21 March 2008

So you want to look young, huh?

Warning: This article contains bragging and may seem offensive to readers with low self-esteem.

I have a dirty little secret.
I look far too young for my age. It's true, too many people mistaken me for someone in their late teens.

It's a bother. Granted a good portion of women, including me, theoretically want to look young or at least, maintain youthful skin. But do we really understand the implications of looking young?

Appearing 2 or 5 years younger than your actual age can be reassuring, especially if the insecurities of turning thirty have kicked in. But appearing 10 to 15 years younger when you are turning 33 this year, can be a curse.

That's my life at the moment.

When I was 31, I tried getting into the Gold Coast casino in a green, bareback, halter neck dress. The security guard nearly had a fit after seeing my Id card.

"What's your secret?" he asked.

"Good genes", I mused.

I tend to think that having your driver's license examined by an ogling bouncer is not valid evidence that I have the package of an 18 year old. So I look for other guinea pigs to test my hypothesis. I monitor the attitude that uni students have towards me whenever I attend classes.

Uni students. They can smell it if you're a mature age student. They only have to look at your clothes and they know. Through their knowledge of popular culture, they can identify your generation in what you say, in the tone of your voice and in the way you carry yourself. They know. Obviously, if you have good skin and hair you can deceive them but ultimately, they will find out that there is something fishy about you. Uni students fresh from schoolies are youth incarnate and so in theory, you don't stand a chance.

All this doesn't worry me. Bare legs, teeny waists, luscious hair, rainbow wardrobes, painted toenails in cutsy sandals, toned arms dangling from barely-there singlets...I can do all that and go unnoticed. Thing is, I'm 32.

At university, during some of my tuts, we play ice breakers. The other day, we had to say two lies and one truth about ourselves to the person beside us. They had to guess which were the lies out of the three statements. One of my lies was that I was 25 years old. It was picked up as a lie...not because I looked 'much older' but because the guy thought I couldn't possibly be 25. I've tried this with girls too and they didn't believe I was in my thirties.

What fun!

But hold. There is a dark side and I now come to it.

When I was 28, flying Air New Zealand, I had the misfortune to be seated by the emergency door. You know...that plane seat where there is a latch and a little warning message indicating that you must be an adult to sit there so that you can open the door in case of an emergency.

That didn't go down well.
In the middle of the flight, I am interpellated by an air hostess:
- Excuse me, how old are you?
I smile.
- I'm 28.

I suppose I was wearing a pink jumper and I must have looked pubescent. What happens next is enough to annoy anyone who expects a little respect. The air hostess remains standing in the middle of the aisle, one arm on my seat as she rolls her eyes to the ceiling. Then, growing impatient, she repeats the question, "How old are you?"

Is she kidding?

So I flatly reply with my own impertinent question.

- Are you asking me my age??

- Yes.

I thought she was going to slap me!!
I'm now irritated and I don't bother to hide it.

- I'm 28!

She doesn't believe me and gives me the eye before sighing and moving off.
This upsets me. I mean, what's with her? Just because she looks like an old cow.

So there you have it. There are disadvantages to looking young.
If I thought being an adult would free me from age discrimination, I was wrong.
I find that I am often ignored, dismissed, snapped at in a condescending tone and judged. Think about it, because of my appearance, I am assumed to have had little life experience and to not really know what I am talking about. If, as an experienced 32 year old, I say something with weight, it is taken lightly. That's age discrimination for you.

I'm guessing there is light at the end of the tunnel. Well, sort of.
When I'll be 50, I'll look 35.
When I'll be 60, I'll look 45.
This will hopefully delay my entry into official old age and I may not experience old age discrimination until I am much older.

But you see what the problem is don't you. What is the point of wanting to look young when society remains ill equipped, both psychologically and culturally, to relate well with people of different ages without insulting, misjudging or unfairly treating them? With the manner that society operates as a whole, being a particular age (or gender for that matter) can hurt. And similarly, not looking your actual age can actually hurt too and make you wish you were no different to everyone else.

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