Our culture is obsessed with youth. Everywhere you turn we are being sold anti-aging products and shown images of young models with no imperfections. Even the older actors and actresses in film are glamorous with impeccable genes or gifted plastic surgeons.
This month's 10-year challenge that was viral on social media had me thinking. (For those of you who don't know the challenge: post a picture from 10 years ago and one from this year to see how you've aged). Most of the folks who posted pictures hadn't aged much at all or used some good filters. Even I have to admit that a friend took my latest picture and she is very talented at choosing just the right angle. It hid the dark circles under my eyes, it was an acne-free week and the allergy wrinkles I've had for years were surprisingly missing that day.
I have a love-hate relationship with youth. My entire life I have looked younger than my age and, as I aged, it has only gotten worse. Some people may say "better" but that's why I'm writing about youth. I've already given this speech to my hair dresser and anyone else who will listen because I think there is a downside to looking young that people don't discuss. Looking young can negatively affect people's lives if they let it. I'm sure the same goes for looking exceptionally old but I can only speak to my own experience.
So here's my list on why looking young makes life ten times harder:
1.) You're never sexy or beautiful. At best you're always "cute."
2.) You have to work ten times harder than anyone else to be taken seriously in the business or academic world.
3.) You get passed up for promotions because you look too young but then you're passed up for certain jobs when you are older because of your numerical age. This happened to my dad and he STILL looks more than a decade younger. It also happened to me in an interviewing process where I would be leading a large group and they were concerned that my looks might affect my ability to lead.
3.) If you're in theatre/film as I was when I was younger, you get cast in roles that are at least 10 years younger than you which are not only awkward but also not easy to relate to. When I was 26 I played the lead in The Fantasticks and my love interest was 16. Needless to say I refused to kiss him. I was a mom and he was a high school student. Yuck.
4.) As a woman, when you look young (aka baby-faced) you're not as attractive to the men you want to have attracted to you. And the ones that are attracted to you often are looking for women with daddy complexes or are a little pervy. I think back to the two 36-year olds I dated when I was 19 and shudder. I was WAY too young as it was but then add on top of it the fact that I looked younger than my age. Gross! (Now it would be fine but at 19, no way!)
5.) Kids don't take you as seriously. This can be good sometimes. I've noticed my 12-year-old's friends don't seem to act like there is a mom in the room when I'm with them and I hear everything. That part's helpful. But I had to experiment with how to get kids to listen to me when I babysat and even now, with my own kids, I don't think my "stern mom look" works because of the way I look. They just laugh.
6.) You look young so people assume your body is young. Having invisible chronic illnesses is frustrating when people assume you're sprite and full of good health. I look like I'm in good shape but that doesn't mean I feel that way.
7.) You look like you're trying too hard when you get gussied up. I can't wear a lot of makeup because I look like a little kid trying to dress like a grownup but really I end up looking like a whore. It's true. So most of the time I have to go with the natural look and avoid sexy clothes. Nothing is less sexy than a "cute" "girl" wearing revealing clothes. I'm sure there are plenty of people that would disagree but that's how it feels to me.
8.) You get carded everywhere. I'm starting to appreciate it more but it's a pain-in-the-ass to get carded for buying a black-label kombucha when I should clearly look over 21 at this point. I actually have anxiety when purchasing alcohol because I am afraid they are going to card me and I have this irrational fear that they won't believe my id is real. I don't know where this stemmed from but I'm assuming it's from years of people not believing me when I tell them my real age. It's flattering at almost 40 but the opposite when you're in your 20s.
This all probably sounds obnoxious and privileged because I know it's generally still better to look too young than way too old. That doesn't change the way it's made me feel over the years and how it has shaped me. It also doesn't change the fact that I will forever be jealous of women who are perceived as women. I've always looked like a girl.
I will forever be jealous of women who are perceived as women. I've always looked like a girl.
Now that I'm nearing 40, I'm embracing my age and my looks because I know they won't last. But I also grieve a little for never having experienced my 20s and 30s as a woman who was treated as a grown woman. To feel ignored so many times because I looked like a child or a young adult. Maybe that's just misogyny, maybe it's looking young, but I look forward to my 40s in the hopes that I can finally look like the woman I've always been inside.