On my 35th birthday, I was asked for ID when purchasing alcohol at the supermarket. I was seriously impressed in some ways, as it’s evidently plausible that I could look half my age to the cashier. But it also felt like an indignity, and an injustice that I have acutely felt in other areas of my life. I have always looked considerably younger than I actually am, with most people that I ask saying I look around 23 at the moment.
From childhood right the way up to the peak of my adult years, I have consistently been perceived as so different in age to the reality that it has had damaging consequences. It’s caused me a lot of problems and held me back in many areas of my life. I see other people travelling through life without the continual questioning and gatekeeping, and I pray for a wrinkle or grey hair to sprout so that I might be treated the same.
The Western ideal of youth and narrowly-defined beauty in women leads to a feeling that youth is preferable and that I shouldn’t complain. But a baby face is only an asset if your function in life is to be looked at and cooed over. And there’s enough of a problem with women not being taken seriously because of their gender and appearance, which is compounded by the notion that women are like children and are routinely infantilised and sexualised because of it. The problem with looking like you’re 23 is that people treat you like you’re 23.
Women today often walk a fine line between looking acceptably feminine and attractive, and being assertive and responsible. It shouldn’t be an either/or, but apparently that’s still how society sees us. Smart or sexy, you can’t have both.
It all began in school, where I was always significantly smaller and weaker than my classmates, from starting school at age 5 right up to leaving high school at 18. I couldn’t keep up in PE lessons, which was a major source of stress and hatred for sport in general. I got bullied because I was an easy target, and teachers treated me like a little kid and assumed I was unintelligent based on my physical appearance. I thought that upon reaching my full adult height, things would change. I was wrong.
As a teenager I hated that I was so under-developed compared to the other girls. I’d get…