Studies show that nearly 7 out of 10 women experience a sense of becoming invisible as they grow older, a phenomenon called invisible woman syndrome. This is no surprise, of course, in a society that blatantly values youth and beauty over ripened wisdom. This time of life coincides with children moving out of the house, instances of being overlooked for promotions at work, and other such changes that leave you feeling less relevant. Invisible woman syndrome can be unsettling and lonely.
Like most challenges in our lives, societal advice seems to always suggest going to war: We fight diseases, battle cancer, crush the competition, and conquer our fears. Thus, the standard response offered to women experiencing invisible woman syndrome is usually to combat it and stay relevant, young, and interesting. But stay relevant to whom, and for whom?
Not only is this not of benefit to us, this focus on fighting leads to a leaking of prana (life force energy). Pushing against our natural journey into elderhood sucks away our ojas (rejuvenative power). It whittles away our confidence and self-assurance. And, most vitally, clinging to the advantages of youth gives away the true power available by embracing elderhood.
Before continuing, I also want to distinguish the concept of invisible woman syndrome from the very real fact that, by and large, our society discounts the bodies, experiences, and plights of women (particularly women of color) in medicine, history, and statistics. There’s no excuse for the lack of studies done regarding diseases and conditions that are experienced more often by women. And we all must do what we can to ensure that half of humanity is not written out of the stories that are told going forward by making sure our voices are heard, our points of views are considered, and, generally, insisting on being accounted for. For more on this, I recommend the book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez.
Invisible Woman Syndrome vs. The Power of Elderhood
There is a power available in elderhood that rivals or surpasses the power of youth. Like superheroes who depend on their invisibility to circumvent the norms and conventions of society, evade danger, or save the day, we too can wear our cloak of invisibility to claim the spoils that are only there for the bravest among us. As the character Frankie says in an episode of the Netflix show Grace and Frankie, “Can’t see me, can’t stop me.” (Granted, the line comes after she steals a pack of cigarettes, but the general concept still holds!)
Below are eight types of powers and freedoms that come from so-called invisible woman syndrome, and this is only the beginning!
Freedom From Convention
When you’re invisible, you don’t have to carry the burdensome rules of youth anymore. You get to wear whatever you want, eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and in any other way, be in your body and live your life on your terms. This is a time of life to shrug off the shoulds and oughts. Like Jenny Joseph says in her poem “Warning,” you get to “wear purple with a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit [you].”
The Power of Invisible Identity
While youth is all about the journey to become someone, elderhood is the journey back to our soul, casting off the collected identities and roles of our youth. You may still play within them, you may still appreciate them, but you begin to return to who you are—who you have always been—without them. Now, because you’re no longer tied to your identity, no one can label you or box you up. You can go about your day, playing with various roles as you see fit.
The Power of Creativity
Too many of us fall into the trap of believing that creativity is only for a chosen few. We think we’re not creative if we can’t paint, sing, or dance. But creativity is endowed within each of us and springs from our soul. From setting a beautiful table to putting together a presentation to always having the perfect accessory, our creativity is an expression of our truest self. Now, without the pressures of pleasing anyone else, we can completely unbridle our creative power, and let it come through without compromise. (Take this quiz to find out what creative archetype you are!)
The Power of Embodiment (and the Freedom From Objectification)
Without society’s eye on you critiquing and sexualizing and demeaning and demanding in a hundred different ways, you now have the freedom to love and embrace your body, just as it is, like never before. Your body is a roadmap of your life, complete with the hills and valleys you’ve traversed. Now’s the time to really get to know it, love it, and set it free from the male gaze, from society’s expectations, and, most importantly, from your own judgments.
Freedom From Emotional Labor
From the time we are young girls, women are trained to perform all kinds of free emotional labor. We’re lauded for our ability to caretake and be there for others in a way that men are not expected to. Well, along with invisible woman syndrome comes the shedding of these responsibilities, leaving you to care for people when and how you want to and not because it is expected or praised. If you want to bake chocolate chip cookies for a sick neighbor or send out annual holiday cards, go ahead. But if you’ve done enough unpaid work in your life to last multiple lifetimes, no worries, just … poof!
Freedom of Speech
Sure, we Americans have the First Amendment. That’s nothing compared to elder freedom of speech! No longer trapped behind fear of judgment, an elder woman can speak her mind in a way her younger peers could only dream of. When you wear the cloak of invisible woman syndrome, you no longer need to worry about trying to be a people-pleaser and can instead focus on calling it like you see it.
Freedom to Love, Indulge, and Have Fun
Feeling like no one sees you anymore due to that invisible woman syndrome? Feeling overlooked? What a great time to get on the dance floor, metaphorically or literally! Give yourself over to uninhibited expressions and acts of love: toward the earth, toward animals, toward your favorite humans. Eat your favorite foods, enjoy time in your favorite seasons, indulge in your favorite holidays … or, perhaps, your coziest naptime routine. Live your life—who cares who’s watching?
The Power to Challenge the Status Quo
With the freedoms we’re gaining through so-called invisible woman syndrome, we gain power. With our powerful voices, our lack of attachment to identity and roles, our sense of embodiment, and our lack of adherence to convention, we become a dangerous force for change, challenging the status quo with our insistence of being who we are. We can’t change the status quo if we still subscribe to society’s warlike approach to solving problems. Fighting societal problems with the same tools that created them never works. We can only challenge the status quo—and bring women the visibility they deserve and need—if we first free ourselves from invisible woman syndrome and soak up the power that is the great gift of elderhood.
Use the ancient practice of alchemy to grow elder as your grow older.