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'I'm in my early fifties, and I feel like I'm becoming invisible.'

For many years, as a young woman, I saw myself everywhere in advertising, on TV shows, and on the front cover of magazines. But as I grew older and had children, that all changed.

By the time I was 40, the goalposts had shifted entirely. I felt like I had started to slip slowly into invisibility. 

As my kids moved into their teenage years and became their own people, it seemed that the more visible to the world they became, the less room there was for me. 

Watch: Deborah Hutton shares her advice for her five-year-old self. Post continues below.


Video via Mamamia.

I recently had an experience where I was quite literally overlooked by a retail worker. I was standing at the counter in a large chain store with something in my hands to purchase when the store assistant called the very attractive, much younger girl behind me forward to serve. 

It was as though I wasn’t even standing there. Unfortunately, I was buying a gift for someone that was only available at that store, so I had to suffer the embarrassment of the store assistant saying, 'Oh, I didn’t see you there,' when they clearly saw me waiting there to be served.

The older I become, the less I see myself everywhere - especially in popular culture. It feels a lot like when we used to say to young girls that you can’t be what you can’t see. 

Over the years, I have noticed this in advertising as well. Once upon a time, marketers were literally falling over themselves for my consumer dollars. But these days, unless I am in the market for incontinence products or Botox, it has all but disappeared. (Funnily enough though, I actually have significantly more disposable income to spend these days.)

Overall, it seems that society sees older men as powerful and distinguished. Their grey hair signifies experience and knowledge. They are celebrated for their life experience. 

But on the other hand, women are actively encouraged to hide our greys, smooth out the wrinkles on our face, and cover up our ageing bodies. Older women who age "gracefully" or "naturally" (code for no obvious work done), such as Sarah Jessica Parker, are held up as beacons of difference, rather than everyone simply seeing ageing women as the norm. 

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Cathy and her family. Image: Supplied. 

I feel a sense of invisibility in my personal life too.

The less everyone else in my life needs me, the more invisible I have felt. I see this with older women I know as well. Our children no longer turn to us as the fount of all knowledge and wisdom or for approval. Instead, they seek that out with their friends and partners.

I have been a mother for over 20 years now and my identity has changed so much over that time. My children need me less and less in a physical or even emotional sense. 

But even though I feel like I am invisible to society, I still carry the significant mental load of caring for my own children as well as my ageing parents as part of the sandwich generation. The juggle is actually getting harder, and the demands on me are greater from society, yet everywhere I look, I see myself less and less.

Likewise, I am trying to re-enter a job market that caters for youth and vitality. I cannot bring youth to any job that I apply for, but I can bring wisdom that only age and experience can give. And as much as I wish my body was my 20-year-old version, I don’t want to be 20 or even 30 again. 

I have professional colleagues who feel very secure in their place at work and quite invisible in other aspects of life. 

This can in part be because they have spent time building a career and perhaps were older mothers so they didn’t "fit" in the young mother’s group, or it can be because we as women generally feel less secure in ourselves. As we age, everything changes, and we are no longer the young, exciting model that advertising tells us we should be, and it's hard to make that mental shift. 

There's another level of invisibility, too, in the health changes that come during this time period.

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As I entered menopause, my body changed once again. Just like it did when I went from being a child into adolescence, and when becoming a mother. 

Even these changes are meant to be invisible. We celebrate girls when they go into adolescence and start their periods, and the growing pregnant belly is fawned over. Yet talking about menopause or the changes that come with it still feels very much taboo. This adds to the invisibility of being an older woman. 

Listen to This Glorious Mess, a twice-weekly look at parenting as it truly is: confusing, exhausting, inspiring, funny, and full of surprises. Post continues below.

It would seem turning 50, or perhaps the start of menopause, marks a woman’s third age. We seem to have very distinct stages in life. There's childhood and adolescence, adulthood and perhaps motherhood. But after that, well, you can just feel... invisible.

However, we should really recognise that we have a lot of power in our "mature" years. 

My friends and I need to use our voices to be heard. We are not inconsequential and we need to let everyone know. 

It is time that older women let everyone know that they will not go quietly, and ageing is nothing to be scared of. 

We can do it gracefully, naturally, loudly and proudly, just not invisibly. 

Feature Image: Supplied

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