By Kaye Olsson, I Start Wondering Columnist
I have recently come across several articles claiming that women become invisible once we reach the age of 50. What this actually means is that we are viewed as invisible by men, who determine our value based on our sexual attractiveness. There is a notion that, as we lose our appearance, we lose our power. But do we really?
While some may find this disturbing I, for one, am thankful to enter a period in my life where I no longer have to worry about unwanted attention from men. It actually makes me feel a bit safer to not be the object of their predatory stares.
I am also no longer subjected to the scrutiny of a society that places so much pressure on young women to conform to an ever-changing standard of beauty. Entire industries are based on helping women “achieve” a certain level of attractiveness—to have flawless skin, perfect hair, and a thin figure. Social media just makes it worse by spreading these ideas and allowing us to compare ourselves to others, often to the detriment of our mental health.
What an absolute blessing it is, then, to be rid of those expectations. Perhaps becoming “invisible” to a male-dominated society is actually the key to freedom. When we are no longer viewed as sex objects, we are allowed to become more in touch with our true selves as human beings. As our outward appearance becomes less of a priority, we are left with more time to develop a rich inner existence and explore aspects of our lives that are more meaningful.
A New Stage in Life
Some women may view this period in life as disappointing or lonely. Their children have left the nest, the retirement age has approached, and they no longer feel relevant. They may have elderly parents, are now widowed or divorced, or don't have a circle of female friends who can relate to their story. Then there is that realization that we no longer look “young.” Standing alone in front of the mirror, we realize we can't hide the changes in our bodies. Aging can be hard... if we allow it to be.
I prefer to view this time of life as a “stage” rather than an “age” to help explain the transition. There are many stages of life—childhood, young adulthood, and maturity—and each has its own fascinating characteristics. Most of us grow up with parents or other authority figures who initially control our paths and, as we mature, other influences begin to enter our lives. There may be friends, lovers, children, and careers—all of which come with certain commitments and demand a piece of our soul.
But later in life we eventually come to a point where we can shed those commitments, either by choice or simply by destiny. This is when we become untethered to past demands and enter a new stage in life.
Personally, my response to being perceived as invisible in the eyes of men is, “Seriously, who cares?” I choose to see this as a time of unbridled freedom to be embraced and savored. No longer do I need to identify myself solely based on the expectations of others. Instead, I am free to simply BE. This is a chance to be bold, unbound by the limitations that we and society place on ourselves. I now have an opportunity for reinvention—to explore, push personal boundaries, and examine who I want to become. For the first time in my life, I am only responsible for myself.
Dealing With Freedom
But freedom can be scary. There is a certain level of security in having a defined role and knowing what’s expected of us. When we’re on our own and untethered to all of those previous responsibilities, we can feel as though we are simply drifting or lost. It is uncomfortable to be confronted with infinite options to choose from as we work to reimagine ourselves.
It’s human nature to be afraid of the unknown and, when presented with too many choices at once, our minds can become paralyzed. So I suggest making a list of various parts of your identity that you’d like to explore. Do you want to be a volunteer, a traveler, or an artist? Do you want to plant a garden, write a book, or learn to play a musical instrument? The sky is the limit. Choose one area on which to focus your energies and start there.
Taking the reins of your life and redefining yourself can be terrifying. But becoming untethered to past expectations can also be quite freeing.
In my mind, age does not necessarily equal decline. During this transition stage, you are choosing what’s important to you, versus slaving to the expectations of others. Remember-- Iris Apfel signed a modeling contract at age 97, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a Supreme Court justice until age 87, and Georgia O’Keeffe saw her career as an artist blossom in her 60s. They did not define themselves simply as older women, and they made the choice to be seen, not for their sex appeal, but for their unique talents and accomplishments.
Being Visible to Ourselves
It all comes down to a matter of attitude. So let’s choose to be visible—not to men, but to ourselves. No one can stop you from showing up as your best, most authentic self. What the world chooses to think about that is not of your concern. Keep going. Keep moving. Keep dreaming. And keep being wildly, boldly, unapologetically present!
This takes courage. Instead of resisting or fearing it, go out there and do. Because I can promise you from my personal experience, that you will toss out the word invisible and replace it with empowered. If you want to live a lifestyle after 50 that is relevant to your changing world and you want to transition into something that gives you joy, you must allow yourself to thrive. When you succeed – when you take pride in yourself without seeking acknowledgment from anyone else – you will have reached the visible and amazing stage of authenticity.