As women we all play many roles. There are the respectable roles – parent, adult-in-the-room, community member, good neighbor, sibling, maybe even elected official, role model, local celebrity; but then there are the roles we dream of playing – famous novelist, perfect mother, instant millionaire, skinny-girl-who-can-eat-anything.
In my teens, the role I most wanted to play was beautiful girl.
I’d never admit it publicly amongst my geeky, feminist friends, but what I wanted most was to be the kind of girl whose looks stopped traffic. My aspirations didn’t come to much as I was trapped inside the body of a pudgy, freckle-faced kid who always had her nose in a book and spent her weekends mucking stalls.
Being a girl who stopped traffic is a very un-feminist role to strive for, but hey, I was a teen. As a woman I should be more evolved than that, but if I’m honest, part of me still longs to play that role. At fifty-one, though, I certainly don’t stop traffic. In fact, at fifty-one I’ve become invisible.
Women of a certain age wear an invisibility cloak almost as powerful as Harry Potter’s. People don’t notice us. They certainly don’t remember what we look like.
Recently, I passed a teenage friend of my daughter in the store where he worked and greeted him by name. He looked at me absently and I realized that despite the fact that he has gone to school with my daughter for six years, performed in countless musical shows with her, been to my house, ridden in my car, and had complete conversations with me, he had no idea who I was.
“Addie’s mom,” I reminded him. He smiled vaguely and nodded, still not seeing me. I’ve no doubt that if I encountered him tomorrow he wouldn’t have any idea who I was.
Because I’m invisible. It’s my age and my gender (men my age don’t seem to disappear so easily).
In my novel, I’m Not Her, Leann finds herself rendered invisible due to her obesity. People seem to look right through her. When Carin, a beautiful but vain young woman gets to experience Leann’s life firsthand, she is shocked by how our society treats the obese. Why she was so surprised is beyond me. There is a hierarchy in our world and the young, beautiful people sit on top. Here’s how Carin put it after she’d been trapped in Leann’s life:
“I’m aware how much I’m being judged by others. They look at me and they see weakness. They see someone who is lazy. At least that’s what I imagine when they stare at me and then look away as soon as I meet their gaze…..these people who walk so widely around me, who won’t meet my eyes, they think I’m worth less than them.”
Part of me can’t help but mourn the loss of visibility. I’m a child of my culture which places excessive value on appearances, particularly women’s appearances. At this point, I have wrinkles and rolls and lines and spots in places I never had when I was young. Places I likely will never show to anyone except my husband, my doctor, and someday perhaps, the coroner.
On my good days, I claim these imperfections as signs of life. I’ve birthed three babies, fallen off countless horses, logged thousands of miles running, spent too much time in the garden or on the beach without sunscreen, and drank more than my share of wine. I’m marked by these adventures. Perhaps I’m proud of the ways they have changed my body.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t still wish I could play the role of beautiful girl. And people, I don’t think I’m alone here. I know plenty of women working really hard to fend off the effects of time. Maybe it’s this desire that makes women’s fiction such a lovely escape for so many of us.
In the pages of a book, I can be young and beautiful. I can be limber and fit; my breasts are perky and my hair is perfect.
Men look at me on the street, flirt with me, and pine for my attentions. They are captivated by my cleverness, but their eyes linger on my body.
At least on the page.
And really, I don’t mind being invisible. If people don’t see me, they also don’t see me watching them, taking notes, just waiting to write them into my next story. They also don’t care if I stuffed my hair in a baseball cap and wore my dog-chewed moccasins to the grocery store. There’s a freedom in being invisible.
Don’t take this post to mean that I don’t chaff at the idea of women being looked upon as objects. I am a feminist, and I raised a daughter who is also a feminist. And now, as my body declines and my appearance wanes, I am grateful that my real value lies in my mind, my abilities, and my heart – all of which are only getting better.
And besides, if I want perfect cheekbones, a taut tummy, or sculpted calves, I’ll just write them into my next book.
How about you? Are you invisible, too?
Thanks for reading!