I am supposed to be vulnerable to the idea that the grim reaper is Right Behind Me, and I must fend him (her?) off with ALL the “anti-aging” unguents. I’m almost 52.

  7. Interesting post and made me reflect on that thought. I enjoy being invisible as well at times, at my choosing. And clothing/presentation/age definitely determines who sees us. Seems rather superficial, but we can manipulate how we are perceived in this world to some degree. As I get older I find I don’t desire much attention and can relax into who I am.

  8. I don’t know if I’m invisible – I think I’m probably too terrifying-looking to really be so – but I do notice that men under 50 no longer ‘see’ me. Which is both fine and makes total sense since I am not at all in their target demographic. I do get hit on – a lot – by the over-80 crowd. But I suspect by the time you’re Over 80 EVERYBODY’S fair game! LOL!

    However! when I hurt my back and was hobbling? Omg. It was SO humiliating. People seemed to be vaguely unaware of both my humanity and my very existence. I finally ‘got’ why a lot of people stay shut-in when they are temporarily disabled; it’s both physically and emotionally exhausting.

    • and ..I SO want to be Frankie – but folks just laugh at me, hand me my No5, and tell me to get over myself. I. Am. Grace. xoxoA

  9. One of the interesting things about perfume is how helpful it can be in subliminally establishing presence. I always used to wear 24 Faubourg shopping on the Upper East Side back in the days I shopped there. In conflict situations such as contentious public meetings or dealing with recalcitrant contractors, I’d choose Bandit (don’t mess with me), Mandragore (I’m smarter than you assume), or Alahine (I’m much more friendly than you might think I am). Now that I’m living a peaceful country life I pretty much just wear what I please, rather a relief. However, for forays into civilization, red glasses frames and a spritz of any Neela Vermeire seem to calibrate an ok response.

  10. I revel in my invisibility. Dress up or down. Makeup or no. Been practicing since my teens.

    Witch of Air

    Seeking a position
    as cohort of the multiverse.
    Fluent in Elusinian mysteries
    and Yoruba deities.
    I can read the ruins.
    I can make stone soup.
    Maiden, mother, crone,
    a babe in a babushka.
    Sometimes confuses real life and fiction.
    Ambidextrous,
    I can raise a whirlwind
    and stay centered in the storm.
    Currently underemployed,
    will accept all smaller proffers.

    Dark Goddess Tarot–Witch of Air–Oya–Fill a bowl with eggplants, plums, chocolates–things that are sweet, rich, dark, sensual, juicy.

  11. My town is small sized in a rural area so the opposite of metropolitan and I am not sure how invisible I am because I basically look like everybody’s mom or grandma, with more makeup and jewelry. People talk to me in the grocery store, at the bank. They ask how I cook things like pork chops and leeks. I take care of my 90 year old mom, hauling the walker in and out of my trunk while we go out to lunch every week and people talk to both of us (I’m 59). There is an acknowledgement from the other women I see almost daily, taking their elderly mothers shopping and lunching. It’s a Midwest thing. Far cry from the attention I got in my younger, cuter days but I’m so much more comfortable with myself now, free to be me without worrying about what people think. Maybe I’ve given up? Maybe I’m just happier.

  12. Ah yes, I too have become invisible. I am now the dreaded “White Crayon.” (that’s my user name on Peloton, but the hot young instructors dont get it). I actually like being invisible in stores, because I generally hate to be bothered. But it is very disconcerting to walk down the street and not get a single glance …..

  13. I discovered invisibility in electronics shops. I’m there, tall, well-dressed, designer bag (always), looking at an item I clearly hope to purchase, looking around for help and…nada. Since I’m usually shopping for my husband or son, I’m an easy sale, too.
    Of course, last summer, when I was on either a knee scooter or crutches following ankle surgery, I was a little embarrassed to be so visibly inept. I did like the doors help open, however.

  14. I know that feeling so well! I tried to explain this to my 40 year old daughter, but she is not quite there yet! After working with the public for 40 years, I have learned that all it takes is a little eye contact and a quick “hello be right with you” to make a person feel “seen”.

  15. I understand what your describing in this post— but don’t forget that you are the opposite of invisible. Thousands of people come to this website for YOU (your thoughts, your wisdom, your experiences and opinions). You’re one of the most influential people I know!

  16. Oddly enough, I felt MUCH more invisible when I was younger, but then I was never conventionally pretty and was wretchedly self-conscious. Now, at 63 am more visible than ever.

  17. Ah, yes, invisibility!! I don’t miss the catcalls but I had my kids at 36 & 37 and became invisible then. It bothered me at first but now, at 47, I wouldn’t trade it for the comfort I feel in my own skin and the lack of f*cks I have to give! I’m a huge Grace & Frankie fan and my mom and I binge watch it as soon as a season appears.

  18. You are a MARVELOUS writer!! I am so glad I stumbled across your work. A French friend texted me a picture of Muguet des Bois (the flower) in honor of May Day. I remembered the Coty perfume my glamorous older sister had worn (I confess to having snuck in her room to sneak a tiny spritz when she was sure to be gone until the tell-tale scent wore off me) and the Google trail of the “Muguet des Bois perfume” search led me to YOU! Looking forward to reading more of your work.
    Does your writing appear anywhere else?
    Thank you!!!

    • And thank you! It’s always interesting to know how people stumble across us. No, I don’t write anywhere else, but feel free to have a browse, I must have hundreds of posts on here at this point. And welcome.

  19. I’ve noticed a decrease in male attention between my 20’s and 30’s and this year, where I’ll be celebrating my 50th. On one hand, it’s a drag because I’ve been single for 6 yrs and would like to meet a SO. However, in terms of being recognized while shopping, I’m glad to be invisible. Its annoying to be stalked by sales associates looking for commission. My mouth is large enough to obtain attention if needed while shopping–no need to wait to be seen. 🙂

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