Lucy Mangan

'I feel like I'm invisible in public - and privately, I'm furious at being ignored'

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Lucy Mangan
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Columnist Lucy Mangan on why she just wants to stand in queues, do the shopping and order a drink at the bar without feeling invisible.

"When I was a toddler, my mum used to tread on me all the time because I was so small and quiet she never noticed I was there. Over 30 years later, it is still going on. I have no presence. No bar presence – I’m going to start taking my own drinks to pubs; if I’m invisible, I may as well use it to save money.

No presence in shops – I stand at tills with my arms full of potential purchases while assistants make calls, draw up elaborate plans for the weekend together, give themselves pedicures and then go off for lunch, which is a level of contempt that breaches even the generous allowances set by the 1997 UK Screw You Act which I understand exempts all British retail employees from basic civilities in the exercise of modern capitalism.

And I have no presence anywhere else. I got elbowed in the face in the nursery school queue the other day by another mother and she just stared straight through me obviously wondering what had impeded the progress of her arm through space.

I understand why I have no physical presence. I’m five feet two, too lazy and fond of comfort to wear heels habitually, and possessed of no naturally eye-catching features like glowing skin, massive boobs or long, shiny hair (or, to be fair, six fingers on each hand, a parasitic twin or a vestigial tail, though I would gladly sport any of those in exchange for a response to a plea for a vodka and tonic in time to rejoin my friends before closing time).

That’s fine. But other people as short and averagely haired and tailless as myself manage it. They have attitudinal presence. There is something about them that simply says – without saying anything – “I’m here. I’m a person, as much if not more than anyone else! Extend to me the requisite amount of courtesy and attention and no-one will get hurt.” It is driving me mad. How do they do it? What can I do to remedy my lack? 

If I need to be either taller or louder – well, these seem equally impossible to me and to anyone else built like me, internally or externally. It’s not quite assertiveness training we need. We only want people to pay us an ordinary amount of attention. Literally just recognising us as bodies in the world would do for most of the time.

Is it extrovert training? Maybe I’m overthinking it. Maybe we just need little gavels to bang on counters. But I definitely need something. Because although I am publicly invisible, privately I am incandescent with inexpressible – of course – fury at being ignored. And I’m worried it is building up inside me to an unmanageable degree and will eventually find its own way to be expressed, without my control, and I’ll end up thumping someone to death in the street screaming, “Stop f***ing elbowing me in the f***ing face! Everyone! Stop elbowing me in the f***ing face!”

There must be a better way. My mother eventually resorted to tying an ornamental cowbell her friend had brought back from a holiday in Norway around my neck when I was a toddler so that at least would make some sound when I was in her vicinity. So. Ornamental cowbell. Or gavel. Or fake parasitic twin. I’m determined to get that drink and unfractured face yet." 

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Lucy Mangan