No, Looking Young Is Not a “Good Thing” (And Why You Shouldn’t Say It Is)

13 Aug

I’m 40 years old, and I look like I’m in my mid-20s. I’m not trying to brag, because I don’t believe this is anything to brag about. It’s more frustrating than anything.

It’s been a thing probably my whole life. Certainly my entire adult life. I’m 5’2,” a stature indicative of someone not fully grown. I have a youthful face. Even my voice, on the phone, sounds like I could be a teenager.

For as long as I’ve been correcting people who inaccurately assumed my age, I’ve had to hear them all say, “Oh, it’s a good thing.” Or, “You’ll be glad when you’re older.”

I guess I’m “older” now, being officially middle-aged, and I’m far from glad.

When you think about it, what good is there, really, to looking younger than we really are? All I see is vanity. Vanity is not something I consider a value nor a virtue.

Here’s why my youthful appearance has been problematic.

  1. It makes dating difficult. It’s hard to, “out in the wild” (i.e. not on the internet) meet an age-appropriate person to date when I don’t look my own age. I would like to date someone my age. Instead, I draw the eye of men much younger, or even worse, I draw the eye of men my age who would like to date much younger women. Not that there’s anything wrong with age differences. I’ve had as much as a 22-year age difference in my own relationships, but I’m not interested in dating a man who’s interested in dating a 24-year-old. Just sayin’.
  2. I get terrible customer service. There is an intersectional detriment to being a 20-something female consumer, which is my appearance. When I last bought a sofa, I went to five different furniture stores before a sales person even approached me. One time when I purchased a car, I brought along a male acquaintance, and the salesman talked more to him than to me. When I walk into a restaurant alone, hostesses are often dismissive. Hotel desk staff have outright ignored me on multiple occasions, and one even admitted they thought I was waiting for someone else to meet me.
  3. I lack the credibility that I’m due. In professional as well as personal situations, I am often granted only the credibility of one just out of school, not someone with decades of adult life experience. It was an additional challenge commanding respect in a classroom when I was a teacher, on stage when I was a comedian. Audiences didn’t want to go along with my material about divorce because they couldn’t believe I’d authentically experienced it. High school students tried to treat me as a peer, not an authority.

There is an even bigger picture.

When you tell me it’s a “good thing” that I look so young, not only is it dismissive of the difficulties and discrimination I have experienced and will continue to experience, but also it is affirming a toxic ageist and sexist culture.

This isn't just current events. In on my of my favorite movies, starring two of my favorite actors, Cary Grant is a

This isn’t just current events. In Charade (1963), one my of my favorite movies, starring two of my favorite actors, Cary Grant is a “distinguished” 59-year-old courting a “youthful” 33-year-old Audrey Hepburn.

I’ll point out here that this is largely an imposition on women. Look at how Hollywood downgrades female actors (ooooh I didn’t use “actress”….) over the age of 35 to supporting roles while male actors continue in leading roles, their names over the title on the poster, drawing in big crowds at the box office — and hooking up with those 20-something-year-old hot new starlets — well into their 70s.

This culture that youth is the ideal of appearance for women emphasizes a mindset that young women are worth more than older women. That women lose value as we age. This even feeds the ageism and sexism in medicine and mental health treatment.

It’s more than just losing representation in hit television shows that cast only (size 2) 25-year-olds as elite doctors and criminal profilers (I’ll take the 50-year-old when my life depends upon it, pretty please). It’s losing access to essential services, and it’s losing access to self-esteem and self-love.

I won’t even get started on the sexualization of children, but that’s on this roadmap, too.

And it’s telling all women — all humans — that we need to be that Hollywood ideal. I don’t feel like I can thrive taking my pop-cultural compliance à la carte. When you tell me how young I look, and I say “thanks,” I’ll look below that “youthful” box I just checked off, down the list of all the boxes I miss, being too short, too heavy, too disabled, and I’ll feel all the ways I fail to fit the standard.

I think we’re all much better off saying “no thanks” instead.

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9 thoughts on “No, Looking Young Is Not a “Good Thing” (And Why You Shouldn’t Say It Is)

  1. People who have never looked younger than there ages are the worst people to speak to about your problem. You are going to have to reach out to people who are in the same boat as you.

  2. I’m 52 and look around 34. It sucks. I work in a grocery store. People have asked me really dumb questions…like can I cook? Or..say..you may not remember this…and yes I do remember, I was there. My job is very physical and people assume I’m younger so I get asked to do more. Today, my arms hurt from cutting meat. I am so tired.

    • You know, that’s one I didn’t think of — that more is expected of you because you “look” younger, but yes, that’s true! I’m sorry to hear people are treating you like that. Not cool at all.

  3. I’m 62 and look about 40 to others I have COPD and mental issues I’m 5ft 2 and weight 125 it’s very hard for me because doctors don’t take me seriously or even the SSA because I can’t walk upstairs or lift and heavy objects and it sucks because I can’t work all my prior work has been warehouse and unload trks running heavy machine operator I’m so lost and as far as being in a relationship that has been very hard men my age look like my dad so jealousie has caused domestic violence to me I have been single for about 8 plus years I don’t have any friends because woman my age end up being jealous of me and I m a very good loyal friend IDK what to do

    • Aw, Leslie, that sounds so rough! I can’t give medical or SSA advice, but I have heard stories of folks who haven’t found the right fit for a physician and have better luck when they switch it up. And believe me, relationships are hard no matter what. Yeah, the age difference look is really tough. That’s why I wrote this article. But I guess it’s getting more and more accepted in reality and in appearances. As for friends … well, I am fortunate now to have friends of all different ages, from 20s to 70s, men, women, non-binary folk. I wish for you the same! One of the fastest ways I got a whole crew of close friends was when I got involved in community government and boards. They’re always looking for folks. Maybe that’s an option where you are ….

      Anyway, I wish you the very best! Stay beautiful, stay awesome!

  4. I’m 26 years old and told I look 16 or 18. Unfortunately I deal with this problem every single day. It’s mentally draining and I’m sick and tired of people saying, “You look very young”. They make it seem like it’s a complement when it feels like an insult. I’m not respected for looking very young. I’m never greeted when entering stores. Never told hello at the register and yet people before me and after me are greeted. I’m so fed up at this point because since when is respect only given to people that look like actual adults. Everyone of all ages deserve respect. It’s taking a lot in me to not become a mean and bitter person because of it. How could I even consider getting into the healthcare profession looking young. I’m already judged before I’m given a chance at anything.

    • I’m so sorry to hear you’re going through this. It’s rough. It’s so rough. People just don’t get it. And if you try to explain, they don’t *believe* it. Hang in there. What I have found reassuring over the years is just the generous folks who give me all the credibility in the world once they get to know me and work alongside me. And they’re the ones who actually matter.

      “You’ll love it when you get older,” remains absolutely untrue, however it is *easier* now that I’m older. Maybe because I finally look 30?? (at 44! ha!)

      Thanks for commenting. It’s important to talk about this so it gets to be more believable. I wish you all the best!!!

  5. Same problems as 68 yr old man that looks 45. Heath good too. No wrinkles that I can see. To make thins worse, I let my thick bodied pepper hair grow close to shoulders during pandemic. People always asking for id when buying beer then freaking out. Single and women my age look like my deceased mother at 93. Whenever I run into highschool women peers, they look very old and my gut tells me they get self conscious and hate running into me because how bad they’ve aged compared to me. I don’t want a 20 yr younger companion. Feel alone like I’m left me behind while everyone aging out.

  6. I’m a 45 year old man who has been told I look younger than my age. And, even though I don’t mind the idea of dating women who are in their early 20s. I kind of don’t like it when women that age approach me with possible romantic intentions. Because the ones who do that have let me know that they thought I was probably in my late 20s or early 30s. This after they have asked me how old I am. And, when I have tried to arrange dates with them they told me I was to “Old”.

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