Too Many Eyes of the Beholders

Ellie — Opa and I are coming to see you the day after tomorrow. We can hardly wait.

In the meantime, we are living in the midst of a massive Austin festival called South by Southwest. Music, education, film, interactive sessions — you can get them all here, along with crowds, noise, enthusiasm, long lines, impatience, high spirits, trash, traffic, booze, you name it.

See what I mean?

See what I mean?

As usual, I got a film badge so I could go to all the movies I wanted to see. It’s funny, though, to go to a festival where most of the people are so much younger than I am. It makes me more conscious of my age than I usually am.

Here is how it often is for women: When you’re young and attractive, you get lots of attention — some or much of it unwanted. That can be exciting and fun, but it also can be intrusive and upsetting. It’s as if you “belong” to the rest of the world, which is loudly passing judgment on you.

It’s so different when you’re an older woman. Nobody pays much attention to you — you become almost invisible.

I usually don’t care. After all, what difference does it make?

Other times, it hurts. I can feel myself being dismissed with a quick, casual glance. I barely exist. I’m invisible.

Now you see her. Now you don't.

Now you see her. Now you don’t.

(Every time this happens to me, I think about starting a gang of invisible older women who go on a crime spree, robbing banks or shoplifting or drug-smuggling. No one would ever suspect us of anything. We’d rule the world — or, anyway, the underworld. I should write a book about it!

(Unfortunately, I’d make the worst felon on earth: I automatically feel guilty about everything and would have to confess immediately and throw myself on the mercy of the court. When it comes to bad behavior, my worst crime is jaywalking. So much for the underworld. And who’d read a book on jaywalking?)

But, anyway, it’s odd to think of the arc of women’s lives. Much more than men, we’re judged by our appearance from youth to dotage. Judged on our faces and bodies — qualities that have nothing to do with who we really are, our hearts, our minds, our souls, our work.

You’ll be going into that world soon enough, Ellie. And, of course, you’ll care about being pretty and appealing; it’s impossible not to.

But try to remember that pretty girl isn’t you. You are so much more. Your passions, your compassion, your caring, your kindness, your values, the work you choose, the people you love: This is who you really are. This is what sustains you when you’re young and pretty and when you’re old and invisible.

Define yourself, know yourself. Don’t let the world do it for you.


I look into your big, blue eyes and see your strength and ebullience. I know you can do this. Love you, my darling girl, Coco

P.S. The last film I’m seeing today, before we leave for Seattle, is Ovarian Psycos. With a name like that, how could I resist?


  1. Melanie · March 22, 2016

    Have you seen Grace and Frankie? Their use their invisibility as a super power, as you’ve suggested.

  2. Leslie Chupp · March 22, 2016

    I’m posting this!

  3. Vicki Gigliotti · March 22, 2016

    What a beautiful post for a brand new granddaughter. I first noticed this invisibility when I would be out with my daughters when they were in their early twenties. They would get the looks I remember getting. I actually enjoyed this because it gave me the freedom not to worry about how I looked to others. It always took so much effort. Now that I am 67 I can spend more time in the present moment, being aware of others and the energy around me. I would like to have felt this way years ago. However, I do think that all those people not noticing the ‘older woman’ are missing out on real beauty, the beauty of being comfortable within yourself, the beauty of being outward focus instead of inward, the beauty and gift of being present to others, the beauty of feeling ‘who cares what someone thinks about me’. I no longer have to worry about moving up in a career, or making an impression on anyone. I have established a couple of wonderful long term, supportive friendship…I am free. I can laugh my loud laugh, eat my popcorn or ice-cream cone, nap in the car while waiting for grandchildren to come out of school. I still enjoy dressing up and looking my best because it is just fun to do and I like treating myself. Invisibility has its benefits. If you ever decide to try the crime spree thing….please contact me…would that not be the most fun! I, like you however would find myself saying to the first person I saw the next day…OMG…do you know what I just did!!! that’s if our laughter didn’t get us caught before that!! Thanks for your post.

  4. Sheryl · March 22, 2016

    This is just lovely, Ruth. I wish someone had told me long ago not just to rely on looks and that there were so many other important things to concentrate on. But I learned that myself, many years later, thank goodness – just in time to become invisible! Ha!

  5. Alexandra · March 22, 2016

    I was singing “Wheels on the Bus” to my two granddaughters this week and got to the verse about the daddies on the bus and was stumped as to what they would be singing, so my daughter helped by explaining to her kids that some daddies stay home to raise the kids instead of the mommies. The world really has changed in that way, hasn’t it? But to your point of not being noticed any more as one ages, this has been my experience, too, and it is disconcerting.

  6. Kerri @ Living Large · March 22, 2016

    Such wise and wonderful advice to your dear granddaughter! I have been overweight for most of my adult life and when you’re heavy, you’re also invisible. But that’s OK, the only person who has to love you is you. The others are the icing of your life.

  7. Jane Boursaw · March 22, 2016

    So lovely, Ruth. I love the idea of a gang of older woman who go on crime sprees. That needs to be a book or a movie. No one would ever suspect them. Will watch Grace and Frankie, Melanie’s suggestion.

  8. Jeanine Barone · March 22, 2016

    Such beautiful advice that I know I would’ve loved to have received at a young age.

  9. Roxanne · March 22, 2016

    I’ve reached that invisible stage myself. Chatting with my accountant about it the other day, I tossed out that maybe I had been ignored for OTHER reasons. She crushed that idea, agreeing that indeed I have reached the age of invisibility.