Monday, August 13, 2012

That Age Old Question

Hello my poor, patient, neglected reader. I am writing to you from Limbo, where I have been languishing lo these last few weeks. Fear not! I shall return to you soon enough.

But in the meantime, I wanted to drop in and talk about something that happened to me today. Something I can't get out of my head.

This summer I've been working at my Alma mater as an Admissions Interviewer. I spend all day listening to students and asking them questions. After an interview is done, I walk the student back to the lounge. Normally the parents jump to their feet, maybe ask me a couple questions.

This afternoon I had a father ask, "So, you graduated from here?"

"Yes," I said, "In 2004."

He blinked. "2004!? That's...EIGHT years ago!"

Great. Look who can do mental math and essentially announce my age to the entire room of waiting parents. "Yes."

"But—how can that be? You're like...twelve!"

Let me pause this conversation for a second to say that this isn't the first time someone has been surprised by how young I look.

It's true, I have a bit of a baby face I guess. (I'm still waiting for my birthday cheekbones) I'm also pretty short: just about 5' 3" in shoes. What I'm saying is, I'm used to this.

However, what I'm not used to and will never be used to are the men I don't know very well who seem to think that asking me my age or commenting on it in public is perfectly socially acceptable.

And possibly even complimentary.

You may be thinking, "But it IS a compliment! He thought you looked younger than you are. Why are you complaining, Jennifer? Why are you looking for faults that aren't there?"

The thing is, it's not a compliment to me. And I don't have to consider it one. And I don't have to be thrilled or flattered that a middle aged man exclaimed that I looked like a TWELVE YEAR OLD in a professional setting thereby totally undermining my authority.

And making me feel very young and very small.

I wish I had drawn myself up, looked him in the eye, smiled coldly, and said, "What an odd thing to say to the woman who just interviewed your son and has a very large part to play in whether or not he is accepted to this highly competitive institution."

But no, my manners kicked in and I said something polite instead, a deflective joke.

I've had women that I've known for months politely ask me how old I am, if it comes up in conversation. But men, they just seem to think it's fine, normal in fact, to ask me bluntly how old I am when they've never even met me before. And why? Because I LOOK young. So it's fine, you guys. It's a COMPLIMENT.

I do not dress like a twelve-year-old, or a seventeen-year-old, or even a twenty-two-year-old woman. I dress my age. And I definitely don't ACT like a twelve-year-old. I don't think I really acted like one when I was actually that age. And I do not consider it a compliment to be compared to a tween or teen. It's rude and demeaning.



  1. When I was younger, people thought I was older than my age. Now that I am 28, it depends. When I started teaching, I was mistaken for a student a lot of the time, but I also get a lot of people being surprised that I only graduated high school 10 years ago. But I think that's due to the environment, though (there are a lot of students around my age).

    In the scene you describe, he could have responded in so many better ways to that.

  2. And I don't have to be thrilled or flattered that a middle aged man exclaimed that I looked like a TWELVE YEAR OLD in a professional setting thereby totally undermining my authority.

    Yes! I think that's the key thing they don't understand. Comparing women to children takes away the authority we have to work so hard for. And really, what a ridiculous thing for him to say. You're obviously not twelve.

    I don't think there is a way to win this game. If you looked older than your age (or if you just were older), people would say you were too old to be in touch with youth, so you couldn't possibly relate to potential students.

    1. I guess I look my age know and am happy to be in my late twenties BUT when I was younger I had some traumatic age related experiences... My youngest sister Katrina is 11 years younger than me (she's the yougest of four and I'm the oldest) and when I was thirteen I looked like I was in high school. I went through peuberty early which was also traumatic when you really don't want to stick out in middle school. When my mom, sister, and I would go to the grocery store my mom would be in another aisle looking for something so I'd stand with my sister who was small enough to sit in the shopping cart. One of two things would happen: 1. I'd get glared at for looking like a teenaged mom by other adults or 2. some little old lady would remark in a loud voice "what a beautiful baby you have.", both of which are moritfying for a 13 year old girl. So I can see your frustration, mine was just the opposite experience.

  3. Dude. I wish you'd said that thing to him--while videotaping his response. I bet that would have been a good one for Facebook.

    Yeah, when this happens to me, I just shoot back, "How old do I look?" Then people usually realize they've gotten themselves into trouble.