No, I’m not in high school…or college

“I’m actually older than I look.”

Words which have escaped my mouth both as a reaction and as a preemptive action, on too many occasions to count or keep track of. I look young. When I was a junior in high school, someone assumed I was in 6th grade. Just yesterday, someone said they thought I was 19. The week before, someone else assumed I was in high school.

“I graduated from university 2 1/2 years ago.”

“What?! I thought you were in high school. You look so young.”

“I have a master’s degree!”

“How old are you?!”

Twenty-four. I am twenty-four. I’m not old, but I pay my own rent and taxes and health insurance. I’ve been to college. I’ve been to grad school. I am, quite technically, an adult.

And yet, on a consistent basis, people think I’m on average 5 years younger than I actually am. Maybe this is because I don’t walk around in high heels and power suits. But I do try not to dress like a high schooler. When I shop for clothes, I think, “Would one of my students wear this?” If the answer is yes, put it back on the rack!

What’s more, WITHOUT fail, people tell me, “Be happy you look so young! You should be so grateful! Just imagine when you’re older and you still look young!”

I get it – when I’m 34 I’ll look 29 and feel smokin’ hot. Well, when I’m 34 I’ll be thankful for that. Right now, looking 5 years younger is the opposite of fun or convenient.

For one, it’s not convenient to look the same age as your students. People tend to assume you are a student, and then things get awkward.

Think of how you would carry on a conversation with a teenager versus someone in their mid-twenties. (I’m not disparaging teenagers; it’s just a different stage of life.) You’d talk differently to the teenager, regard them differently, expect something different from them.

Until recently, I thought the lowball estimation of my age was dispelled once people started talking to me, but recently people have been expressing disbelief after we’ve been talking. It leaves me wondering, what is it about how I look, act, and talk that makes people think I’m so young? (Besides the fact that I’m short.)

I think this is such a sore spot with me because I was the youngest child in a family/extended family of intellectual people and few children. I wanted desperately to be taken seriously!

I have a visceral reaction to the idea of trying to change myself in order to be perceived differently, with the exception of being conscious that my behavior should be a reflection of Christ. So I’m not really into making a great effort to be perceived as my real age. A small effort, maybe. Mostly I’m just frustrated, and I’m asking you, dear reader, not to tell me to be grateful for what is actually unhelpful to me right now.

But if you do have any ideas on how to seem older…


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