If you’re a woman of a certain age (read: past 36), you’ll perhaps have heard of Invisible Woman Syndrome.
The older you get, the more you fade into the background of people’s consciousness. Or so it feels, at any rate.
Of course, there are many examples of famous, glamorous and wealthy women who are anything but invisible. I think often of Helen Mirren’s impact in this arena.
But what about us normal women? The ones who aren’t “worth it”, to quote one of Helen’s generous sponsors? (Although I always smile inwardly when I remember Mirren herself saying that the Age Perfect cream she peddled “probably did f*** all”. After cashing in L’Oreal’s hefty cheque, of course).
I answered an ad last week, asking for women with red hair and grey roots to try out a new hair dye at a rather swish West London salon.
Having never been to a swish West London hair salon before, I jumped at the chance and, once I’d been given the nod, booked in a slot (and an afternoon off work to fully drink in said swankiness).
When I arrived at the ‘Atelier’ I was greeted by what felt like some sort of decadent secret hair society. The salon was buzzing with air kisses, exposed brick work and Beyonce on the Bose* speakers (*probably).
I felt that familiar rush of intimidation and embarrassment as soon as I stepped inside, and coyly handed an assistant my Primark mac.
This place was not for me.
The staff were all smiles and breezy welcomes, in complete contrast to the stern seriousness of ‘the man himself’ – the manager and head stylist of the salon.
He materialised behind my back, shook my hand, gave my hair a flick and announced to the stylist that my hair was “not grey”, before striding off to rustle another customer’s roots.
At that precise moment, I couldn’t have felt more invisible.
The stylist’s grin ratcheted up a notch before disappearing without a word to ‘mix up’ my colour.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I knew I was there for a freebie. I didn’t expect any special treatment. However, it’s a while since I’ve also felt quite so small.
I DO have grey hairs (trust me, I pay good money to cover the buggers up every 6 months), but I’ve not gone totally grey by any stretch. I certainly didn’t suggest I had, and sent head shots so they could see my re-growth in all it’s glory beforehand.
The session was then all just a bit uncomfortable.
Customers who greeted the staff like family sashayed in throughout, looking so glam to begin with, I wondered what could possibly be done to improve their silky sheen.
The young and incredibly talented team made looking after them seem easy, and I snuck many a furtive peek around the room to see if I could spot any minor celebs. Alas, I’m not particularly up on celeb culture since the birth of O, so if there was a famous guest there, I was oblivious.
Not fade away…
Why am I telling you about this experience?
It’s a fair question.
And I think the answer is in my ham-fisted way of trying to explain how it feels to be an older woman who feels they’re losing their relevancy. Their identity. Their spark.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d have been as intimidated by this experience in my 20s as I was in my 40s. But at least I wouldn’t have felt so bloody… ‘not there’. Not worth consulting or talking to. In sharp contrast to the other *cough* paying customers, whose every word was hung upon.
I get it. The job of a hair model is to STFU and sit still while whatever product is being tested is daubed on you.
I just feel a bit daft that I didn’t get that immediately, and felt quite piqued by it all once I realised.
I’m forty-bloody-two and I’ve been getting my hair dyed for at least 20 of those years. And my opinion and approval has always been sought before brush touched root.
This self-imposed invisible woman syndrome experience gave me a glimpse into my near-future, and I didn’t like it.
I’ve always been shy and an introvert, so I was happy to blend into the background. What I don’t like about this change in attitude towards you as you age is the sort-of ‘smile-and-nod-but-give-absolutely-no-credence-to-what-the-daft-middle-aged-woman-is-saying’ type of vibe.
I feel it acutely because it’s exactly the sort of treatment I’ve given my mum over the years when she’s begun repeating a well-worn story to us once again. Inwardly, my eyes are rolling and I’m already tuning out. Outwardly, I’m smiling and nodding to get the story over with quickly.
She’ll probably say something outmoded about race or gender next. And I’ll have dismissed it as quickly as she can get the words out.
The thing is, I don’t feel like I’m antiquated and outmoded just yet.
Yes, it’s true that I’m often 24 hours behind the curve on memes. And I struggle with Snapchat. I embarrass myself with my forgetfulness – particularly over names. And Faces. And whether I’ve read something before or not.
Is that the secret behind Invisible Woman Syndrome?
Do we all just assume that older women are wibbling on about something and nothing?
That they don’t know what they’re talking about any more?
That they’re irrelevant and, frankly, embarrassing?
I hope not.
My mum brought three daughters up at a time before baby wipes, disposable nappies and Calpol existed. That in itself deserves a bit of respect. Something that I clearly need to sit up and do more of when she’s talking.
If middle aged men can be accorded respect commensurate with their experience in society, then why are women more likely to be thrown on the scrap heap at this age?
I really would love to hear what other people think on this subject. Do you feel like you’re disappearing with age? That men ignore you? Younger people disregard your opinions?
I’m still recalibrating who I am after the birth of O – being a mum is bloody identity-stealing enough in itself. Now I’m wondering if I’m going to be totally irrelevant soon?
Is covering up my greying roots enough? Can I make the other advancements in years vanish?