“Shoulda been my name, Mister Cellophane, cause you can look right through me, walk right by me, and never know I’m there.” (from Chicago)
I’ve never been one to shrink from attention. Even as a tot, I tried hard to command the room, especially rooms where grownups had gathered to chat about grown up things. I wasn’t a screamer, nor prone to tantrums. Instead, I charmed my way to center stage and then stayed there, never yielding, until at some point my audience either fell asleep or crept away. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a six year old belt out “Just You Wait, Henry Higgins” with a flawless Cockney accent! That was me, Little Miss Showbiz.
After a school career largely spent performing in plays (several of which I wrote myself), I launched a theatre career along with my actor sweetie Steve. While I never wowed them with my great beauty, I was attractive enough (and perky! Ever perky!) to land the ingenue roles in many a dinner theatre comedy. From Cecily Pigeon in The Odd Couple to Toni Simmons in Cactus Flower, the girls I played were always pretty, but usually not the sharpest tools in the shed.
Even when I wasn’t performing, I was accustomed to getting my fair share of male attention in public (though I ALWAYS cringed when whistled at). I stayed young-looking for decades, so that stage of life lasted quite a while. I was always a fairly modest dresser, except for a stretch of bipolar mania in my late forties when I actually bought (and wore!) a leather miniskirt. But no matter what, though it wasn’t always welcome notice, I was definitely noticed.
At some point in my early fifties, that all changed. I suddenly became invisible. Walking past construction sites I rated dead silence, and if anyone did speak to me, they called me “ma’am.” In gatherings, I would try vainly to make eye contact with people, but most often they would look right over me, searching for someone more appealing with whom to converse.
I’ve never really worked in a traditional business setting, so I haven’t experienced a lot of mansplaining, and men stealing my ideas and presenting them as their own, but my daughters say this happens all the time. This is another type of invisibility that women have to deal with, and it really stinks. Women are still unfairly passed over for promotions and raises. Women who do speak up are deemed “shrill” and ”bossy.” Better to stay quiet and compliant and, for Heaven’s sake, make every effort to look like a 20 year old!
I live in an era where I can’t look forward to being revered as a wise elder of the tribe. Instead, I’ll continue to be Elise the Friendly Ghost, gradually fading away as the years pass. Ironically, the little girl who received so much attention, has become an older woman who’s just another anonymous face in the crowd.
Yoo hoo! I’m over here! Anybody?