SPECIAL FROM Next Avenue
By Kristine Holmgren
(This article previously appeared on kristineholmgren.com)
Once upon a time, I was a show-stopping "looker," a major babe.
Young, lovely, blonde and adorable, people (especially men) paid close attention to how I looked, what I said, how I moved.
Then, I grew old and became invisible.
I wish I could tell you it happened in stages. It didn't. It happened on my 50th birthday. The day before, I was young, interesting, important. The next, I was invisible.
Overnight, I became someone people overlooked, ignored. I spoke, and no one responded. I entered a room and no one (especially men) noticed.
I turned 50 and joined the community of invisible women.
However, being old is not a curse. It's a blessing.
The transition took some adjusting. For the past 15 years, I've been managing my new status. And now, I don't mind aging at all. In fact, I think I'm doing well at the entire endeavor.
I don't mind living in the shadows either. I welcome them and learned there are advantages to being invisible.
And so — with great humility — I offer the top five reasons to enjoy being an old, invisible woman:
1. The freedom to stare
When you're old and invisible, no one cares if you stare.
When I was young, people noticed what I noticed and paid attention to the things that caught my attention.
No more. Being old and invisible gives me the license to leer.
This is a good thing.
The more I leer, the more I learn.
Invisible, I am free. I sit in coffee shops and watch parents struggle with irritable toddlers and young lovers squabble.
All of this becomes fodder for my playwriting, my essays.
2. The freedom to interfere
When you're a young woman, your opinions are discarded if your hair is dirty or your shoes are out of date.
If you don't agree, consider what the media did to young Hillary when she wore a headband, or what it does today to Britney when she gains weight.
Consider how we love the post-partum Princess of Wales because of her beauty.
Younger women are held to high standards of physical attraction. That’s not the case when women age. Overnight we fade into the wallpaper. We're invisible.
You don't see us coming when we drop-kick our compassion all over you.
Example: When I was a young mother, a trip to Wal-Mart at 4 p.m. meant watching children throw ugly toddler tantrums and listening to their mothers scream. Many times, the mothers behaved worse than their children.
Even so, I never interfered. I was young, but I wasn't stupid. My opinions would be rejected — and I knew it.
Now, as an old, invisible woman, I interfere all the time.
"It's hard to be a little girl," I say to the child as I help her to her feet and pass her a peeled banana.
"I think both you and your little kiddo could use a nutritious snack and a nice, long nap," I offer the mother.
Interrupting bad behavior is an old woman's secret approach to making the world a better place for younger women.
And so far, my meddling has never, ever been rejected.
Every time I interfere — every single time — someone thanks me.
3. The freedom to fight back
When we are young, the well-being of our families is directly dependent upon our ability to get along with others (mostly men).
Women are trained from early childhood to yield to forces that control our lives.
At work, we are seldom brave; we seldom break rank or challenge the people (mostly men) who treat us poorly.
At home, we cooperate with our husbands to keep our families harmonious. We ask little and expect less. We build up everyone around us and hope that our families become stronger because of our hard work.
And so it happens that most of our young lives are devoted to pleasing people (mostly men).
Then, we grow old.
In a heartbeat, dependency is over. We draw down our pensions and secure our Social Security.
And we are no longer for sale.
Invisible, old women with strong opinions and independent means have little to lose.
Invite us to your rallies. Include us in your demonstrations.
We can be dangerous.
4. The freedom to love
No one forgives, understands or opens her heart like an old woman.
We know your struggle. If we haven't lived through it, we know others who have.
Being old bestows a perception of reality that youth and beauty envy. Our only care is for peace and contentment.
If you have an old woman in your life, count on her to settle any dispute that threatens to divide your family.
Lean on her.
Her first gift is the gift of her undivided attention.
Her best gift is love.
5. The freedom to pass it on
Your world was first made habitable by the hard work of women who are old and invisible.
Without the leadership of the old women around you, your sweet life would be a little more bitter.
You don't believe me?
Consider this: If you are a woman and have done any of the following, you did so because an old woman first made it possible: opened a checking account; secured a credit card, mortgage, auto loan or lease without the co-signature of a man; demanded you be paid the same wage as men doing your job; asked and received a prescription for birth control — without your husband's approval or father's consent; played hockey, football, basketball or soccer in high school, college or as a profession.
So, put that in your pipe and smoke it.
And then, take a moment to thank an old woman for her sacrifice.
Believe me, the women who opened these doors for you did so by limiting their own professional, personal futures.
We spoke out nonetheless because we wanted a better world for you and your children.
So tell an old woman you appreciate her sacrifice, her hard work, her good nature. Tell her she inspires you to be better person. Promise her you'll work to advance your generation.
But don't make it into a big deal.
She's old. She doesn't need the attention.
She loves being invisible.