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.
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.
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.
A woman. Wearing lip pencil. And clear mascara.