The lip pencil of invisibility. And a grown-up woman’s request for JK Rowling.

Are you fraying round the edges? I’m not too bad, but then I never smoked –  not much, anyway. I did buy two packets of Gitanes when I was at university so I could stick the packets on my wall. I smoked them too – well, waste not, want not. And I did go through a brief cigarillo phase, in my mid-twenties. Long, elegant, they made you feel like Lauren Bacall. Or perhaps that was just me.

But I digress.

When lips start fraying around the edges, lip pencil becomes your friend. No more the smile of Coco the Clown where once you were Coco Chanel. You draw a line, set boundaries, get tough with slippy lippy. Though sometimes, I have to say, you do end up looking like one of those poor souls who actually took the ads for permanent make-up seriously. Tattoo your lips? Ooh no. Your eyes? Eeeek.

And then there’s clear mascara. What? You don’t get it? Eyebrows, my dear.  Bernard Ingham. Groucho Marx. Enough said.

It’s sad, but true, that the older you get the more your preening time is spent in mitigation not enhancement. And for what? Does anyone actually notice? Will it stop the gaze of passers-by from sliding right over you as if you’re not there?

My dad used to repeat a  rhyme:

the other day upon the stair I met a man who wasn’t there,

he wasn’t there again today…

I realise now he got the gender wrong.

Take the bike shop man. I’ve shopped in his shop, bought a wonderful (plum-coloured) bike from his collection. Discussed saddles and helmets. Lights and gears. I’ve even been in a meeting with him.

He doesn’t recognise me. Walks past me in the street. Turns round, with a  frown, several paces later, when he – perhaps – remembers.

Women of a certain age.

Something happens.

No need for an invisibility cloak.

We just vanish.


And it’s not just the visual thing. When you finally do notice a woman who’s over – well whatever I’m over – you start to see just that – a woman, nothing more. A mum, a nan, an auntie. No past, no personality, no added dimensions.

Yes, it happens a bit with men – you do that, ‘ah, what a nice old man’ thing – well, until he pats your bottom or winks with a leer or sneers at your idle chatter. But if you thought a bit more you’d wonder what he did – for a living I mean – wouldn’t you? And if you wondered, you’d think about things like bus driver, tax collector, bank robber. Not dad, uncle, grandpa.

The other day upon the station (not the stair) a woman with silver hair and a fuzzy Kangol hat smiled at me with lips that – yes – had frayed, just a tad. But her lipstick was applied with care and beneath the hat she was buttoned up tight in a smart, beige, suede jacket. I’d have ruined it in no time. Tomato sauce. Or newsprint.

I returned her smile and that was it. On the Liverpool line chatting’s obligatory. We nattered our way into town. In twenty minutes I learned she had been a lecturer, that she’s a lawyer, a mother of four, a mature student.

The shame of it. I’d looked at that hat and that hair – and those smartly slicked, lipsticked lips – and saw just a nice, older, woman. I’d never have guessed she’d been a lecturer, or a lawyer.


I have no answer. I just don’t like it.

And so, here’s my request for JK Rowling.

Dear JK,

Please could you invent a cloak of visibility?

Not for our fraying lips and bushy eyebrows, comfy midriffs or laughter lines, but for us. Whoever we are.

Whatever we have – or haven’t – done.

As well as being women.


Yours sincerely,

A woman. Wearing lip pencil. And clear mascara.

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177 Responses to The lip pencil of invisibility. And a grown-up woman’s request for JK Rowling.

  1. soumyaj says:

    Reblogged this on quirrk.


  2. soumyaj says:

    Reblogged this! 🙂 very thought provoking.


  3. Pingback: Good Faith, 19th May. | quirrk

  4. I think you might be my new best friend. The vaseline on the lens of the camera that took my gravatar pic is sliding off and making me slippery in all the WRONG places. I’m facebook sharing this because I have more that a number of friends (recently demoted) who need to realise they are not alone, even though it seems that they are.


  5. roseytoes says:

    Re: the woman on the train. I have been surprised so many times in recent years, that finally it has almost become instinct NOT to assume anything when I look at a stranger or at someone I see often but do not regularly interact with (female OR male). It took a little time, but nowadays when I gaze at such persons I tend to wonder just how interesting a life that person may have led, or be living, what knowledge and experiences they are hiding by their appearance. I strike up conversations because I love being surprised!


  6. Britt says:

    I love all of these images and ideas. You write about it all with such kindness, smooth as ice cream. As a woman of a certain age, I am nostalgic for those moments when I was so visible, it was thrilling and powerful and scary. Nowadays I sashay through the world with a different confidence, though it still surprises me when I’m ignored. The body is aging, but my vanity is not.


  7. haha…cloak of visibility from rowling? just too hilarious. you have a way with words and you definitely need no cloak – whether visible or invisible. you are gifted. lovely read, congratulations on being freshly pressed!


  8. charliebritten says:

    Great piece, husk. We are so much wiser and also nicer than we were younger and getting noticed! Shame!


  9. What a beautiful and elegant piece of writing; thank you for sharing that with us all. I was deeply moved and I think that so many of us can resonate with those thoughts. I am going to direct my readers to it (not that I have as many as you – I am very new to this). As an Image Consultant, I get the wonderful job of providing that cloak of visibility to my clients. It doesn’t take pink streaks in the hair or leggings at sixty (although for some women that is absolutely appropriate) but using our clothes and makeup to effectively present our beauty, maturity and wisdom. I’ve just hit 50 and it is the most liberating age. At last I feel I’m being taken seriously as a woman and not just dismissed as a bubble-brained blonde. Maybe the trick is to happily relinquish “sexual attractiveness” and embrace wisdom and power. Without relinquishing for even one moment the lipstick; and always remembering to keep it firmly under control with the lip liner of course!


    • Thanks Mary. The responses have been interesting, haven’t they? It is a liberating thing, though there are inevitable drawbacks – but aren’t there drawbacks to all ages? Someone yesterday said ‘Oh how I wish I was graduating again.’ Ooh no! Shudder. Not my early twenties. I’ll take a look at your blog when I get back home to chilly England. The Texas heat is making a glass-of-water stop an urgent necessity.


  10. At 71 I have come to refusing to hand over my debit card or cash unless the clerk makes eye contact. (It’s not my only stand against invisibility.) Keep writing. I await a short story & novel.


    • Good idea. (I do have a novel but it’s not about this, it’s crime fiction, sorry!) And thanks for encouraging me.


    • I like that. Clerks often won’t wait on you if you are on a phone. Not that I do that. Clerks are also invisible. I know because I worked as a clerk for a extremely brief time after cell phones were invented.

      I just turned 51. I have a nest of twenty something kids in my 101 year old farmhouse I rent from a life-long friend. All of his families memoirs are here, well, his family was here for a hundred and one years. I often think its strange that I am the only one who cares about the memoirs that actually belong to a large family, there were eight kids that have all moved away. And then I moved in and all my kids flocked in after me.

      And I am invisible to them. And I clean up after them out of necessity and provide toilet paper and turn lights off after them. The electric bill is too high. My landlord says its the old wiring. And yes, there is a ghost, the old judge, and he is invisible as well.

      Everyone has heard him at one time or another when out here all alone.

      I dropped in for your post because of the line, ‘No need for an invisibility cloak, we just vanish.’ Wow!


      • Your life sounds interesting, maybe you are only invisible to yourself. Or the kind of invisible that people can’t do without, like the sky and the sea and the air and the ground we walk on. Maybe that last one’s not a good example, but you know what I mean. Just because it’s taken for granted doesn’t mean it’s not valued. Being taken for granted doesn’t feel that good, I know, but I suspect from the flocking of twenty-somethings that you’re not bad to be around!


        • Thank you for that, it actually helps. The twenty something year olds don’t help out much. The resident lesbian washed dishes once. The diva never. The metrosexual recently had a melt down because the ants came in after a heavy rain and attacked the cat food. I ignored it. I just put down another paper plate of cat food and went back to my blogs. I have eighty blogs. I only have one cat. She is a mouser. I lured her away from my boyfriend’s house. We live in walking distance of each other. I suppose it is an interesting life. I suppose that’s why you attracted me to your blog. I find you interesting too. Thanks for the reply. I’m following you now.


  11. Ann Sowards says:

    The first time I experienced this I was 50. I stood at a meat counter with a younger woman who had come in after me. The idiot behind the counter looked at us both and asked her what she needed. I wa so affronted I said, “Hey! I was here first, you know!”. I got served. I’m 65 now and having learned my lesson, I speak up. But when I WANT to be invisible, it’s great. I’m a spy, a stealth weapon, an astute observer. Recently I dyed my hair to match my favorite black and tan Dachshund. I never would have done it when I was younger and worried about what other people thought. My grand kids think I’m cool. My kids love me and my husband still wants sex and thinks I’m beautiful. To the people that count, I’m very visible.


    • Thanks, Stealth Weapon, for your comments! I think I can see it in your picture actually… I do think being able to observe relatively unnoticed is one of the great up-sides. Thanks again.


  12. Fingers crossed, she’ll come through for us.


  13. tjpatrick says:

    Bravo. After a certain age we certainly are invisible to most men and the young, but we women have the visibility cloaks to drape over other women who are frayed around the edges by taking notice and appreciating them…just as you did on the Liverpool Line. Thanks for the reminder.


  14. ekarifin says:

    Gosh… I have to read 7 books of Harry Potter in 9 years for a wish to have cloak of invisibility for my birthday but then I only need 2 minutes and one post from you to change my mind and beg for cloak of visiblity.
    Great post…


  15. Pingback: The lip pencil of invisibility. And a grown-up woman’s request for JK Rowling. | alsyed57

  16. aliyajane says:

    Wow this was like sooo awesome…!!!!!! you are like the contemporary Jane Austen..!! way to go girl..!! and by god u are sooo visible..!! you dont need any cloak..!! ur blog’s enough i think..!! 🙂 Lots of Love..!!


  17. brazennell says:

    I really felt every word of your piece, but for me it’s weight/size not age, although that will come too soon. I stand beside my slim friends and the irony of all ironies although I am double in mass I am invisible! Really enjoyed this, feel inspired.


    • I know what you mean, but we tend to see ourselves as so much bigger than we are in all the worst things, and so much smaller in all the best things. What’s inside is what really matters, but I know it’s hard to feel lke that when you sit down and look at your (my!) thighs as you sit next to Ms Skinny Legs. Hug to you. And thanks.


  18. losmi666 says:

    I like your post.


  19. JanBeek says:

    I reblogged this on my FB page because it certainly resonated with me, and I can see it did with a whole lot of others, too. You have a wonderful way with words – imagery – sentiments. I’ll be back!


  20. lidipiri says:

    What can I say? Brilliant, just brilliant!


  21. dingtonia says:

    Loved it. I have always felt invisible. I’m used to it now.


  22. jans55redletters says:

    I absolutely loved this, it was so thought provoking I had to think about what you were saying as I’ve never felt invisible well not yet… but you are right about the lady on the train we always think the little old man has been a bus driver but not the the little old lady …..Congratulations


    • Hi Jan and thanks for this which cheered me last night. I saw your other comment first and thought – hmmm , did she get this? Then this told me yes you did. Invisibility creeps up on you – some people won’t experience it (I have a very tall friend for example who can never be invisible) and some won’t notice it. What I hate most is the fact I am guilty of it too. I really do wish we could all just flip a switch and see the person behind the appearance. Then again, maybe sometimes that would be a really bad idea! Thanks again.


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  25. Judy Barnes says:

    Great blog Mary.It’s even worse when you walk a dog and passers by speak to your dog by its name and don’t remember yours….if they see you at all ! (Not in Devon however.)
    I did the gitanes, disque bleu thing whilst at teacher training (Liverpool ),although my Lauren Bacall equivalent was with sobranie black russian with all their different colours.
    I love all the comments you’ve inspired Mary and hope that you feel thoroughly visible. Much love.xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Judy! I loved the look of those cocktail Sobranies, bought them for my mum who smoked. I still have one of the old tins but it has pins in it not the pink and turquoise cigarettes! I remember Benazir Bhuttho (yep that one) bringing back cigarettes from Russia that had cardboard ‘filters’ you had to pinch together in two places before you smoked them – did I say I didn’t smoke??? Only for show now and then!
      Remembering the dog’s name not yours. Well, Jessie, that must really upset you 😉 It certainly would me. I am so glad I looked through the comments on this ancient post, a morale boost at a time it was much needed.
      Great to hear from you and hope all is well with the newest arrival.


  26. Pingback: Leaving | MEMOIRS OF A HUSK

  27. Ardys says:

    Let me be one of the ‘those’ who ‘still’ finds this post exceptional. I was having this very conversation, via email, with my much-loved cousin this week. Our eyebrows are vanishing, and lashes too, clear mascara can’t help what isn’t there. So glad you mentioned this in your post–post leaving, this week. Better late than never… xxx

    Liked by 1 person

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