So last night, it was a bit of a pain to get home. There was a match on at the stadium I live by, and the tube line I take was pretty busy as a result. I had to wait on the platform of Hyde Park Corner whilst a couple of packed trains went past, before one I could cram on arrived.
I had managed to position myself right at where I could see a door would be stationed, and as the train pulled up stepped forward to board. Then out of nowhere, I felt a shove from my right, and look round to see a tall, well-dressed girl in her early twenties literally push me to one side to get on the train ahead of me.
The carriage was not busy enough to warrant the usual rush hour every-man-for-themselves slalom run. This girl had, apparently, just decided that she was going to get on this train before me, and take that last seat, as if she was basically entitled to it.
Once she had sat down, I caught her do the one thing that any member of the sisterhood should never do: the look-you-up-and-down and eyebrow-raise-then-look-away.
A more judgmental person would describe it as a sneer. I looked down at myself; I looked okay. I was just wearing an overcoat, jeans and a pair of trainers. My hair was a bit shit; it was flying everywhere because of the weather, and to be fair, I was attempting to restrain it with an elastic band I found on the floor. But there weren't holes in my top; I didn't have food down my front (a rarity). What was wrong with this?
But then I looked up and compared my outfit to hers - she was wearing an expensive-looking, on-trend, tailored, Grazia-inspired type of affair and I got it. This lady thought I looked a bit crap.
I was furious. Not because this girl and pushed in front of me (quite literally), or taken the last seat; these things happen on the Underground every day. It’s a fact of life you get used to after about ten minutes of living in London that elbows and crafty positioning are the only way you’re getting to work if there are delays on the line.
But there weren’t, and we were the only two people getting on this carriage. The reason that I was about to do a Michael Douglas in Falling Down is that she had just cemented what I had been suspecting for the last few months; the rise of the Invisible Woman is on the incline, and it's other women who are inflicting the worst damage on their counterparts.
Invisible Women are everywhere now; there have been a number of articles in the last year or so trying to pinpoint the exact age that "previously" vivacious, beautiful, and dare I say, supple women become Invisible to the, ahem, more relevant members of society.
On 11th February last year, the Daily Mail decided it was 50. Less than six months later, the same publication revised their figure to 46. I don’t like these odds.
As a 32-year-old woman, I am being constantly reminded that my time as a useful, attractive member of society is not only waning, but rapidly being readjusted to ensure that by the time I’m 33 I resemble nothing more than a dried up old prune with a rug over her knees, barking at her houseful of cats. I'M FUCKING ALLERGIC TO CATS.
I first started to notice this sort of change in attitude a couple of years ago, when I was in my late twenties. It felt like a slow shift in attentions; where once my opinions were listened to, or respected, they started to be brushed aside as somewhat irrelevant.
This probably wasn’t helped by my job at the time – working for a major record company, constantly surrounded by kids straight out of university, interning their perfectly coiffed heads off. It takes a certain type of person to work comfortably in those surroundings, and the more I stayed there, the less I felt like I belonged.
The number of times I was literally pushed out of the way in the canteen queue by teenage Amazonian queens buying an apple and a sparkling water for their lunch seemed to rise in direct correlation to my conscious decision to have the pie as my meal option.
Things had definitely moved in a direction that I no longer understood when I was taken aside one day by a much younger colleague, who informed me that I “could look so much better, if you got yourself a nice pair of gladiator sandals to wear with that dress instead of those Converse”. I don’t think she meant any malice, but my God that stung.
At what point did it become okay to start addressing me the way I used to speak to my mother in my teenage years? When did I become the clueless barely-thirty-something, who needed fashion advice from the younger generation?
However glib as I might be about this, it hurt. Of course it hurt – no one is immune to the pressure of trying to obtain a perfect version of themselves. And we spend hours and days, buying the latest clothes, restocking the most effective spackle-filler for our wrinkes, sucking our stomachs in and punishing ourselves for breathing in case any additional calories are absorbed through the air, because we all think we need to be better.
Because those around us all seem to be so well turned-out, or that bit thinner, or with that extra bit of whatever it is that turns heads, that we sit around making constant comparisons to things we can’t be. We can’t be them not because they’re better, but because they’re not us.
I used to be extremely concerned about my appearance. I would spend literally hours trying to pick out what to wear. But I don’t do that any more.
I think it’s for a variety of reasons. I need to be comfortable and warm; I don’t dig a lot of the fashion around; I hate shopping. They all contribute a little bit. And I’m completely fine with what I wear. I have my own, if slightly boring, style, and I’m really not bothered about looking a bit plainer, or less dressy, than those I work with.
But when I experience a bit of the Invisible Woman treatment, as I did yesterday, it makes me really angry. And a bit sad. Ladies, I think we can do better, don’t you?
I ended up sat directly across from my self-appointed fashion assessor for the rest of the tube journey home, and spent quite a lot of time trying to catch her eye, but she stared vacantly above my head for the whole of our trip - I had obviously left her thoughts as quickly as I’d arrived in them.
If this is the way we women are going to treat each other now, so be it. But the sad thing is this kind of behaviour will reap what it sows. All these women will hit my age, and if this sort of attitude isn’t changed there are going to be a whole lot of women feeling pretty shit about themselves, whilst leafing through the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home website.
We don’t need to do this to ourselves; so instead of spending next lunchtime scrolling through the sidebar of shame, why don’t you have a chat with that slightly older woman who you’ve never really spoken to, who you don’t think you have anything in common with, and have a conversation. Chances are, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.