12 Ways Not to Become Invisible After 40

I swear I had only closed my eyes for one second when a policeman started poking me with his billy stick.

“Excuse me, Miss, you’re going to have to get up and move,” he commanded. What? Can’t a person sit on a park bench and close her eyes for a minute?  I had worked out for two hours earlier that morning and was exhausted.   The officer went on to explain with the new vagrancy laws you’re not allowed to sleep on a bench.  First, I wasn’t sleeping and second, vagrancy laws?

Do you sometimes feel invisible?

Are you misjudged by your appearance?

As I ran my fingers through my hair plastered with dried sweat and I looked down at my outfit of mixed sweats and an old swim team t-shirt, it started to dawn on me:  He thinks I’m a vagrant, a homeless person.  As I was trying to come up with an articulate response to explain that I most definitely was NOT a vagrant, he asked if I needed help or somewhere to go.  Somewhere to go? I started sputtering how I wasn’t homeless, I went to Harvard, goddammit,  and that I was going to kill my mother for dragging me down to the Smithsonian when I told her that I wanted to just stay home and eat Thanksgiving leftovers. He then knew I was just another crazy homeless person muttering nonsensical things to herself.

I tell this story to establish that I am not a Fashion Icon and that I know what it’s like to be completely misjudged by your appearance.

Do you sometimes feel invisible?

Many older women tell me they are often misjudged by their appearance:  People think they are invisible.  At least that’s the way it feels to them.  Store clerks, maitre d’s, and people in general don’t seem to notice them.  They bemoan the fact that they got lots of attention when they were Sweet Young Things and now they are fading into invisibility.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. How do I know? Because I am one of the few women who is more visible now than I was in my 20s. While not dressing in sweats that Goodwill would reject is a start, it’s got a lot more to do with attitude, body language, and carrying a lot of ones in your pocket (more on that).  Here are my secrets for women on how not to become invisible as they get older.

12 ways not to become the invisible woman after 40

1.  Get some male friends.  At least one has to be straight.  Watch when a man approaches a maitre d’, a manager,  or his other guy friends. His whole body language says  I expect to be noticed and taken seriously.  Hanging around male friends will help you correct your own invisible body language.

2.  Get some younger, older, different-than-you friends.  Expand your friendship circle beyond your normal tribe and you will become much more at ease when talking to new people.

3.  Wear dresses more often.

4.  Stop waiting to be invited.   If you want to dance, be in the photo, or talk to someone at a party, then stop complaining that no one asks you and take the initiative yourself.

5.  Take boxing, karate, or some other self-defense class. By learning to push your body much farther than you thought possible and learning self-defense skills, you will move with a whole new kind of body confidence.

6.  Spend 30 seconds on your make-up before you go out the door. Filling in your eyebrows, adding a touch of mascara and putting a bit of lipstick or gloss on can make a huge difference and it all takes is less than a minute. I think 50% is that it makes you look better and 50% is that it makes you feel more social.

7.  Stop dressing solely for comfort.  Comfort and fashion are not mutually exclusive.  There are comfortable clothes that are flattering on you and do not scream, “I have totally given up.”  Get a fashionable friend or a stylist to help you out.

8.  Read the books Swell and How Not to Act Old. The first for great style tips and the second for entertaining insights.

9.  Speak up.  It’s easier to be seen when people can hear you.  So don’t be a low talker.

10.  Embrace your grownup-ness. Remember when you were a kid and when something wasn’t right at a restaurant, your dad would summon the manager? He wasn’t invisible because he was a grownup.  And they thought he would tip.  Which leads us to…

11.  Always carry cash in several denominations and tip generously.  Women, especially older women, can be terrible about this.  They seem to assume men will take care of it or it’s not that important.  If you want to be visible around anyone in the service industry, tip generously.

12.  Lift weights and work out much harder than you thought possible. (Use a certified personal trainer initially).  Nothing gets you in shape faster than lifting real weights.  And when you feel physically strong, you will move and act a lot stronger, and more visible, too.

I ended the list with a tip on getting your body in shape because there is no getting around that being overweight can definitely make you invisible.  It’s ironic that the bigger you are, the less people see you.

While this post is primarily for women, next week will be for men.

What tips do you have for not being invisible?  Add them to the comments.

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  • jessica huff

    i can totally relate to feeling invisible. when i was 45 i had breast reduction surgery. The first time i went out after, without a bra (since thank god without size G breasts i didn’t have to wear one anymore) I was walking down 57th street in Manhattan. I actually opened my jacket and shirt leaving a muscle tee, no bra, and you could definitely see breasts and everything. and men just walked on by—— it was a wake up call.

  • RM

    I think all of the suggestions are great. I would reiterate in a summary statement – “don’t dress like your grandma” – although I’m sure she’s fabulous, get with an age appropriate style that will make you look like the smart successful “with-it” woman you are!

    I would add the following items to the list to not be invisible:

    ** Learn how to shake someone’s hand with firmness and strength (none of this fingertip grabbing) – let them know you are sincere and confident in your greeting.

    ** Stay up on current events. And I don’t mean what’s on the cover of People magazine. Get the news updates from CNN, the WSJ, and the NYT. Whatever works for you – this will allow you to participate in conversations beyond discussions on fashion, celebrities, and the latest kids stuff going on in your life (not that those things aren’t important). FYI, this does include maintaining some knowledge of what is happening in key sporting events.

    • http://www.mojo40.com Susan Kim

      RM– great suggestions! I agree that many women do have an invisible handshake– it’s barely there.

      And the current events are also good. When I hear women just talking about what celebrities are doing– it’s like invisible conversation.

      And definitely the kid stuff. I actually have a post on my other blog about that: http://thebigbabydivide.blogspot.com/

    • sherry gregory

      I agree! And I find a smile makes a huge difference!

  • Kathe P

    Thank you for the specific recommendations. Reminds me of my own “vagrant” story: I was in Grand Central after work. I was working a lot of overtime hours, and I didn’t have time to shop for a coat, so I was wearing my grandfather’s old one. My purse broke that day, so its contents were in a shopping bag. As I waited to use the pay phone (okay, it was 25 years ago), someone gave me a quarter!

    From your article I was reminded once again: if you feel good about yourself, you will exude a confidence that attracts good things.

    • http://www.mojo40.com Susan Kim

      I love your vagrant story! Or I should say Bag Lady story.

  • Sandy Asirvatham

    BRAVA on all of them but especially #12 regarding weight-lifting. You know I am a fanatic on this point.

  • Debola

    I totally agree about dresses.. What’s with all the black suits? It’s great to be noticed, so long as it’s for the right reasons. Back in the (ah hem) 80’s I worked mostly with Japanese clients. As a 5’9″ American woman there wasn’t much chance I wouldn’t be noticed, so I embraced it. High heels, bright colors. They all remembered who I was.

  • http://www.thesucculentwife.com audrey van Petegem

    Reading this article makes me chuckle at my own story of going into a shoe store and was asked to leave. After complete humiliation, I did assess my appearance and was shocked that when I really ‘looked’ at myself I resembled someone in need of some serious professional help! Ugh! Whether we like it or not people will judge us for our appearance and, you are right, little things can make a huge difference.

  • Nodo Boho

    Love the stories. Stop for a moment, though, and think about how outraged &/or embarrassed you were to be treated like that…now you know a tiny bit what homeless women go through daily! (Homeless–the last group it’s OK to malign, treat like second-class citizens, ignore.)

    I have done homeless/low-income advocacy for the last six years. Before that I mostly worked in IT (Microsoft, banks, gov’t, hospitals, nonprofits). Since the first day I began spending time in homeless day centers, shelters, tent city groups, & low-income housing, the “clients” often assumed I was “staff”. It was just my attitude, the way I spoke and EXPECTED to be heard, the way I always knew/learned how things were done and DEMANDED (nicely) that things be done better.

    Ironically, the first 11 months, I was homeless just like them!(Yeah, let that sink in for a minute.)And I now live on a very limited income in “public housing”. But I have an IQ > 140, have chutzpah and passion, and, despite serious health problems–and no home–I got active. I sit on several large advocacy organization councils, and talk to/advise bigshots in govt, business, faith & nonprofit organizations. And I’m studying new tech skills and have plans….

    But now that I’m >50 and frumpy, the sales & grocery clerks all look right through me. (But the manager doesn’t when I point out that some slacker left the frozen foods sitting out in the aisle!)

    It’s funny, those at the very bottom and the bigshots have always “seen” me, but not so much the 20-30-ish y.o. low-level clerks. What is that?

    • http://www.mojo40.com Susan Kim

      Wow. Incredible story. Thanks so much for sharing this.

    • anne hooper

      I found your message uplifting and would like to say well done.I looked up this site as a male next door neighbour completely ignored me and talked to my husband whist i stood there. It was my first experience of being invisible. Goodness knows what comes next. My husband doesn’t believe me when I tell him that this is a real phenomenon. Take good care of yourself you deserve it. all the very best.

    • Jessica Blair

      I think that age range 20’s and 30’s look at older women 40+ and say to themselves “i’ll never ever end up like that!” You’ve inspired me to get moving and lose my weight and dress normally not just for comfort like i usually do.

  • Susan Weinstein

    This is all great information. Thanks for sharing all of this.

  • sharon l

    Great post and great comments. here is another one:

    Say it nicely and say it with logic>

    Almost every day we go into stores or medical offices or banks—how do you behave when you are NOT treated like a paying customer?
    get a little defensive? Get a little bitchy??

    Show them what 40 years will teach you!!

    Take a deep breath. Smile. Act nice. Stay calm. And make it logical.

    When you ask for that manager–of the managers–of the managers—-
    make sure that they walk away with an opportunity to improve their business operations.

    Go for it

    • http://www.mojo40.com Susan Kim

      Sharon– I think your advice to take a deep breath, smile, act nice, stay calm, and make it logical– is good advice for almost all situations. I also agree that talking to the manager just to vent– is not productive at all. That’s something a 25 year old would do ;)

  • Pigbitin Mad

    One of the most infuriating things is when you begin to explain something and you barely get one sentence out before you are completely interrupted with a million questions and the entire conversation is hijacked. It is just plain rude. I am not a wallflower, but this just makes me go berserk. I just want to tell these A holes to shut the F up and sit down and listen. IS THAT POSSIBLE??

    BTW, the content of this is fairly interesting. Actually less total BS than most. But I refuse to join because I refuse to advertise my age on Linkedin (and on Facebook I do not do work stuff).

  • John Mack

    When dealing with salespeople and service staff, be direct. If possible, use the person’s name.

    Do not try to be all that nice (or nasty). Be businesslike. Speak clearly and to the point. Look them in the face. If necessary, ask them to repeat what you said.

    • Jennifer W

      Ask salespeople to repeat what you said? This article is about being taken seriously not “how to be a douche.”

  • http://michellemccleod.blogspot.com/ Michelle

    This was a nice list. I do keep up with current events, but find other women do not. I am a self-employed work-at-home-mom and the other moms are yeeesh boooring.

    I actually had a mom tell me she liked me best because I talked about something other than potty training.

    However, I notice she’s still not up on the news.


  • http://www.mojo40.com Susan Kim

    Michelle- Oh, great point. Talking about something other than your kids– because nothing will make you seem more invisible than talking about that. I actually wrote for a different blog all about that subject.
    Here: http://thebigbabydivide.blogspot.com/2010/05/moms-your-husbands-are-not-complete.html

  • Christina

    Good advice! I was overweight but managed to lose about 40 pounds by doing my own training and cutting down meals, absolutely no junk food & cookies etc. I soon had an unexpected lover on my hands, best one ever! Well, it could be pretty good after 40, but nowadays still hard to get a new job, even if you do have a degree and track record.

  • Donna Salamone

    Great article and so true advice. I also recommend whenever in doubt as to what to wear to an occasion dress your best, even if you think you’re overdressed, you’ll look better than everyone, and make a better impression!

  • dee

    simply said,the problem w/modern women in general is that,given the choice,women would rather be considered beautiful ,than intelligent !

  • Gra Piken

    Being invisible is a definite phenomenon.. It’s real without a doubt.

    I went to a work’s Christmas meal recently. It was a huge crowd with a broad spectrum of ages in a crowded restaurant. I thought I looked quite good. I’m 49 but could pass for being in my early forties.

    It suddenly struck me, in a quite a shocking way, that most of the men were obviously steering their attention to the younger women of the group and avoiding the older women. It was a dynamic that was easy to spot, simply by observing body language.

    Some of the younger women were plain and and not as attractive as some of the older women, but still they were the focus of male attention and the older women were out of the picture. That’s when, with a sinking feeling, I realized that ‘youth’ is the currency of female beauty. That’s the bottom line. Beauty is not enough. There is something intangible, apart from the obvious things, like younger looking skin etc, that men pick up on.

    Needless to say, I ordered a large glass of red wine.

  • Karen

    Funny. I do and have done all of these things. I am more beautiful and more interesting than I have ever been and yet I am still invisible. You know what’s missing from articles like this? The standard of beauty in your community. I don’t fit. I’m not blonde and curvy. How does one get to a place where she just doesn’t care about being invisible?

  • Benni

    Numbers 5 & 6, really?? Like we dont do our make up, and dont make an effort? I never spend less than ten mins on my makeup.

  • Benni

    I do all of the above right. I dress nicely, Im confident and happy. There should be no reason why Ive been single all these years. Im nearly fifty and haven’t had a date in five years, despite going out all the time and enjoying life.
    We don’t all let ourselves go after forty you know! lol. Maybe its’ my town, but Im stuck here to look after my Mum, and I dont drive so I cant go that far. Im in stockport manchester… the only single men left are either drunks, dirty old men, or druggie scallywags. If there are any nice ones I sure can’t find them!
    Its making me start to wonder if Im going to end up alone in my old age. Id like a nice man while Im still attractive and fairly fit. :(

  • Sue Thomason

    What a load of patronising sexist shit. Mascara? Jesus.

  • Conrado Salas Cano

    Without rejuvenation there can clearly be no heaven on Earth

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