I’m shopping in a lingerie store one day. I bring my items up to the counter and the first thing the cashier says to me is, “You’re married?”
“Excuse me?” I say, thinking I must have misheard her.
“I noticed your wedding ring, are you old enough to be married?” she says in a tone akin to Regina George from Mean Girls.
“I’m probably about 10 years older than you think I am,” I reply, never knowing how to handle this situation.
“Well, how old do you think I am?” the cashier replies. I’m in a good mood that day so decide to humor her and we play the age guessing game. She guesses I am 21, which is more than most people guess. But wait a minute, is that adding on the 10 years I told her to earlier?
I’m bringing my car in for a carwash and detailing service. As the staff clean my car, I notice they are frequently whispering and looking over at me while smirking. When my car is ready and I am about to get in and leave, one woman turns to me and says, “How old are you?”
Without thinking I tell them, and she replies, “Oh, we didn’t think you were old enough to have a car.” Wait, what? Sixteen-year-olds are old enough to have a car. I leave with a clean car, feeling completely embarrassed and self conscious.
I am leaving our apartment to go for a walk with my daughter. In the elevator, a woman gestures to my daughter and asks, “Your sister?”
I am 31 years old. I have been married for 4 years, have a 3 year old daughter, and have a professional career to which I went to university for 6 years. Yet when I go out in public, people consistently think I am a teenager. These are only a few of the scenarios I encounter monthly, weekly, sometimes daily. I have had neighbors gawk at me with their mouths open so wide in disbelief that I am old enough to own a home and have a husband. Door to door salesmen and charity workers ask if my parents are home when I open the door. I even get it from my daughter when she says, “Why didn’t you grow up big and tall like Daddy?” and “Mommy didn’t eat her vegetables.”
I don’t blame them, I am trim and petite at 5 foot 1.5 inches. Most sixth graders are taller than me. My daughter was already half my height by 2 years old. I have great genes with few wrinkles. I have oily teenager-like skin and am constantly reading teen magazines for tips on dealing with breakouts, while my peers are investing in anti-aging moisturizers. Okay, I admit it. I look YOUNG. I look younger than I am. But do I look so young that its unbelievable that I drive, am married, have a career, have a child, *insert something else adults do here*? Do I look so young that I deserve to be hassled about it in public? I don’t think so.
When I complain to friends about this, their response is always “take it as a compliment!”, “I wish!”, and “You’re so lucky!” My friends have given me all kinds of advice to avoid being mistaken for a teenager. I have been told to wear more expensive purses and bags, because teens can’t afford Coach bags, right? When shopping I have been told I should buy clothes that someone 10 years older than me would wear. I always avoid places like the liquor store, where age is guaranteed to come up. I have even gotten a bit superstitious and irrational, throwing away clothes I wore after a situation, thinking that it was the sweater that made me look young. I have stopped wearing hoodies, and never wear colored nail polish.
I can have a sense of humor about this at times, with friends and loved ones who mean well. We joke that my 6' 3" husband is a single dad with two daughters. It even comes with some perks, like the time I got charged the youth price at a movie theatre. I laugh all the way to the bank when I can fit into cheaper youth sized clothes.
I never know how to respond to these women that ask me my age, that give me a disgusted and shocked look when I tell them. Do I laugh? Get angry? Are my friends right, should I thank them?
No. They are not making a light joke, but I know they are not purposely being mean either. But they are definitely NOT giving me a compliment. They are always condescending. I don't leave the interaction feeling uplifted and good about myself, I leave feeling humiliated and self conscious about my looks.
What bothers me most about these women’s comments is that my age and looks shouldn’t be up for public comment. I didn’t ask for their opinion about my face, height and martial status when I went to go buy a new bra. In fact, before the lingerie cashier made me feel like a small Oompa Loompa, I thought I was looking really pretty, professional and put together that day!
To a certain extent I am oversensitive about it. It’s more than that I simply look young. It's a reminder to me that I look different. I look different from them. I look different from what society views a professional, a wife, a mother, and an adult should look like. (This is when I start singing Skee-lo, “I wish I was a little bit taller....”).
Then I finally figured it out. These women, just like my “supportive” friends, have no idea how they are making me feel. They assume I will be more than happy to hear they didn’t think I looked my age. Because, it’s only offensive if someone thinks you look older than you are, right? Wrong.
Now if someone directly asks my age I say, "You go first." My age and looks shouldn’t be up for public comment if theirs isn't either. It immediately shows them how unpleasant and uncomfortable they are making me when they ask me my age. Most people won’t tell me their age, and it stops the conversation from going further. If you don’t have anything nice to say folks, don’t say anything at all.
I know everyone, from the women who gawk at me to my friends, are all trying to be supportive, and they mean well. I know that it feels awful when people think you are older than you really are. But that doesn’t automatically mean that looking young is a compliment. I also know that one day, it will be a compliment. I look forward to the day when a woman tells me I look great after she finds out my age. Until then, I have a great excuse to go buy another expensive purse.