older woman breaking free amidst shattered glass

Invisible Woman Syndrome: Fading or Freedom?

Does a woman become irrelevant after middle age, or does she instead, after shedding the bondage of maintaining an ideal of beauty, become her true self?

Understanding Invisible Woman Syndrome

Hitting the “Medicare Age” has brought about physical changes I can’t ignore. Parts of me are fading away. Sloughing off and disappearing. Drying up and blowing away. Bones are more brittle, skin becomes crepe like and translucent, hair thins and color fades to gray… My body is disappearing. Am I also disappearing? Becoming invisible? Is it just my body, or also my spirit? 

The phenomenon known as Invisible Woman Syndrome commonly strikes after age 50 when many women report feeling less noticed, less prioritized, and sometimes less respected by society as they grow older. This phenomenon of feeling irrelevant is linked to changes in physical attractiveness and exasperated by the cultural emphasis on youth. Some women feel their role or purpose in life is behind now them when faced with retirement from jobs, “empty nests” at home, and diminished attractiveness to romantic partners. This can have profound effects on self-esteem and self-image, as the value placed on their appearance diminishes in the public eye.

Is it all in Our Heads or is Invisible Woman Syndrome Real?

Here’s a shock: the invisibility these women feel is backed up by the numbers. It turns out that lots of data, including metrics on health, employment, assets, domestic violence, and sexual abuse stop at age 49.  The explanation for this limited age framework is that it stems from a focus on women of reproductive age. Less data is collected or analyzed on women over 50 (as if they no longer matter!). Perhaps this Invisible Woman Syndrome is not all in our heads.

According to Dr. Vivian Diller’s book Face It: What Women Really Feel as their Looks Change and What to Do About It, “most women agree, reporting that good looks continue to be associated with respect, legitimacy, and power in their relationships.” 

So What Do We Do About It? Redefining Self-Image After 50

I say it is a time when we become free from worrying about what everyone else wants from us, expects from us, and how they judge us. I came across this quote from Iyanla Vanzant that says it all: “Comparison is an act of violence against the self.” Read that again!

Here’s seven steps to bring about change:

Self-Acceptance: Embrace the changes. Gray hair is in style and liberates you from the time and expense of hair coloring you can use for more important things. 

Visibility Through Voice: Share your opinions openly and embrace being the crazy old lady with no filter if you must. 

Pursue Passions and Interests: Re-visit lost dreams, kindle new ones. Try something new and be brave enough to suck at it. Who cares? 

Expand Social Networks: Don’t be a Mrs. Haversham hiding in a house that time forgot. Get out and be seen and heard. Meet people of all ages. So much more fun!

Physical Well-Being: Stay active. Exercise improves physical health but also enhances mental well-being. Move for the sake of your brain as much as your body.

Fashion and Style: Wear what you want. Be bold. Be dramatic. You don’t have to wear shapeless stretch pants and orthopedic shoes unless you want to.

Advocate for Change: Challenge the stereotypes about aging. Whether through blogging, speaking at community meetings, or supporting age-positive movements, advocating for a shift in how society views aging women can help dismantle these stereotypes.

It’s Not Fading, It’s Freedom!

Embrace the freedom that comes with experience and age. With the post-50 liberation, it’s now about prioritizing your happiness, health, and personal fulfillment. Thrive by focusing on what you can control—how you see yourself, how you choose to spend your time, and how you interact with others.

You are not heading down a decline. No, now you are free. You’re free from sexually-driven stereotypes and roles that demand you maintain physical attractiveness. You are free from the limiting identities inexorably tied to reproductive function and child-rearing duties.

Back to the opening of this blog…the description of a physical body fading away with age. It may be like shedding an outgrown shell. As we age, our spirit expands, and the body can no longer contain it. We become our authentic selves. The person we were on track to become before puberty hit and diverted us. Now is the time to roar, explore, and soar. 

older woman breaking free amidst shattering glass
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