THE MIDDLE AGES : The Voice of the Invisible Woman

By Susan Reimer
The Baltimore Sun

As women age, we begin to fade from view, moving from vibrant, to translucent to invisible.

To young husbands and little children, women shine like a sun at the centre of their universe.

Soon enough, those same husbands only pretend to listen when we speak. Those same children dismiss us with a flip of the wrist.

And the rest of the world, full of people who might have once thought we were pretty or interesting, does not even see us when we pass.

Susan Boyle struck more than a blow for those invisible women. She struck 30 million blows.

She is the spinster lady from a little village in Scotland who braved an eye-rolling, mocking audience and a dismissive panel of judges on Britain’s Got Talent and brought them all to their feet – and nearly to tears – with her beautiful voice.

Since her performance, which rated three thumbs up from the judges and a chance to win the  competition and sing for the queen, her story – complete with the snorts of laughter and taunts from the audience that were suddenly silenced – has been viewed more than 30 million times on YouTube.

She looks like all of us invisible women.

She is overweight. Her hair is graying. She didn’t wear makeup or wax her lip and eyebrows. Her shoes, her dress, even her dark hose, gave new meaning to the description “frumpy.” If Susan Boyle ever drew a second look in her life, it was to be ridiculed.

She chose to sing I Dreamed a Dream from the score of Les Miserables, a song that is the  lament of a woman whose dreams of love and happiness as a young girl have been extinguished by time.

Among the sad lyrics are these: “I had a dream my life would be/ So different from this hell I’m living/ So different now from what it seemed/ Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”

Boyle postponed her dream of singing to return home to care for her ailing mother. But she made the woman a promise that she would make something of her talent, and after Bridget Boyle died at 91 two years ago, the youngest of her nine children took the brave step of auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent, a real meat-grinder of a show.

The notoriously churlish talent judge, Simon Cowell, took one look at her as she walked on stage in front of a Glasgow audience of 3,000, and you could see his barely concealed mockery and his impatience. He looked like a man who was about to waste three minutes of his wonderful life.

Then Boyle began to sing.

Now there is word of a record deal, the American media  have found her and there are network cameras in her tiny Scottish village of Blackburn, a place where she was liked well enough but not treasured, certainly.

At 47, with no job and no lover – she confessed she’s never been kissed – Boyle was at least translucent, if not invisible.

But her performance is so beautiful and her story such a feel-good moment that I am willing to guess than many of the millions of hits are from women like me, invisible women, who click on it again and again to see  Boyle blossom and to take some comfort from her triumph.

Much has been made since her success that one shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. And that this woman is beautiful on the inside. Everyone is astonished that such a beautiful voice could come with such plain packaging. People are saying that if she were a pretty young thing, she wouldn’t have gotten all this attention. She might not have gotten a second look.

Kind of an irony, don’t you think?

But if you are a woman of a certain age, you know what it is like not to get a second look. Now all of the invisible women have a patron saint in Susan Boyle, a woman who stepped from the shadows, holding a dream she had buried long ago, and onto the world’s stage.

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