In the months I spent interviewing women for my book on navigating midlife, something rather interesting came up. In almost equal numbers, midlife women were lining up for or against feeling “invisible” as a result of being 40 and older.
I wasn’t really expecting any one answer when I asked the question about whether or not they felt the media was ignoring them, but I guess I was assuming the responses would be less divided between two opposing camps of thought.
After talking with more than 100 women from all across the country, about 50% expressed concern that they were becoming marginalized because of their advancing years. The other 50% had no such concerns. In fact, I had to define more clearly and concisely what I meant by “invisible” in order for them to answer the question. It just wasn’t on their radar.
It got me thinking about what could account for such a stark difference in perspective. Did it having anything to do with how each person felt they were noticed in their younger years? Would someone who was attractive and used to having attention paid to her because of her looks be someone who begins to feel the world is seeing past her as she ages? Does it have anything to do with attractiveness, or is it something else entirely?
I do know that regardless of which camp these women landed in, neither side had any intention of actually being invisible. Whether or not they felt that the media has failed to keep pace with the midlife woman, they weren’t buying into the outdated belief that any woman past the age of 35 should be fitted for support hose and a rocking chair.
The women I talked with were keenly aware of the various challenges that come with aging, and especially aging as a woman in our culture. There are more role models to show women the way, but no where near the number needed to accurately represent women of a certain age. These role models are the trailblazers for the women coming up behind them – just as they were in previous decades. It’s a responsibility they don’t take lightly.
I interviewed women who were changing their careers at midlife and beyond; who were going back to college to get their advanced degrees; who were becoming artists, writers, vagabond travelers, social activists, and the list goes on and on. One woman shared with me her decision to get her PhD so that she can work with teenagers. She’ll be 82 when she’s done with school.
What truly makes the difference between aging positively and aging that smacks of loss and decline is attitude. What women should be focusing on – and many, many already are – is acting their stage, not acting their chronological age, since improved health, wealth and resources have given most of them the opportunity to live another 25 years or more once they pass the 50 mile marker. That’s a tremendous stretch of time to spend sitting idly by, watching the world move on without them. Trust me, that is not a role I expect these women to accept.
And as a woman who sits squarely in the 60+ demographic, I have never felt more alive, more certain of who and what I am, and more passionate about what I want to share with the world. I do find it rather ironic (in a maddening sort of way) that just as I feel like I’ve got it all together and am ready to explode out into the world, I’m sensing the cloak of irrelevance nipping at my heels.