What would you do if your secret power was invisibility?
February 4, 2023 7:02 AM   Subscribe

I am invisible. By demographic, as well as by personal demeanor, I suppose. (Female, early 60s, average looks, build and grooming, introverted but not silent.) People tend to not notice me in a crowded room, and people I've met/interacted with more than once often fail to remember we've already been introduced. It occurs to me that there must be some way to leverage this quality. What would you do?

I'm reminded of a great scene from the TV show Six Feet Under, where Kathy Bates, playing a mousey middle-aged woman, embarks on a shop-lifting spree. She remarks that she won't be caught, as no one "sees" middle-aged women. (Alas, I can't find a clip.) But short of taking up a life of petty crime, is there a way to benefit from this quality?

Not really looking for "personal presence" recommendations, nor information on the power of introverts - maybe another day.

Either professional or personal contexts are welcome.
posted by mama penguin to Human Relations (20 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I have a similar skillset and I get some use out of it by being my more visible friends' backup at events. No one really notices me and I can pay attention to the conversational flow and patterns and, for the "famous"-ish ones, it's an absolutely flawless way to separate the starfuckers from the reasonable people. This would require you to be in a job/social circle where you end up in these layers, though - either personal-assistant work or something in entertainment, probably.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:05 AM on February 4 [3 favorites]

Spy or private investigator. You can observe and eavesdrop. You can also team up with a gregarious Phryne-Fisher=type to draw attention to where you want.
posted by meijusa at 7:07 AM on February 4 [10 favorites]

Solve crime.
posted by Toddles at 7:16 AM on February 4 [5 favorites]

Like you, I'm very average looking and -- let's just say it-- white and middle class appearing. As people have alluded to already, it's easy to observe people and gain trust when you fit into this category. A lot of the writers I know are/present themselves in this way. Whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, it's good to be able to get people's secrets out of them, whether by eavesdropping in a coffee shop or on an airplane, or when you are actually talking to someone and trying to find stuff out. There's almost nothing you can't apply this skill to, though.
posted by BibiRose at 7:35 AM on February 4 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I am going to think of a good answer just so I can link to this A Black Lady Sketch Show sketch: Invisible Spy. The sequel.

So now I'm going to say: I hope you consider becoming an actor. I would love to see you in, well, anything where you have a lot of screen time. If the "person" isn't so prominent, the material and the emotions are more likely to come through. Also, truly, I think people really benefit from seeing non-"actor type" people moving in the world. Just by being unusual in that context, you would be fresh and fascinating, at least to me.

In case this sounds whimsical -- it's not. This is something I've been thinking about for a long time.
posted by amtho at 7:44 AM on February 4 [10 favorites]

You could be the next Margo Martindale. But maybe don't launch into a life of crime.
posted by SPrintF at 7:54 AM on February 4

If you're the adventurous and/or curious sort, you could try wandering into restricted access places (backstage at a concert, past construction barriers, into the back rooms of buildings, etc). You'd have to assess what you'd do if confronted/your comfort level with being caught.
posted by carlypennylane at 8:45 AM on February 4 [13 favorites]

Best answer: As a middle-aged white lady-appearing person, I always kind of admired the lady who snuck onto international flights (free NYT link).
posted by matildaben at 8:57 AM on February 4 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Echoing restless_nomad above: chief executives, elected officials, diplomats, celebrities, and other power brokers who have to do a lot of high stakes meetings, negotiations, appearances, and etc will pay you a lot of money to just be around with them, observe everything smartly, and let them know what they need to know. Not only will they pay you big bucks for this sort of thing they will be rightly grateful to you to a profound degree and often exceptionally generous and loyal in other ways as well. And if the things they are working on or representing also align with your values you will find the use of your super power in this context exceptionally personally rewarding as well.

Your power should be thought of as more than just being invisible: the invisibility also grants you superpower skills at observation.
posted by desert exile at 8:57 AM on February 4 [12 favorites]

Be an anti-Karen if you see one haranguing a worker—Karens will assume you’re one of them so you’ll have the element of surprise. Film the police. Intervene in harassment situations when it’s safe to—e.g., if a gross man is bothering a young girl on the subway, get between them and talk to the girl as if you’re her aunt or neighbor.

Absolutely wander on to film shoots, first class lounges, private rooms.

Be a good listener at work; ask leading questions and people will tell you EVERYTHING. Particularly people in power because executives are always looking for allies and you have to be perceived as completely non-threatening to be an ally.
posted by kapers at 10:37 AM on February 4 [26 favorites]

If you see an interaction with a citizen and a police officer, subtly film the whole thing in a single long wide shot (don't zoom because you might miss things, don't pause recording because unedited footage is more believable). If things goes badly, try to find the victim or their family (often there will be posts online looking for witnesses), and give them a copy of the footage.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 11:02 AM on February 4 [4 favorites]

Magician’s assistant.
posted by miles1972 at 1:57 PM on February 4

carlypennylane has a great suggestion. My late father-in-law was the most stereotypical older white guy and delighted in not so much sneaking into places as sailing into them on the wave of his "the man"-ness. I imagine you could wander into all sorts of places. If anyone asks someone told you to go that way to the restrooms, gift shop, exit, etc.
posted by Iteki at 2:00 PM on February 4 [1 favorite]

I swear I once read about a group of middle-aged and older women (most likely in the UK) who were taking advantage of their invisibility to commit all kinds of direct action but I’ll be damned if I can remember exactly what it was they were doing, or find anything about it online now.

The thing that’s most likely in my mind is that went round slapping “You park like a c*nt” stickers on cars that deserved them, or something like that.
posted by penguin pie at 2:01 PM on February 4

Industrial espionage.
posted by armoir from antproof case at 4:32 PM on February 4

vetting potential employees
posted by amtho at 10:57 PM on February 4

Volunteer as a human rights observer
posted by trig at 1:20 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]

Mystery shopper? Or any kind of reviewer-type job where people aren't supposed to know you're a reviewer, really.
posted by snusmumrik at 6:23 AM on February 5 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My brother was a store manager in a premium high street clothing retailer. We were chatting in an elevated area of the store overlooking the aisles when he said "Don't stare but that woman is our chain's top undercover store detective. She catches more shoplifters than the others put together."

He had to point her out to me twice because she was indeed invisible, fitting your self-description well. Once I started watching her, I realised her behaviour was very distinct. She would move into a position where she could observe someone out of the corner of her eye, spend a short time checking them out and then dash over to the next person. In a few minutes she'd scrutinised everyone in that part of the shop and moved on.

Although her darting behaviour was completely different from everyone else in the shop, I hadn't even noticed her before my brother pointed her out and I consider myself fairly observant. I realised that there was a whole category of people my 20-something self had been overlooking and it's a lesson that stayed with me.

I'm sure there are other requirements to being a great store detective than just being invisible, but it's a huge asset in that profession.
posted by Busy Old Fool at 12:57 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]

Not a direct answer but you might find a kindred spirit in Alice B. Toklas. She lived first in her brother's shadow and then in Gertrude Stein's (they were partners and Stein wrote her "autobiography") before finding her voice late in life. I love this poem about her:

My Trouble, by Diane Wakoski

my trouble
is that I have the spirit of Gertrude Stein
but the personality of Alice B. Toklas;
craggy, grand
stony ideas
all I can do
is embroider Picasso's drawings
and bake hashish fudge.
I am poor
and don't have very much to say
am usually taken for
posted by headnsouth at 7:23 AM on February 8 [2 favorites]

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