Why I hate looking young for my age


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"Aren’t you a bit young to be getting married?’’ a colleague asked, soon after my partner and I became engaged. ‘‘That all depends on how old you think I am,’’ I responded, feeling a little miffed.

I’m a 28-year-old woman, but I’m often told I could pass for 20 or even a teenager. Before you start rolling your eyes and guffawing, I’d like to point out that it’s not as good as it sounds. Rarely am I in a social or professional situation where I’m not confronted by the ‘‘you’re how old?’’ exclamation.

Waitresses have skipped my glass when pouring wine at restaurant tables and someone at work asked me recently if I was a fan of Justin Bieber. 

Frequently, I feel patronised and underestimated, and being taken seriously can be a challenge.

Recently, for example, I was the only person to be asked for ID by a security guard while away on a work assignment. And during a business meeting, a fiftysomething bloke congratulated me with a warm: ‘‘Well done, kiddo.’’


These sorts of incidents have become so regular that sometimes I even lie about my age, deducting a few years to protect the other person from the potential embarrassment of getting it so wrong.

Last time I had a facial I was tut-tutted for not taking care of my skin and warned against the sun’s ageing effect – because the beautician thought I was 18. Then, after I told her my age, she proceeded to parade me in front of her colleagues and waiting clients, like a sideshow exhibit, asking each of them to guess my age.

Waitresses have skipped my glass when pouring wine at restaurant tables and someone at work asked me recently if I was a fan of Justin Bieber. Each event has dealt my pride a subtle blow, and looking younger than my years has, more often than not, felt demoralising.

Looking young does have some perks. I could still buy a concession ticket to the football and cinema long after leaving high school. My ‘‘mature-age student’’ status hasn’t damaged my street cred with the younger set at university but I’ve also been able to develop a rapport with lecturers and colleagues, who may well consider me mature beyond my years. And, I have good friendships with people of all ages.

I still feel a bit silly discussing my dilemma, in case I’m accused of being overly sensitive, however Meredith Fuller, an occupational psychologist, says I’m not alone in feeling the brunt of the ageist, which is comforting.

‘‘This is a serious issue, it’s not silly at all,’’ she says. ‘‘You’re experiencing a social phenomenon – ageism – which really needs to be addressed, particularly in our workplaces. The only difference is that usually we only hear about ageism when the focus is placed on the other end of the spectrum, when the discrimination is happening to those who are, or appear to be, older.’’

With an ageing population and vibrant younger generations entering occupations and sharing workplaces, Fuller says: ‘‘We all need to be mindful of the assumptions we form, and how we are treating each other. Everyone has the right to project the true sense of who they are.’’

Projecting that true sense is sometimes difficult. Often, my insecurity about my appearance concentrates the problem. It causes me to act less assuredly, and heightens my awareness of others’ reactions. But I know that is my own issue, something only I can tackle. Following Fuller’s advice, I plan to ‘‘fill my space’’ – to walk taller, conduct myself with professionalism and be confident in my aptitude.

Maybe I will appreciate my ‘‘baby face’’ and feel ‘‘genetically blessed’’ when I’m nudging 50, as most who misjudge my age are wont to emphasise. In an epoch of Botox, trout pouts and implants, youth is a desirable commodity, and appearing youthful might well afford me confidence and pleasure in time. For now, though, as I forge a career, plan a wedding and establish life in a new city, it would be lovely to be judged on the merit of my self, rather than the (supposed) measure of my years.

‘‘The most important thing is that you are being heard,’’ Fuller says. ‘‘People should know that by saying, ‘Oh, you lucky thing,’ they’re not listening to you, they aren’t being respectful, they’re actually only trivialising your real concerns.’’ 

Meredith Fuller is the author of Working with Mean Girls: Identifying and protecting yourself from workplace nastiness, published by Viking Penguin.