“I feel invisible.”
I often hear variations on that statement from people who are middle-aged or older, especially women. As our bodies age and younger people find us less physically attractive, they seem to look right through us, as if we no longer exist. Finding that we have lost our sexual currency can come as a blow to our self-esteem, even for those of us who haven’t relied heavily on our looks to garner attention. Most people enjoy being noticed and found attractive. Hardly anyone wants to feel as if they don’t exist.
As we begin to develop a sense of self during the earliest months of life, being “seen” by our caretakers plays a central role. The joy we perceive in our parents’ gaze makes us feel that we are beautiful and important, an experience that lays the foundation for healthy self-esteem. Even as adults, we depend to a significant degree on being noticed and admired to maintain our sense of self. This isn’t merely narcissism in the unhealthy sense of the word. Human beings are social animals, defining ourselves through interconnection: Although we build self-esteem by living up to our own personal values and standards, we also rely upon the regard of others to feel good about ourselves.
Read more. [Image: Phenomenal Fauna/Library of Congress]
A statue by Tony Matelli titled “Sleepwalker” stands in the snow on the campus of Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, February 5, 2014. More than 100 signatures were collected from an online petition to remove the statue from the all-women’s college, citing the statue as inappropriate. REUTERS/Dominick Reuter