Here’s something I’ve been mulling for a while.

A few months ago, during an online conversation, my friend Robyn made a striking statement. For some girls, she said, being fat might be a blessing in disguise–because it makes them invisible. In a society where so many women feel so much on display, falling outside the realm of “pretty” is actually a good thing. It lets women like us go about our daily business unmolested; it helps us feel secure.

I wasn’t quite sure how to respond. It seemed glib, this idea of fat being a good thing, which flies in the face of every subtle and overt message in the air around us. But at the same time, I had a quiet sense that she was right. She was describing me.

For a long time now, I’ve felt my status as an invisible girl. I don’t get approached on the street, or catcalled, or hit on in broad daylight. I don’t get offered drinks at bars; my friends and colleagues do, but I don’t. I ride public transit every day, for long distances; I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been addressed by a stranger. I can almost always count on reading my book or listening to my music in unblemished peace. I know women who are accosted daily, who come up with routines for avoiding and confronting; but not me. I tell them so, and they’re surprised.

It hasn’t always been like this. When I was a teenager, 14-looking-20, and my big breasts came in before my bigger hips did, I could feel the gazes and the winks on my skin. But now I’m an ordinary twentysomething, heavier and less taut than I was then. Neither thin enough to be “hot,” nor fat enough to be “disgusting.” Neither pretty enough to draw catcalls, nor ugly enough to prompt jeers and taunts. Young enough that I could be on display, but I’m not. It’s a sweet spot of unremarkableness. So I brush past the crowds on Market Street, and don’t fear being seized on.

I like my invisibility. I feed it. I don’t wear makeup, and hardly style my hair. I wear comfortable clothes and sensible shoes. I daydream on my feet, and people-watch with glee. But sometimes–more often than I’d like–being unseen seems more curse than blessing. In a culture where looks are currency, and male attention means female validation, being invisible is perhaps evidence of a defect. It’s easy to take it that way, to use every unmet glance or drink bought for another girl as an excuse to pick and pick and wear down. It takes a certain hardheadedness to recognize the good in being invisible, and I’m not always so hardheaded.

I don’t think I’m alone. I think there are lots of invisible girls. And I think we’re all slightly confused about whether our invisibility is good or bad. But after a lot of thought about it, I’ve decided Robyn has a point. It’s not always easy to be unbeautiful in a beauty-obsessed world, but the invisibility of it can be a relief.


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4 responses to “Invisible

  1. Great post… I think you describe what a good majority of us are feeling. So many girls work hard to be noticed that they end up all looking the same to me. While there are others like me that as you put it, “invisibility can be a relief.”

  2. Veronika

    Again, a rather insightful post on the subject which I have never considered, but now that i have, it makes sense. Like you, I don’t spend hours on my hair and I wear makeup maybe 3-4 times a year when I am going for an evening outing with enough formality to call for it.

    I wear comfortable shoes and sensible clothes, and while I am vain about being stylish, I often ponder the women I see on public transport and in the city around me, looking like they have spent hours on getting their appearance just so – and not looking happy. Surely if you spend so much of your life on something it ought to at least make you happy? I hear from friends who ‘can’t go out without their makeup on’ and think it a horrid inconvenience – I go out with my face as it is on a daily basis and it does not bother me. I happen to like the way I look, even if I do wish it was easier to lose weight, and that I had longer legs, or whatever.

    A relevant opinion I’d heard from several men who find me attractive (big butt, short stature and no makeup and all), is that not going all-out in visibility actually makes me more attractive, evidencing confidence in what and who I am rather than attempting to fit into one mold or another. In short, men do tend to like women who are not afraid to go out with a bare face. I do not feel deprived of positive male attention. It’s just that the men who like women to be themselves are not the sort of men who’d accost you on public transport or catcall, and the compliments are more subtle (or verbal and polite). And honestly, they are the sort of men I prefer.

    • Yeah, that’s the strange thing. I’ve learned that there are men (and women, for that matter) who find me attractive. But because I don’t get noticed so often, and I’ve grown up with the cultural expectation of being noticed, it’s like all that other feedback doesn’t register.

      Ironically, the day after posting this, I got hit on by a very charming panhandler. So this is clearly not absolute. 🙂

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