Guest Post: The Origins of Visible Monday

I’ve been a big fan of Patti’s blog, Not Dead Yet Style, for a very long time. She writes with tremendous warmth and insight about everything from trends and shopping habits to self-esteem, feminism, and the media. And, of course, she speaks passionately about how older women can feel pushed aside, dismissed, and virtually invisible. I asked her to give some background on why she has made herself a champion for visibility, and she sent me the following fabulous post.

* * * * *

I’m honored to be guesting for Sally. Her commitment to positive self-image for women is a beacon in the blogosphere, and an inspiration.

Sal suggested I write about the origins of my site’s Visible Monday weekly link-up. Visible Monday started as a response to feeling like an Invisible Woman after un certain age. I came up with the idea of a “Visible Day” for readers, in which we’d post an outfit, accessory, lipstick color, hairstyle, etc. that especially expresses our Joy of Being (Physically) Visible.

The Invisible Woman post originated on one of my trips to NYC, a place I love for its vibrancy and diversity. At the seasoned but Not-Dead-Yet age of 56, I’d started to notice that I was no longer . . . noticed. I wrote this post about it when I got home: The Invisible Woman

Common wisdom holds that at a certain age, women no longer garner the attention of men in public. We are still loved by our husbands and partners and told we are beautiful, but the world at large no longer sees us as noteworthy. I am not agreeing with this wholesale, just reporting what is commonly tossed around in popular literature.

While in the big city last week, I found myself rather invisible. There’s nothing bad about my appearance. I look good without looking “hot.” I have good posture, crazy curly hair and, most of the time, sport a cool casual outfit. But no one looked at me. I mean “looked” at me, as they used to when I was in my 20’s, 30’s, even 40’s. As a feminist, I am supposed to be happy about this, as I am no longer a sexual object for men to lust after. Hooray, right?

May I confess to a tiny bit of grief for the loss of lust-worthiness? May I still keep my good-feminist card? Is it sheer vain foolishness to miss the double-take, the furtive glance or secret smile? I have good self-esteem, based on my innards. I’ve accomplished a lot and have a husband who adores me. I have never been model-beautiful (only about 2% of us have, and at what cost?) and I know whatever physical charms we have will inevitably change if we’re lucky enough to grow old.

I’m doing some reading (this and this among others) this week to help adjust my thinking about the Invisible Woman. I am truly happy to be the age I am, to be healthy and productive. I still enjoy gilding the lily too, or I wouldn’t be sharing here, and reading so many talented fashion bloggers. Growing up and growing older is not for sissies, indeed. The trade-offs must be accepted and savored.

Based on responses to this post, and my own gut-check, I determined to be Invisible No More. I invited my readers to join me in a celebration of visibility.

We can’t all be young, model-thin, rich fashionistas. But we are all worthy of esteem and confidence.

I have been so exhilarated by the response to Visible Monday, and thrilled to meet bloggers from New Zealand, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Canada, the U.K., and all over the U.S. Twenty-somethings through 70-somethings share their unique beauty. Because there is no ticking clock on Visibility. We’ve got it already, we just need to claim it.

Image courtesy Seasons.

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  • I like that attitude! Will have to check out her blog 🙂

  • Visible Monday was a great idea, and I have taken great pleasure in reading the posts. At 55, going on 56, this question fascinates me. As does the question of taboos for aging women, i.e. the No Knees phenomenon that Janet at A Gardener’s Cottage, ran into. Or the distress my long grey hair seems to evoke. It’s possible that our genome’s desire to reproduce is SO strong that we are supposed to be invisible to avoid distracting men from the correct target.

  • Thank you, Sally, for allowing me to guest-host! This is a subject dear to my heart.

    • Eleanorjane

      Great post! I love your blog – it’s got a nice ‘feel’ to it and I appreciate your attitude.

      I’m struggling with similar things as I hit the 2nd half of my 30’s…

  • Thanks for featuring Patti’s and her story of how Visible Monday began. She’s a true innovator and supporter of those of us who participate in her creation!

  • Anat

    Patti, thank you so much for this and for your activity on your blog. I so appreciate what you are doing, I think you are truely making a change in this world. Definitely we all deserve to feel visible at every age. And I think this needs to come from within. I’m 37, and your touching words makes me happy to know that I can continue to take pride in my appearance and enjoy clothes and accessories for decades to come.
    Thank you!!

  • Anneesha

    As I’m creeping up on a certain stage in life, I am very conscious of this visibility or lack-thereof. So besides dressing and styling myself to make me happy/visible, I also make efforts to compliment others (including random strangers) on their “visibility” – dress, hair, shoes, whatever. Plus it makes ME feel good as well!

  • Elizabeth

    I have to admit that these kinds of posts give me mixed feelings. I’m unusually ugly–not looking for sympathy, just telling it like it is—and I have never in my life been the subject of “the double-take, the furtive glance or secret smile.” In fact, being invisible is usually the best outcome for me; it’s better than the sneering and mockery I sometimes get (quite often from other women, who see me as having no social power because of my ugliness).

    I’m sure it’s a loss for pretty women to grow older and realize they don’t inspire the same kind of admiration from male strangers in public, and I don’t mean to say that it’s inappropriate or shallow to speak about that loss. But it always makes me feel a little weird; reading about the significance of that loss from a pretty woman’s perspective is like another little reminder of the gulf between me and them.

  • Elle

    Like Elizabeth, I have mixed feelings about this post, though for somewhat different reasons. I am a wholly average-looking woman who lives in a major east coast city, and I am daily subject to not double-takes and secret smiles, but rather cat calls and sometimes astoundingly biologically specific come-ons and crude remarks.

    On one hand, I firmly agree that women should not be “hidden” as they get older– they should still be the subject of romantic movies, they should still be in ads– as a society we should recognize that they still exist and have the full range of feelings, desires, etc. that a younger woman has. But I think that is a very different sort of invisibility than not getting noticed on the street, which is in turn a different sort of being noticed than having people make comments that may be intended to be flattering, but actually wind up feeling threatening or demeaning.

    Maybe the bottom line is that in my utopia we would be noticing *people* and not bits on anatomy on the street.

    • Agreed. If being noticed means, “Hey baby, what are you doing later?!” then I don’t want it! I can’t recall a time that I’ve gotten attention on the street that didn’t feel creepy and unwanted. Can’t say I’ve ever gotten a double-take, either!

      • Eleanorjane

        Lord above, I couldn’t cope with that kind of behaviour! I’ve never in my life had anything icky called at me in the street – in New Zealand or the UK or anywhere I’ve travelled (there were lots of pushy street sellers in Bali but that’s another thing).

        I don’t know how I’d react if it happened, but I think I’d be campaigning to try and convince people that such behaviour is completely unacceptable!

  • CBB

    Thanks for sharing this post and a new blog for me to read. The invisibility factor has manifested itself to me in noticing a huge decrease in simple courtesies afforded me. This is not just men, but people of all genders and ages who don’t pause at cross-walks, hold elevators or smile at retail checkout counters. After my fallback reaction (annoyed!), I remind myself that I’m even more priveleged than I even realize to have the expectation that someone should be courteous to me.

    But, the Visible Monday idea is fun and a good way for me to remember that I can bring more to the world when I take care of myself.

  • I was just wondering, do men feel the same way? Like, I know it’s more socially acceptable for men to date younger women, and that “women get old and men get more dignified”, but do men feel that they have become less visible as they have gotten older? Or is being visible something that men don’t think about as much because they are the ones looking?

    I’m a woman in my early twenties and I feel very visible – uncomfortably so, sometimes, depending on my surroundings – but I also look at men often, as I assume we (straight women/gay men) all do. If I see an attractive man I’m going to give him a second glance or smile. However, I do this with men of varying ages, which maybe makes older men more visible than older women? Or maybe I just have a thing for Alec Baldwin look-alikes?

    Kind of a lot of small half-questions in this, but I’d love anyone’s thoughts. :/

    • Eleanorjane

      I do think there’s a double standard and men are still afforded more respect and ‘noticing’ than women when they’re both at ‘a certain age’. For example, my parents split up in their early 60s – my dad had dates coming out of his ears, my pretty, clever, lovely mum struggled to get dates.

  • Linda

    Interesting background on the original concept of ‘Visible Mondays.’ Frankly, I hadn’t even considered the ‘second looks’ aspect of the Visible Mondays challenge. At my age (55, next birthday within a couple of months), I thought Visible Mondays meant that the bartender realizes you are waiting to order a drink or the clerk notices that you’re next in line! I appreciate the candor of a feminist who yearns to still feel attractive but I feel that relying on a stranger’s reaction to prove that your attractiveness is not completely withering on the vine is somehow self-defeating. Remember, a stranger who is willing to whistle or ogle is actually not a reliable barometer of your glamor or personal appeal.

    • Aging fashionista

      Wow, so many interesting perspectives I don’t know where to start. I think, for me, part of it is vanity for not being considered attractive becuz I’m older but part is also not getting noticed as a PERSON (because I’m older. That is definitely not the case for men, especially in certain professions.

  • Dionne

    I’m going to third Elizabeth and Elle about my ambivalent feelings about this post. I believe I can sympathize with the frustration of feeling invisible, but I just can’t empathize. I’ve also never received “the double-take, the furtive glance or secret smile.” I feel good these days about how I look, and I receive compliments from friends and family on a regular basis (my own story is quite similar to Sal’s) but I’ve never received attention from strangers, positive or negative. There’s a small part of me that thinks, “Welcome to the world of ordinary women.”

  • Cee

    I enjoyed this post, but I have to agree with the sentiments which some people have expressed up-thread. I am 23 and probably at the peak of my visibility. I don’t regularly attract attention, but when I do it, it is normally cat-calls, whistles, OBSCENE comments,* honking and other entirely unpleasant things. These things ruin my day, make me feel awful, and make me start questioning my own choices in clothing to try and figure out what ‘set them off.’ None of this helps my self-esteem. What has helped my self-esteem is the care and love and reflection I have given to my body over the years.

    I know this is a more extreme form of the visibility Patti is referring to, but I think it comes from the same place: being found attractive by strangers. While I agree that older women really do need to be more visible in the arts and in the media, I’m not sure I feel comfortable using the attention of strangers as a measure of this. I find being found attractive by those that I am sexually interested in (be they one-night stands, short-term partners, or my long-term partner) has more of an impact on me.

    Older women do need to be more visible. We need to see more women in the public eye with awesome grey hair where this isn’t a sign of age, or some sort of failing. (Partly because I am already going quite grey and I cannot wait until I am old enough to cut out the middle man and dye it all grey.) We need films, tv shows and books featuring older women from all walks of life, doing all sorts of interesting things. We need to see beauty and fashion advertising which uses older women as more than just a gimmick. I hope that by the time I am older, these measures of visibility will be improved, not that I can continue to expect loud, vocal input from complete strangers as to how good I look.

    * So obscene that I don’t really feel comfortable repeating them here.

  • One of the things I’ve actually enjoyed as I’ve gotten older (and fatter, to be honest) is that I’m not looked at in a specifically sexual way by men I don’t know. When I am dressed well and acting confidently, I still get looks that to my mind are admiring, but not the same kind of looks that I might have gotten when I was college-aged and wearing tight jeans. I am totally OK with that, happy even. And like Elizabeth I’ve never been particularly good-looking so maybe those looks were different than what pretty women got when they were youthful. I am only in my late 30s, however, and maybe the late-30s-invisible is different than the 50-plus-invisible.

    It’s interesting to read everyone’s different reactions to this post and the idea of being visible and what it means.

  • I am enjoying all the different views of my original post here, particularly those from younger women who find “visibility” rather a negative when it includes harassment from strangers. Please believe me, that is not something I will *ever* miss!

    Nor did I intend to convey that my feelings of attractiveness are drawn from the opinions of strangers. As I wrote, my self esteem is solidly founded on my inner self, my achievements and the love of the important people in my life.

    And yes, I have noticed that as an older woman I get overlooked physically, by the bartender, sure, the retail clerk, and many others — because our society generally values youth over age. That, I do not like, and want to speak up against it.

    I so appreciate your reading and reflecting on my article! It’s wonderful to read a variety of viewpoints, and it stretches the conversation in a healthy way. Many thanks!

  • It’s really interesting to hear everyone’s different experiences and perspectives on this phenomenon. I’m 31 and have always been very slim, with few curves. I guess I’m attractive enough that I do know what Patti means when she talks about “the double-take, the furtive glance or secret smile” and maybe because of my lack of curves, I’ve not been subjected to vocal/obnoxious cat-calling. There are definitely a ton of perks associated with being a young-ish woman and I hope they don’t disappear completely when I reach a certain age. I don’t mean freebies or anything like that, I just find strangers (men and women of all ages) are usually kind and will generally go out of their way a bit to be helpful, and people are quick to smile. Since my guy friends do not experience this I assume this difference might be due to my “young woman” status. These positive interactions make the daily business of life happier, more pleasant and I hope they’re not wholly tied to age/beauty.

  • Holly

    I’m 41 this year and I have actually been enjoying this change. I found that I can now have a casual conversation with a man in public, like a “what a great price on pineapples!” kind of caliber without worrying that it is really something else. I feel more like a person first instead of female first. As a software engineer working with men all the time, this actually adds to my confidence in my career.

  • Stephani

    A great post! That said, I also have the ambivalent feelings expressed by others here. Or maybe conflicted is the better word. Hey, it’s great to be noticed and to be appreciated as attractive, regardless of age and reproductive viability. On the other hand, that truly is all those doing the noticing are seeing: your value as a sexual object.
    I’m mid-30s, average looking, but with certain physical attributes generally found quite valuable sexually. I’d say 99% of the time that I have been noticed–and that’s not be a frequent occurrence–it’s been expressed in some really undesirable and creepy way. The other 1% has been truly flattering because the sentiments were conveyed in a manner that showed respect. That said, having been overweight to varying degress for most of my life, I’ve been stunned frequently by a total lack of courtesy showed me by others because I don’t appear to exist for them. Usually it’s been men, young and old. And that’s happened at every age, in every kind of setting, although it has become more pronounced as I’ve gotten older. There are times I let it slide, but as it rankles more and more, I’ve started to refuse to be invisible. No, I won’t give up my spot for you, unless you really need it; yes, I was next in line; no, I won’t give way to you just because you’re younger/male/more physically gifted than me.
    Sorry for the rant.
    In case no one has seen it, there’s a wonderful blog here: http://advancedstyle.blogspot.com/. Wanna talk about refusing to be invisible? These ladies have it down!

  • I enjoyed this post. It certainly resonated with my experiences.
    I’ve seen a little about Patti’s Visible Monday posts, and now understand the motivation behind them.
    Thank you Patti and Sally.
    Now if I could just figure out how to take pictures of myself I would join in the fun!

  • Oh, I love these comments because they are so thought-provoking, and we are only just getting started. I’ve been everywhere on the spectrum: taunted for being unattractive, ignored, and (only occasionally) furtively glanced at. Mostly ignored. Every one of these has made me uncomfortable, for different reasons, at different times, and aging just adds a whole other level of weirdness. But I adore the community that’s created by “Visible Monday.” There is something empowering about taking our images into our own hands, so to speak, and asserting our right to be visible, in a way that we choose. Some women post outfits there and nowhere else. I think that’s great!

  • Lynn

    At 60 I know just what Patti means. It is certainly not cat-calls and obscene comments, which are just wrong and awful in any situation. At the same time, it is hard to be invisible. The only women my age that seem to be really visible are those who are over-the-top dramatic (eg the women on the site Advanced Style). That’s fun, but it’s not me. My husband is always noticed and commands immediate attention from clerks, waiters, etc. while I do not.

  • Anna

    I’m fourthing of fifthing the ambivalence to this post. I’ve been invisible most of my life. I finally realize I have little charisma and average looks.

  • Ellen

    Wow, this topic is so interesting to me! Only in the last few months have I begun to be more aware of the attention I get, or don’t get, and wondering why am I getting the attention. When I say attention, I mainly mean the looks, stares, double takes, which are based on my physical appearance as these are from people that don’t know me, just walking in the city or mall, etc. I had always assumed it was because I had a certain attractiveness – I never felt gorgeous or model-like but always was considered pretty and once was told my looks were “striking”. That comment stuck with me all these years. I am in my mid fifties now and it recently occurred to me to wonder, am I getting looks because I am still attractive or is there something else about me getting the attention? I am really not sure. I have been told I look younger than I am (by people who do know my real age), and I dress attractively, and act confident, but I am fairly overweight. Thinking about all this brought some other questions to my mind. One, should I care if I no longer am a “head turner”? Really, I should not. This whole business of being invisible is very interesting. Another thought I had was – how much of my self esteem is tied into being considered pretty or attractive? I realized that it probably is a big part of my self – esteem, although I have a master’s degree and a good job, family, etc, being visible has been a big part of who I am. Honestly, I got to thinking about what would it be like to have been ‘invisible’. I found the comments to be very interesting from women who claimed they were never head turners. I have to say its only been recently that I have thought about what would it be like, or would have been like, if I was a plain jane, or even worse and the attention I garnered was negative. I don’t say this to be snotty or uppity, its just something I never thought about, took it for granted–until recently. Very thought provoking topic!

  • Elizabeth

    After commenting earlier, I’ve found myself returning to this discussion throughout the day. I really appreciate this discussion because it is so rare to be able to have an honest discussion about one’s own Lack of physical attractiveness—it’s basically impossible to discuss in”real” life, because people feel compelled to tell you that, no, really, you’re pretty! (Which in itself is an interesting reaction, but one that I certainly don’t blame people for having.)

    But it’s interesting to relate your perception of your physical attractiveness to your sense of style. For myself, one of the very strong subconscious drives I have, as an ugly woman, is not to be perceived by others as somehow being deluded into thinking that I can make myself conventionally attractive by wearing feminie clothes and makeup. I never, never want people to look at me with pity or derision and think, does she actually think that’s working for her? So, oddly, as I get older I find myself feeling freer to incorporate feminine clothes into my repertoire because it’s less likely to look like I’m trying to attract a man. (Being married, and getting to wear a wedding ring and appear in public in my role as a mother also helps.)

    It’s also interesting to reflect on how being viewed as a sexual being—or not—-affects you. Again, in my case, I know that most people do not really regard me as a sexual being; the very idea strikes some people as gross and a joke. For that reason, I am extremely private about sexual matters and almost without exception avoid even the kind of casual banter that establishes you as a sexual being or knowledgeable about sex. It carries over into my sense of style, too, in the sense that I avoid attempting to “perform” as a woman who thinks that men might find her attractive.

    Sorry for the long post; I’m really glad to have a chance to lay out my thoughts on these topics based on my experiences as an ugly woman.

  • Hope

    I’m 47 and I love Visible Monday because it’s easy to remember and reminds me to have fun with what I wear. Sometimes I have a visible Wednesday or Friday. I always get compliments — usually from women — and when I explain VM to them, they’re often intrigued.
    Re: the attractiveness issue, I agree, it’s complicated. Sometimes I want to be visible, sometimes not, and so far it feels like something I can control, still.
    Patti, I’m a fan.

  • What fascinating comments. I know that as a participant in Visible Mondays that the furtive looks not only come from men, but other women. And best of all is to be noticed by younger folks! A bit of concern about our appearance, no matter the condition of our bodies, in many ways allows us to control how others respond to us.

  • a very interesting topic! I will turn 60 in October, and have always felt invisible. To the point where people who have met me don’t recognize me. (Like the high-school teacher, for whom I once did a class presentation.) But I somehow feel less invisible now than at any previous time in my life. Part of this may be that I just don’t care, and so don’t notice it. Part of it may be that I am feeling confident enough to wear clothes and accessories that reflect the real inner me, and perhaps that confidence radiates outward. My man constantly assures me that others look at me on the street, but I am totally oblivious, perhaps due to my previous experience. I finally feel like I am being myself, not hiding behind a ‘facade’ (like I was during my ‘hat’ phase, 25 years ago). I sometimes wonder if I am dressing ‘appropriately’ for my age, but I feel comfortable returning to my ‘sorta-hippie, eccentric’ inner self (which I haven’t experimented with since I was a student).

  • jii

    Love this.
    I used to be on the receiving end of men’s interest, and I was never beautiful, but I did radiate health, sexuality. Now, I am 60, damn it…I can’t get a drink at the hotel bar where I was staying for a professional conference last year. I almost had to trip a waiter to get a Bloody Mary

    • Stephani

      Next time wave money around in the air!

  • Lucyna

    Thank you for this! I’m only in my mid-30s and I’m starting to notice myself becoming ‘invisible’. I work in a corporate downtown world with lots of up and coming 20-somethings who really know how to dress and pull off style. I think that I am somewhat unique and I try to remain authentic, but it really does go un-noticed. It sounds like I’m an attention-whore….but I’m not at all. I think I just want a bit of recognition, I think we all want some recognition. I know that the struggle will increase as I age, so I really need to get into the mindset of embracing whatever comes my way. One thing I find myself doing more is complimenting women that I see, about their nails, a fab dress, their glasses, shoes…no matter what their age. In conclusion; this post hit a nerve for me. I will definitely be perusing her blog (adding it to my fave list right beside Sal’s!).

  • This is a fantastic thread. I have been stretching myself in terms of the limits of what I will clothe myself in before heading into a public sphere. I go the full spectrum, from plain to really out there. The irony I’ve noticed is that the self consciousness I used to feel wearing invisible or nondescript clothing has diminished in proportion to the visibility or wildness of the clothes I wear. This was unexpected.

    I think the fearlessness I am developing as the person inside my clothes is more visible, to the point that wearing a plain outfit now gets as much recognition as a more flamboyant one. I am in the process of becoming, I don’t know what yet. I’m 50.

    Patti’s Visible Monday has played a big part in my grand experiment. It is an all-inclusive gathering of women from every sphere and it was my first go-to place when I started blogging in January. Thanks for this wonderful read.

  • thank you sally, for advising to patti’s post. i left a comment at patti’s blog but i will summarize it a bit. for me it is not the point to be sexy and attractive for man any more (for my hubby i am i know) but to be noticed as the woman, or may i say female human being, i am, with all my facettes. i do not understand why only youth shall be admirable, there are people at any age to be worth to glanze at. taking part in visible monday i learnt that i am able to make me visible by showing more appearance and personality, therefore i am very thankful.

  • Leah

    I feel resonance with your comments, Elizabeth. Thank you.

    Especially this:
    “For myself, one of the very strong subconscious drives I have, as an ugly woman, is not to be perceived by others as somehow being deluded into thinking that I can make myself conventionally attractive by wearing feminie clothes and makeup. I never, never want people to look at me with pity or derision and think, does she actually think that’s working for her?”

    and this:
    “Again, in my case, I know that most people do not really regard me as a sexual being; the very idea strikes some people as gross and a joke.”

  • Person

    I agree with Elizabeth. As someone who never got attention, “you can’t miss what you never had”, so I really can’t relate. But as someone who came to fashion late in life, at 40, I’m pleased when a man goes out of his way to hold the door for me, or when salesladies give me extra attention because I’m dressed nice. I’m more visible now than ever.