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  • Susan Rose

IWD2024: Am I invisible?

We have just lost the amazing Iris Apfel at the age of 102 years, a woman who remained active, attractive, and highly visible all her life (a). Most women around the age of 50+ will tell you that at some point in time they have in fact felt invisible. It might be in a meeting, at an event, or in a bar or restaurant.

It’s that feeling that you are not being recognised, are being overlooked, or not brought into the conversation in quite the same way as others around you are

Do older women imagine this or is it really a ‘thing’?


The "Beauty Premium"

One explanation as to why women become invisible as they get older may be connected to perceptions of physical attractiveness and how important that is to society in a way that is different for men. The link between attractiveness and success has often been made (b).

Research has found a correlation between physical attractiveness and perceptions of intelligence, social skills, and performance. These perceptions lead to a premium particularly in terms of building confidence. This has become known as the ‘beauty premium” given the positive effect that increased confidence has both in the workplace and personal life. 


Having found a link between physical attractiveness and perceptions of the person, we can see how this could affect perceptions of older women. The assumption is that as women age we are viewed as less attractive, particularly sexually attractive, in a way that does not happen for men. This is due to the loss of fertility and therefore assumed sexuality signalled by the menopause.

Fertility and sexuality are something that society links so strongly with younger women, and that men do not lose as they age; hence the reason this perceived loss of attractiveness spills over to views of a woman’s value more generally via the beauty premium effect. 

Opportunities to energise

Gina Frangello (c) has challenged the idea of the ‘invisible’ woman as being a problem for women; rather she suggests that in fact this relieves women from the constant need to make themselves sexually attractive, and instead we should take advantage of being removed from the constant ‘male gaze’.

This chapter in our lives can open opportunities and give us new energy as we move away from the demands of our physicality. Midlife women are increasingly moving away from the corporate space (d)  and will continue to do so as long as the contribution they have to give goes unrecognised.

The reality is that, as women age, they can remain the intelligent, active, valuable - and yes - attractive beings they always were in their younger days, whether anyone is watching or not. 


(a)  -

(b)  - Mobius, M.M. & Rosenblat, T.S. (2005)  Why Beauty Matters. American Economic Review.  96, no. 1: 222-235

c) -

d) - Leimon, A., Moscovici, F., & Goodier, H. (2022). Coaching women to lead: changing the world from the inside (2nd ed.). Routledge


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