I watched the new Taylor Swift movie, Miss Americana, with my girl recently. I admittedly am not really a fan, but my girl is, so under the guise of quality time, I agreed to watch it with her. Not only did I walk away with a new-found respect for Miss Swift, I found some of what she had to say resonating with me, specifically, her perceived view that women in entertainment have to reinvent themselves regularly to stay relevant. As someone who has reinvented herself a few times over, I’d say that experience isn’t relegated to women in entertainment, I’d argue it’s something all of us as women either have or will go through at some point in our lives.
I’m fairly certain all women, regardless of age or parenting status, feel the inevitable process of growing older that slowly renders us invisible to those around us. Even those of us that do manage to stay relevant have to work at it, for fear of becoming like Gloria Swanson’s character Norma Desmond in “Sunset Boulevard”. We as women have an expiration date, not necessarily linked to,what Amy Schumer and friends called, our “Last F***able Day” which isn’t necessarily related to menopause, but it’s not far off. Or, as it turns out, realizing our bodies have entered what is termed perimenopause, the god awful state of being we women deal with for what could be a solid decade before the sweet relief that is menopause brings.
Although to be sure, motherhood, both at the onset as well as when our children embark on their own adventures without us, are both times of major reinvention for women. Both are completely life altering experiences that forever change us. You spend the better part of decades building your daily existence around nurturing, protecting, directing and chauffeuring these creatures and then they just move out one day and leave you to your own devices.
No, at some point in our 40’s or 50’s, whether or not we have children, we begin to realize we’re becoming invisible to the rest of the world. Women of a certain age are expected to remain quiet, for speaking up or out gets us called ‘loud’ or ‘shrill’ or any other descriptors that are expected to shame us into going back into the role society expects us to play while wearing comfortable shoes and skirts of a sensible length, or even better, timeless slacks and a nice cardigan. Our opinions seem to stop mattering to anyone but ourselves. And all the while, as men get older and grayer, they somehow earn more respect for their mere existence while we are expected to quietly fade into the background if we plan on aging naturally. The double standard, which we’ve known all our lives, just infuriates us more at this stage in our life.
The need to reinvent ourselves is intrinsically baked into the nature of being a woman, in thanks to the experience of perimenopause and beyond. The shift from what we have been told is our natural purpose of perpetuating the species to being no longer being physically capable of that task is both mental and physical, but only vaguely recognized as physical. We wonder what our contribution to society is now that we’re not active parents running the carpool or still desirable as sexual beings. Our mindsets and attitudes shift, as well as our bodies. And while becoming invisible can be at times infuriating, intimidating and sometimes downright terrifying, it can also be empowering. As we find ourselves caring less about pissing people off, we speak our minds more often. The wisdom of age allows us to recognize what’s truly important, which is a gift. We learn to ignore the person telling us to calm down while also coming to the realization that maybe sensible shoes do have a small purpose in our closet, although we may be loathe to admit it. We realize that being able to reinvent oneself is no easy feat, but we’ll never get the credit for it we deserve. Not that we’re used to getting the credit anyway – we’ve always had to work harder to prove ourselves, so the work of staying relevant isn’t really a stretch by any means. We’ve grown up knowing Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did but backwards and in heels.
We as women do the heavy lifting of life. We physically bear the children, take on the brunt of childrearing and household duties while holding down a job, keeping all the plates spinning all the time. We are supposed to be natural experts at multi-tasking while remaining sexy, although not too sexy, because that’s problematic too. Meanwhile, men get head pats for doing a fraction of what we women do – they call being left home alone with their children ‘babysitting’ – while we can only imagine the backlash if a woman called spending time home with her children ‘babysitting’.
Maybe it’s time to acknowledge out loud exactly how good we are at reinventing ourselves, because we are all terrified of becoming invisible. Thanks to biology (and society), all women face some version of this at some point in their lives. This is not to say men don’t face the fear of becoming irrelevant, but it’s not a requirement in their templates of growing old the way it is for women. Their lives are not built around their looks or raising children and being good homemakers – men are allowed to have qualities not predicated on these things.
As we acknowledge our ability reinvent ourselves though, let’s also acknowledge our fear of invisibility. Because maybe in the process, we can tell each other how empowering it is to let that fear go. Let’s share with each other how it enables us to be who we always wanted to be but were afraid of offending those around us. Comfortable shoes optional.