People tend to read me as younger (sometimes much, much younger) than I actually am. So, while I am a 30-year old who has been working since the age of 15, has 1.25 master’s degrees, and owns her home, a lot of people think I’m 22, have just graduated college, and have no idea how the world works. On a few recent occasions, people have assumed I’m still in high school.
“Oh, you’ll be grateful for that when you’re older,” I hear all the time from middle-aged women.
And sure. If people were just telling me that I look 22 instead of 30 all the time, great. But at least half of the time, they’re not. They’re making an assumption about my age, and then using that assumption as grounds to treat me like a child. Or they’re just being condescending assholes. Spoiler alert, it’s usually men doing this, though women aren’t immune.
(The other half are usually people like one of my library patrons who, for example, asked me excitedly if the 2016 election was going to be my first presidential election. It wasn’t—with one exception, I have voted in every election in which I’ve been eligible to vote, including primaries, since I turned 18 in 2004.)
Last summer, a door-to-door salesman for some power company came up to my house while I was outside with my dogs. He introduced himself and made some small talk, then asked, “Are your parents home?” in a very serious, I-have-real-business-to-conduct-now tone. I cracked up because he looked rather young himself and was trying very hard to appear older and (I guess?) more respectable, and it was obvious the possibility of me being the homeowner had never, not once, crossed his mind.
Then there are people who say things like, “Aren’t you too young to have carpal tunnel?” when I’m wearing a wrist brace for an injury that resulted from extreme gardening, not computer usage. This question (and others like it) are always asked in a condescending tone and with the assumption that youth equals health (it doesn’t, in case that was unclear, and it’s downright rude to ask a complete stranger about their health issues anyway).
Now back to the “You’ll appreciate that when you’re older” nonsense. This response is problematic for several reasons:
- The underlying assumption that age and beauty are somehow related, and that being young equals being more beautiful. Let me just call bullshit on that right now. Older people are beautiful, too, and anyone who tells you otherwise can be damned to a hell in which their every flaw is constantly compared against airbrushed magazine models.
- The underlying assumption that my self-esteem is based on my appearance, and that I need external validation to feel good about myself. Of course, this one isn’t about me at all—it’s about the person saying it. More than likely, they feel insecure about their age and appearance, and they’re projecting that insecurity onto me. I’d much rather have people’s respect than their compliments on how pretty I am.
You know what I’ll really, truly appreciate when I’m older? Hearing that one of my stories, or essays, or novels had an impact on a young person the same way books like Sandman and The Chronicles of Narnia had an impact on me.
No one is going to look at me, makeupless, in jeans and a Star Wars t-shirt, with muddy sneakers and messy hair, and think, “Damn, I’m going to spend my whole life trying to look like her!” And they shouldn’t. They should want to look like themselves. So why should I care what people think I look like? Answer: There is no reason. As long as I’m clean and dressed appropriately for work, it does not matter.
In the same vein, age alone does not determine anyone’s capabilities. I’ve met completely incompetent 50-year-olds and brilliant, wise 20-year-olds. The next time someone asks you if you’re “too young for x,” you can respond with, “Aren’t you old enough to know better than to ask inappropriate questions like that?”