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Drooling gawkers missing the real beauty

It's a middle-aged right of passage. It's the moment you become invisible.

It's when you realize that people (people of the opposite sex that is) are no longer looking at you; they're looking through you.

And its even more depressing if they're gawking at your teenage daughter.

For me it happened at the mall. My then 14-year-old daughter and I were shopping, and I was in my usual mom wardrobe of exercise clothes and tennis shoes.

But instead of baggy sweats, I actually had on black pants, with a matching jacket, and an unstained T-shirt, which was even a V-neck.

My better-than-usual attire is why I assumed that the pair of 30-something men were so taken with my beauty that they did a double take as I walked by.

It hadn't happened in a while, but what with my matching jacket and pants and all - did I mention they were black velour? And the fact that I had put on mascara; it was nice to know that - even though I'm married and not trolling for men - I was still good looking enough to attract a second look.

That's when I realized they were staring at my daughter. It was gross and awful on oh-so-many levels.

My first reaction was maternal. What were these guys thinking? I was tempted to run up and poke out their eyes. These guys had to be at least 30, maybe even 35, and they were gawking at a 14-year-old!

It was then that I turned and saw my daughter with eyes anew. Somehow, when I wasn't looking, the beautiful blond little cherub child whose hand it seemed like I had only recently stopped holding, had turned into a beautiful young woman. A young woman whose self-assurance belied her junior high status, and who although oblivious to the stares, was clearly going to be getting them for many years to come.

It wasn't until we got to the car that I fully processed what had happened. I was no longer the cute one. I was the matronly invisible mother, and all the matching sweat suits in the world wouldn't turn me back into a skinny head-turning stunner.

My daughter is 16 now, and I've become quite used to the gawking, although if the droolers look over 20, I consider it my motherly duty to give them an evil glare.

However, it's also my motherly duty to show my daughter that, while male heads may not whip around the moment I walk into a room, I'm still happy with the way I look.

I may not have her washboard abs or long blond hair. But looking great at 45 is different than great at 16, just as looking great at 60 or 70 will be different than 45. But just because most men aren't as immediately biologically drawn to older beauty, doesn't mean that it doesn't exist.

It's odd, and a bit unsettling to see your sweet daughter reflected in the eyes of men. Just as it's odd to realize that the world now looks at you in a different way.

But just as the drooling men can't possibly comprehend my daughter's most beautiful qualities, they don't see mine either.

Because as my husband, and her father will tell you, truly beautiful women are never invisible to the people who love them, no matter what their age.

Snellville resident Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally recognized speaker and the author of "Forget Perfect." Contact her at www.forgetperfect.com.