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Has Your Neon Faded to Neutral? Why So Many Women Are Feeling Invisible in Their Own Lives

By Kurt Smith September 12, 2023 Mindset

Let’s be honest – you’ve been the one keeping things running smoothly in the lives of your family for years. You’ve been partner, parent, taxi, cook, housekeeper, the only one who can keep the calendar, and likely in charge of food procurement. And that just scratches the surface.

Many of you have done this while managing a career or alone.

So, why, given the many roles a woman plays in life and the lives of others, do so many women end up feeling invisible as they age?

There was probably a time in life when you felt noticed. And appreciated. And desired. And interesting. You were like a neon sign, grabbing the attention of those around you.

But now it feels like you’ve faded into one of the many shades of neutral that walls are painted so they go unnoticed and don’t clash with the exciting interior design choices.


How Your Neon Became Neutral

Feeling invisible is a well-documented circumstance for women, and it becomes more and more common with age.

Although it can happen at any point, women in their 50s and 60s seem to be most affected, often reporting they feel:

  • Overlooked
  • Unseen
  • Undervalued
  • Unheard

The invisible woman phenomenon has even been referred to in the media, one of the most recognizable instances being Saturday Night Live’s Christmas skit, “Mom Got a Robe.”

A more recent example is demonstrated by Kathy Bate’s character in the upcoming Matlock reboot, saying, “There’s this funny thing that happens when women age – we become damn near invisible.”

But why? There are several reasons this can happen.

Societal Factors and Stereotypes

At the heart of the invisible woman phenomenon lie deeply entrenched societal norms and gender stereotypes that just won’t let go.

Throughout history, women have found themselves in roles primarily focused on caregiving, homemaking, and supporting others. As these traditional roles often happen behind the scenes, women can find themselves feeling sidelined and unappreciated for their contributions to both personal and professional realms.

Even though efforts to bury these stereotypes have made progress, they seem to have found a comfortable home in the world of seasoned women of a certain age. Too often, the women considered neon, i.e., vibrant, assertive, fun, and attractive, hit 50-60 and fade to neutral.

Media Representation

The media plays a pivotal role in shaping societal perceptions and standards. Although progress has been made, many media portrayals of aging women emphasize narrow definitions of beauty, success, and behavior.

Are you a ball-busting corporate exec or an overly sexualized cougar addicted to cosmetic surgery? If not, then who are you in your 50s-60s?

These limited portrayals are detrimental and exclude the truth of feminine experiences. The lack of relatable representation undermines women’s value and contribution and leaves many feeling irrelevant.

Microaggressions and Gaslighting

  • “You’re overreacting.”
  • “Is this a menopause thing?”
  • “Really? Is life that hard for you? You’re fine.”
  • “Stop being so dramatic.”
  • “Nothing’s changed – what are you complaining about?”

Subtle sexism and gaslighting can also erode a woman’s sense of visibility over time. Whether it’s being taken for granted and lack of appreciation, their opinions being dismissed, achievements downplayed, or ideas attributed to others, these microaggressions chip away at a woman’s self-esteem and make her feel unseen.

Compounding things turns into gaslighting, and results in a woman not being taken seriously when she expresses her feelings or stands up for herself.

These instances tend to intensify with age and accumulate, creating the sensation of invisibility.


Ageism is, unfortunately, real. And it can lead to a distressing experience for women as they age. Societal norms prioritize younger women, leaving those rising in wisdom feeling marginalized and neutral.

Let’s be clear – although common, the feeling of invisibility doesn’t happen to all women. When it does, however, it can cause significant unhappiness, distress and potentially lead to depression.

All the Feels of Feeling Invisible

I worked with a woman recently who’s been dealing with feelings of invisibility. She described it this way:

“I’m like the motor in the car. I make everything work, but no one notices me unless I’m on the fritz. No one says, ‘Whoa – I love your motor,’ or ‘What can we do to improve the motor’s life?’ And if the motor needs maintenance, no one says, ‘Aw, poor motor. Let’s give you some attention.’ Instead, they complain, saying, ‘GD motor!! You’re ruining my day; why can’t you work the way you’re supposed to?’ And God forbid anyone make the motor feel pretty!”

Can you relate? I found it to be an apt description. 

Other feelings that arise from feeling invisible include 

  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Anxiety and depression
  • Feelings of uselessness and futility
  • Midlife crisis

All these feelings can be detrimental to not only mental health but physical health as well. 

Real Ways to Bring Back Your Neon

Although the invisible woman phenomenon is recognized as an issue, suggested solutions are high-level and superficial, creating more of an “industry” of self-care and girls-night-out ideas rather than real solutions. It’s the modern version of the make-her-life-easier-by-giving-her-a-new-vacuum.

Bath salts, lotions, and chardonnay don’t make women feel seen. And no woman has ever felt valued because someone gave her a new vacuum. 

But there are some ways that both a woman and the people who love her can help bring back the neon and make her feel more visible.

Things You Can Do to Feel Visible


To twist an old phrase, visible is as visible does. If you’re feeling like that motor no one sees, find ways to make them notice you. Express yourself through your appearance, style, and communication. Stay true to who you are while being open to updating your style to reflect your personality.

Learning Knows No Age

Continuing to learn new things will open up many doors. New interests mean meeting new people, having new conversations, and maintaining brain health and plasticity. So, take courses, attend workshops, or pursue certifications in areas that interest you.

Stay Tech-Savvy

Technology is a big part of modern life and not only makes life easier in many cases but can also be a creative and social outlet. Familiarize yourself with digital tools, social media platforms, and communication apps.


Some of you are saying, “Do you mean making friends?” Yes, but it’s more than that. Even if you’re retired, building and maintaining a solid network of contacts of all kinds is essential.

Attend professional and social events, join clubs or organizations, and connect with people in your field or areas of interest. Networking can lead to new opportunities and keep you connected with relevant trends.

Maintain or Improve Health and Wellness

Taking care of your physical and mental health is crucial. Regular exercise, a balanced diet, and adequate sleep improve overall well-being. And these efforts can become a source of social engagement as well.


Getting involved in your community through volunteering or charitable work can help you feel more connected and relevant. It also allows you to make a positive impact on the lives of others and maintain a social network.

Embrace Change

Change is the only constant in life, so don’t be afraid of it. Adaptability is a skill that keeps you feeling visible and relevant. Rather than working against change, embrace it and move with it.

Maintain A Growth Mindset

“Growth mindset” may be the buzzword de jour, but it’s also important. Believe in your ability to learn and improve. A growth mindset encourages you to see challenges as opportunities for growth rather than obstacles.

Share Your Wisdom and Experience

With age comes experience. Consider mentoring or coaching younger individuals. There’s an incredible shortage of those who can mentor, coach, and teach in various areas.

Cultivate Interests

Pursue hobbies and interests that you’re passionate about. Engaging in activities you love energizes you and connects you with like-minded individuals.

What Those Who Love You Can Do

Take Her Seriously

Being dismissed or taken too lightly can lead to someone feeling invisible.

Actively Listen

Show genuine interest in her thoughts, feelings, and experiences.

Quality Time

Engage in activities you both enjoy, whether it’s going for a walk, cooking a meal, or watching a movie. This dedicated time helps build a stronger connection.

Express Gratitude

Let her know you appreciate her contributions and their individual strengths.

Show Affection

Physical touch can convey love and affection.

Acknowledge Effort

Recognize her effort, whether it’s work, parenting, household responsibilities, or personal hobbies.

Show Interest

Engage in conversations about her interests, hobbies, and passions. Show genuine curiosity and ask questions. People change over time – you may be surprised by what you learn.

Random Acts of Kindness

Surprise her with random acts of kindness that show you care.

The Shadows Are No Place for You

If you’ve felt like the invisible woman, the unrecognized motor, or like your neon has gone neutral, remember that your feelings are valid. You deserve to be seen, heard, and valued.

Although it may take time, you can and should make changes that bring you out of the shadows. But for changes to occur, you’ll need to take proactive steps toward addressing your feelings.

And no matter what anyone says, who you are and what you think has intrinsic worth. Just ask Kathy Bates. After remarking on the invisibility of women of a certain age, she goes on to point out that “It’s useful because nobody sees us coming.”

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Do you sometimes feel invisible? Does it feel like your neon has dimmed over the years? What have you done to make yourself feel more relevant and seen?

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Excellent article! The gaslighting section is more prominent than we realize but there is hope.

Dr. Kurt Smith

Barbara, sadly, you’re very right about the frequency of gaslighting. I know, I treat it every day in my counseling practice.


This is one of the most useful and wisest articles I’ve read in a long time. Full of solid practical tips. I particularly like your comment on the “industry” of self-care” which I find incredibly superficial. Thanks for writing this!

Dr. Kurt Smith

You’re welcome, Jan. Glad you found it to be practical. That’s one of my goals.

Jane Sawyer

This is a terrific article! At 72 I experience ebbs and flows in satisfaction with my lifestyle and activities, which I’m sure many people do. I think it is a question of degrees and I occasionally feel like freshening up my purpose, friendships, calendar, social/ community involvement or activities. The important thing to me, is to be self-aware and not accept the status quo as my only option. Regardless of whether I feel invisible, or have recently experienced gaslighting, it takes ongoing attention and dedication to maintain a satisfying sense of self. Physical exercise is crucial for me to be self-aware and happy. Again, I valued you article and the helpful suggestions you offered!

Dr. Kurt Smith

Glad you liked it, Jane. You’re right on with this statement – “it takes ongoing attention and dedication to maintain a satisfying sense of self.” I hope other readers see it and apply it for themselves. It’s interesting that you mention gaslighting, this a something I deal with regularly in my counseling practice, and a healthy self-identity is one of the keys to stopping it’s damage. Great comment – thank you!


this is me I’m 70 and I’ll be damned if I’ll melt into the background for anyone

Dr. Kurt Smith

Thanks for the visual, Lesley. You certainly won’t be in the background dressing loud and proud.


64 here and do not feel invisible. My day includes prayer, photography, writing,sketching, drawing, coloring, watercolor, fitness (barre class, lifting weights, Zumba, Body Groove, urban stair fitness, hiking, beach walking). I study a subject I am interested in at least an hour a day (right now the teachings on sleep). I cook our meals. I connect with friends and family. I gather with church family three days a week. I volunteer. I take online art classes and learn how to make graphics on Canva. I end the day with meditation. I never even think about my neon being dimmed or feeling relevant and seen.


I love my life. Will be 70 next Spring. Widow almost 20 years.

Kathleen A Newman

You’re an inspiration. What a busy life! I couldn’t keep up with you, but
I’d like to know more about your online art classes, if you don’t mind. I
took art classes years ago in watercolors, but they’re hard to find now
in my semi-rural area of Washington state. I’m 66 years old and in need of
something to bring interest in my day-to-day life since retirement. Finding
something to learn online would be fun, as I feel very invisible at this point
in my life. My joy is my dog.


I bought a package from Domestika since I was an absolute beginner.

Dr. Kurt Smith

Great question, Kathleen. Thanks for having an inquisitive mind and asking for some suggestions. Hope you follow through on finding what works best for you.

Dr. Kurt Smith

Deb, As Kathleen said, you are an “inspiration.” Thanks for sharing what you do to keep your life and light shining brightly. We all have something to offer at any age. We just need to put ourselves out there.

The Author

Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director at Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching and works with men and the women who love them. He is an expert in understanding the unique relationship challenges facing couples today. Check out his weekly tips on Facebook or Twitter.

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