The Incredible, Invisible Woman

Anna Church Art
Photo: Anna Church

Gwyneth Paltrow shared a story once, I think it might have been on The Ellen Show. She recalled being stopped at a red light somewhere around the time she turned 40. A car had pulled up beside her and a handsome guy was the driver. She expected that maybe they were going to lock eyes for a second, that maybe he was going to give her an appreciative glance or something like that, like she was used to. But he didn’t. He just looked right past her, like she was invisible. This kind of brutal confidence killer isn’t merely about finding one’s self dropped from the sexual gaze.

It got me thinking about the zillions of images of young girls in their crop tops with their bare faces hitting my Instagram feed every day, on billboards, even fronting wrinkle cream campaigns. As a mother of two, working in the fashion and beauty industry, in my early forties, that shit can do a number on you after a while. I started to think, where are my peeps? Where are the other women in their mid-years who I know are cool and smart and beautiful with stories to tell and looks to appreciate? And that’s when I realized, nobody was really talking to us anymore.

Sure, there were a handful of sites for women over 35. Do you like cooking? I hope so, because they’re going to hit you with a recipe in like 5 seconds. Me, I don’t cook. I’ve got kids, but they don’t define me. Something was missing, something in the middle. Then last summer, an article came out in The Telegraph titled Why women of 40 and 50 are the new ‘ageless generation’. The story aptly described how different we are from our mothers before us. We don’t relate to the phrase “middle-age”, nor do most of us feel connected to the jargon “Generation X”. They pointed to a survey conducted by a marketing agency called Super Human that found that among 500 women surveyed, over 80% felt that society’s assumptions about this group were actually way off.

Instead, women my age actually wear their makeup, hair and clothes in a similar way to females half their age. The author also cited a term called ‘perennials’, coined by the American internet entrepreneur Gina Pell. Part of the definition, as the name suggests, reads: “We are ever-blooming, relevant people of all ages who live in the present time, know what’s happening in the world, stay current with technology, and have friends of all ages.” It’s true, it may have taken awhile but we’re now almost as tech-savvy as our kids.

It didn’t take long for this ageless idea to start taking off. In Allure’s September 2017 editor’s letter, Michelle Lee banned the phrase “anti-aging” from their print and online publications—a milestone in beauty history if ever there was one considering how many products on the market (not to mention advertisers) now have labels to fix. Words matter and anti-aging is clearly negative. But ‘perennial’ and ‘ageless’ imply that we aren’t owning our age, and I don’t believe that’s how many of us feel either. If we were truly ‘ageless’ in mindset, we would be comfortable continuing to consume content geared toward younger people without noticing or caring. I for one believe a good number of us crave stories of a slightly different nature.

Generalizing obviously, but aside from the fact that women aged 35-50 earn and spend more money, half of us are caring for children while worrying about our ailing parents, not to mention whether our mortgage will collapse at any second. And just because we’re still maintaining some level of cool, I think many of us might feel less ostracized if we weren’t constantly hit with ‘lit’, ‘woke’, and ‘savage’ every time we read something meant to be entertaining or style-related online. And how about featuring a 50-year-old woman on a cover more than once a year? People, all people, deserve to see other people who resemble them, whether it’s their skin tone, their hair texture, their body type or their age in the images we’re supposed to be inspired by.

Big applause to Cover Girl who made the super fox Maye Musk an ambassador several months back. That’s totally a start. We also don’t need extensive photoshopping or elaborate backdrops to show our own raw beauty, wrinkles and all. And listen, I’m not saying I’ll never get Botox again, or microblade my eyebrows or do anything to alter my appearance to reach some self-imposed ideal. There’s a fine line between uncomfortable and acceptance, a wider line between acceptance and pride. We are complex, evolving creatures after all, and this is just one of the conversations worth exploring and sharing on an ongoing basis.

The good news is that there is change in the air, with more and more virtual spaces popping up dedicated to the idea of exploring style, beauty and life in general through age. Shout out to the sublimely modern-minimal Renaissance Magazine out of the U.K.; and to thirty-something stylist Hannah MacLeod of Graham St. who recently launched a cool duo blog with her mother; and to those who have already been killing it for some time like the beyond-chic Instagrammer Grece Ghanem out of Montreal; and Lyn Slater, the sixty-something year old Accidental Icon who’s advanced style earned the attention of W Magazine earlier this year. We see you. It’s about time we shine a light on what it really looks like to live and thrive over 35, and see our beauty for what it really is.