I’ve Become Invisible. It’s Awesome.
So Keanu Reeves, age 55 (What?! Keanu Reeves??? Ten minutes ago he was playing Bill! Or Ted. I forget which) has sent the Twittersphere into euphoria because he showed up at a gala with an age-appropriate date. Meaning, the lovely lady in question has salt-and-pepper hair, a few character lines in her comely face, and in no way resembles a Bratz doll.
She’s nine years Keanu’s junior. And they might be just friends. Still, compared to the familiar spectacle of embryonic sirens on the arms of senior movie stars, Keanu’s appearance with this comfortable-in-her-imperfect-skin woman was taken by many as an affirmation that women over a certain age — which in Hollywood seems slightly north of 20 — still have currency.
Among the celebrants is Ali Drucker whose recent opinion piece in the New York Times (“If Keanu Reeves’s Date Can Embrace Looking Her Age, I Can Too”, Nov. 6, 2019) both trumpets her admiration of the momentous date — pun intended — and explores what it means to her as a self-regarding feminist who nevertheless is shopping for Botox in anticipation of her upcoming wedding. Because, after all, Ms. Drucker has entered her 30’s.
I entered my 30’s during the Reagan administration, so pardon my eye roll. But I get it. Ms. Drucker is only being forthright about what every woman I know feels as she sees her youth slipping into the rearview mirror. I myself have uttered the exact words she writes:
You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But things keep happening, things that nobody warned me about. Like the way food sticks to my teeth much more than it used to. And the way my eyebrows are developing bald spots. I don’t love it.
Still, I was struck by what Drucker considers the worst aspect of the way women who’ve had the poor taste to mature are regarded by pop culture. Worse than being seen as past their prime, worse than being seen as irrelevant, worse than being seen as “desperate cougars, trying too hard,” is not being seen at all.
And that got me thinking. Like Ali Drucker, like millions of women, I once feared the invisibility that descends on women as we age. Until it happened to me.
I’ll admit, it was unnerving at first. There was that day I took my kids to the local water park. Perched by the side of the wave pool, wearing what I thought was a fairly alluring snakeskin-patterned maillot, I watched my boys frolic. As the sun crept toward the afternoon, I tapped a burly young lifeguard on the shoulder to ask him the time.
He turned, and it took him something less than a nanosecond to assess me. “Sure, ma’am,” he said, “It’s just past two.” His gaze left me long before he finished speaking.
Ma’am? In that moment, I understood that I had been booted off the island. I had aged out, no longer a fit recipient of interest. I might as well have been wearing a floral-patterned muumuu.
Soon after, I noticed other ways in which I was disappearing. And once I got used to it, I began to appreciate it. When waiting for my companion to arrive at a restaurant or bar, I could pass the time undisturbed. I could walk past an active construction site without being subjected to a single catcall or whistle. Crossing the street no longer made the hairs on the back of my neck prickle with that uncomfortable awareness of being visually stalked by male drivers. It’s the same thing I imagine a zebra feels when making its way across a lion-infested veldt.
Like anyone with a new superpower, it took time to learn to manage my invisibility. I discovered I could use it to suit my purposes — it’s often useful when traveling alone, and terrific for eavesdropping, especially on young people — and how to override it when necessary.
Take travel, for instance. I haven’t had to hoist my own bag into an overhead airplane compartment in several years. All I have to do is pause in the aisle and stare wide-eyed at the bin while fumbling hopefully at my suitcase. Suddenly I appear! In a flash, there I am, a dear older lady who needs help. There is sometimes nearly a scuffle between the people who rush to see my baggage safely stowed. The winner gets to feel virtuous, and I get to chuckle inwardly because I’m perfectly capable of doing it myself.
But what fun would that be?
I work at a middle school, where the ability to appear and disappear at will is, as you might guess, an enormous advantage. And it is so entertaining to observe a young miscreant’s reaction when he realizes what he had just said or done right in front of me. I rarely need to raise my voice.
Beyond that, after so many years of feeling varying levels of anxiety about my appearance, invisibility is an enormous relief. I dress to please myself. I wear makeup or not, as the mood strikes me. I love clothes and shoes, but now I love them based more on how they make me feel rather than how they make me look. It is no longer my obligation to decorate the world with my physical presentation. I have passed the torch.
Nobody cares what I weigh.
Invisible, I am free to observe and judge the world as it once observed and judged me. I am, if I choose to be, the lion concealed in the veldt.
I’m grateful to have lived long enough to become invisible. And I’m further grateful to have learned how to use it.
Check out my other posts this month as I explore radical gratitude, in a challenge to find the miraculous hidden in the everyday. If you feel inspired to join me, by all means, write on!