Over the years I've read with trepidation in a number of women's magazines, (those caring, nurturing begetters of useful information and self-affirmation that play such an important role in making sure the female gender remains the most politically powerful and economically successful), that once a woman reaches middle age she becomes invisible. Incredibly, (because they are normally so accurate and objective, don't you find?), this is in fact not true at all.
Having recently-ish crossed to the other side of 40 I can state that - if anything - there tends to be, well, much more of you to meet the eye -let's say a third more than your highly visible but whippet thin 16 year old you.
Secondly, just as you achieve the bank balance to buy decent clothes they stop producing decent clothes for the likes of you but - cheer up! - because in turn everybody but everybody develops an opinion about what you should wear.
Shopping with my sister these days is like shopping with Jiminy Cricket - a slender, pocket-sized conscience who, when summoned, pops her head through the curtains of the changing room, appraises you with a calm, even stare and only ever says one syllable: No. You know she is right - nothing fits you and you can save yourself a lot of money and burn some serious cals by trying on a lot of stuff and then just buy the occasional handbag.
Mild mannered intellectual husband would have me in a burka but for quite opposite reasons. Unaccountably, he thinks I'm so damn attractive that showing any part of me, wearing any colour or pattern, not to mention make-up, would send other men into a lustful frenzy. That's not how he puts it, of course, being English and reserved and rather shy. His standard phrase is something along the lines of :"Gowd! That eye-shadow/blouse/boots makes you look like a Neapolitan stripper!"
On my visits home my mother starts excavating through the geological layers of her wardrobe and comes up with - in no particular order - elasticised black trousers, ankle length brown velour skirts, the odd faux-Pucci miniskirt dress from her youth, moth eaten furs, safari jackets, pink towelling turbans (they were fashionable for about 6 minutes in the late 60s apparently), lays them down on her bed and offers them to me indiscriminately. She has either "just bought it for me at the Piazza Palermo market" (that would be the elasticised stuff) or "kept it for me" from her well dressed signorina days. She is adamant I should wear floral patterns and shorter hair. She actually likes me in lipstick and is indignant that my husband "won't let me" (although that also subtly reassures her about him being "a real man").
Weirdly it is me who cares less these days. I don't need other people's approving gazes to feel that I exist, that I take up space in the word (too much space, you could argue, but then I don't care what you think, remember?), that I am of (some) consequence.
My body will never be "bikini-ready" ever again - so I can save myself at least two months and several thousand pounds of extra detoxing/liquid diets/algae wraps/anti-cellulite creams every year. Last year's swimming costume will do.
I could not care less what platformed/fake-furred/transparent/paisley-infested monstrosities are gracing the catwalks this year, soon to trickle into pret-a-porter must-haves in every woman's magazine (Biggest Ever Issue! Bumper Style Section! All The Latest Trends!!!).
No-one can possibly walk in what passes for high heeled shoes today. They are a modern day form of feet-binding pure and simple and uglier than callipers. I mean, really? No one can possibly look anything else but stupid in "harem pants" and, guess what, if my aspirations hadn't stretched beyond the harem I'd never have left
, saving myself a lot of hassle Italy
Incidentally, is this what being a man feels like? Quiet self-acceptance, dignified anonymity, comfortable footwear? No wonder they have more time and stamina to get that promotion/launch that new business venture/fight that election. Not caring about what men think of me, what other women I might once have competed with for male attention think of me or whether I am sufficiently visible and attractive to men, I have become, weirdly, more like a man myself. (I like it!!! Now, who do you have to screw around here to get rid of periods too???)
If anything I think it is younger women who are becoming/made to feel increasingly invisible. Like their male counterparts they struggle to find meaningful employment - so far so equally crummy. But once they have paid their dues in a succession of low-paid jobs or unpaid internships, just as they are about to reap the rewards they start getting overlooked for better positions in case they decide to have children. Then the whole of society starts yelling at them about their 'biological clocks' till they start hearing the - often imaginary -clocks themselves and the desperate rush begins to find a suitable, not too ape-like man-child with whom to stumble into motherhood .
Needless to say the men in question are never ready, never sure, keeping their options open and so on. Hence the fake tan, fake (now exploding!) tits, and the scrubbing, the shaving, the starving. They are literally erasing their selves to become acceptable, impregnate-able, to be seen.
It isn't getting better, it's getting worse.
While once young girls might have been patronised with the reassurances that "one day" women would be doctors and airplane pilots and , who knows, even astronauts, if they tried very very hard and played by the rules, nowadays being playthings, pretty dolls who take 'ironic' pole-dancing classes, then becoming unpaid milk maids and cleaners is all young girls are being told they should aspire to. No, not by their parents or teacheers necessarily, but by just about every form of marketing, media, advertising - by the - for lack of a better word- The Culture.
Sure, in the dream scenario all this comes with money into the bargain, international travel, iPads, breathy blogs about being domestic goddesses for the posh ones, stardom on reality TV for the trashy ones. It's not like they are being oppressed. Not like they are in chains in a cave (well, not very often - and mainly in
Still. We have a Republican candidate for the
presidency who thinks that not just abortion, but contraception should be made illegal. If he wins and this vision comes to pass US New York City girls might have to stock up for condoms in , where contraception still puts you in hell after death but not yet in jail in this life. If this is the level of debate in the free world- with women's bodies used as those plastic scale battlefields models- surely the institutionalised, normalised cave, Afghanistan with air-con, cannot be that far behind. Vatican City
The truth is that the kind of 'visibility' middle-aged women are supposed to lose- the visibility of being pleasing to another's eye, the visibility of the harem - has no real power attached to it. It's all a sad, shabby illusion. The power remains firmly with those who do not have to totter on ridiculous heels to business meetings and who do not spend their money having potentially carcinogenic implants sewn into their bodies. Those who do not lactate, don't wipe snot all day long and still have full control of their bladders.
And if you think this is harsh you'd better give me a very wide berth when I'm premenstrual. Assuming you can actually see me, of course.