Sometime over the last few years, a quiet transition took place in my life as a woman-I became invisible. You may already know what I'm talking about. This phenomenon, I'm discovering, is horribly common among the female half of the species. So much so that the mere mention of it can bring tears to a woman's eyes.


My invisibility has nothing to do with lack of a pretty face or lively personality, but everything to do with a formidable acronym called BMI (body mass index). Following my exodus from the corporate world a few years ago, I gradually packed on 25 extra pounds that won't seem to budge no matter what I do.


Just 25 pounds, you say? No, it doesn't put me in the obese category, but it does render me invisible-at least in the state I call home, where golden tans and stick-thin bodies are the high-water mark of beauty.


Pop culture can be a cruel thing, especially when it renders attractive women "invisible" to an opposite-sex world conditioned to Hollywood standards of beauty. This gradual entry into invisible status seemed especially harsh because I had always enjoyed a reasonable amount of male attention-the kind every woman secretly yearns for: sideways glances on the street, a man tripping over himself to hold a door for you, random eye contact with a smile. Was I now undesirable?


I'm not alone in this predicament-not by any means. When I mentioned the "invisible" phenomenon to one friend, she nodded her head slowly. "I know what you mean," she said, her voice suddenly husky as she looked away. My sister could relate too. Over dinner one night, we discussed the invisible phenomenon, and sure enough tears sprang to her eyes. "After a while you just get used to it," she said. "You stop expecting it."


"Expecting what?" I asked.


"Expecting to be looked at."


Imagine our surprise when we took a trip to the North Carolina mountains last fall and caught several men looking our way. "Janet, did you see that?" I whispered as we made our way into a movie theater ticket line. "That man positively stared at you!" She smiled and told me she had noticed; the same thing happened to me. We both chalked it up to easier standards on women in this part of the country and men who actually like curves, God bless 'em. But we don't live in western North Carolina, or some other part of the country where beauty takes less strict forms than it does in the "glamour" states.


Driving back to our hotel, we couldn't stop talking about what had happened at the theater. Later, we found proof positive in an article about differing standards of female beauty. It included a quote from a man in (you guessed it) western North Carolina who said his mountain brethren appreciated women with curves.