It first hit me a couple of years ago when I was at a store, waiting patiently for my turn to be served. And well, my turn never came. Others kept barging in, getting the attention of the sales staff, getting what they wanted. While I waited, until I quietly had had quite enough of waiting, turned around, walked out unnoticed, unstopped and realised it had finally happened. I had become that dreaded creature, the invisible woman.
I had seen the signs over the past few years. Heads no longer turned when I walked past, even when I was dressed to the teeth. People did not stop conversations to accommodate me when I approached their little groups at parties but carried on, regardless. I found myself stopping short of doing cartwheels and headstands in restaurants to get a waiter’s attention.
It is kind of deflating to the ego. You know that there was a time when you put half the time into getting ready and could guarantee heads on rotor blades as you passed. The compliments are now few and far between. You have folks walking right past you without even registering you exist. In the rush for elevators, you are jostled aside when previously you would be courteously given right of way.
What has changed, you ask yourself? In your head, you are still the same, give or take a few wrinkles and some grey hair. But something has definitely changed for the world around. Circa one’s mid forties, it is like a giant switch gets switched off and a woman morphs into some sort of translucency that makes her there but not quite there. The mirror isn’t so kind either. The midriff develops a mind of its own and that stubborn bulge which normally took a couple of weeks of sensible eating and working out to whittle back into normalcy, stays put, with squatter rights, ration card and aadhar card. The hair that you took for granted and abused in persistent unspeakable manner by perming, colouring, tonging and other abominations, gives you a cheeky middle finger and begins dropping right from your crown into the abyss of forgotten youth, leaving you with a scalp that shines through no matter what you do. The wrinkles refuse to fade after you stop smiling. The neck is stretched, the skin grows reptilian. You age. You become invisible.
Let me not pretend it does not affect one, it does. It does very violent things to the self esteem, bordering on first degree torture. But once you cross that dark zone and emerge blinking, into the bright light of realisation, you know that there are many pros to being invisible.
It liberates you in some ways. There is a sense of freedom to be able to go anywhere and know that no eyes are on you. Sometimes you can walk right past people and they won’t even register your presence, which is wonderful when you want to make a quick exit or avoid some dementors who are capable of tap dancing on your last standing nerve. You can go out in track pants and a faded tee and not give a damn because you know that the blot you present on the public landscape is going to be an offense to no one but yourself. You can listen in to conversations because most people don’t even realise you are around, and speak unhindered. For a writer, perennially in search of interesting back stories for potential characters, this is a gold mine. I can walk down a street and know that no cat calls are going to come my way, no one is going to trail me on a motorcycle muttering obscenities and no one is going to stalk me till I reach home. I can travel at odd hours without worrying too much because I’ve got that older woman’s grim determined “Just you mess with me” expression that deters even the roadside eunuchs at traffic signals from being persistent. I can step out at any time and not worry that my appearance is going to be dissected by other women around me, because, well, they aren’t really looking at me, are they?
Most reports say that when a woman hits her mid-forties she starts becoming invisible. I’m bang on target. I assume it gets worse as the years creep up on me. I’m ready and waiting. Being fly on the wall is always much more fun than being in the thick of conversation to me. And yes, I realise this is the perfect age for me to actually seriously contemplate my lifelong ambition of being a spy. I have my own invisibility cloak now.