How to Handle Looking Young in the Workplace

It can be a blessing and a curse: You’re petite, baby faced, and you’ve heard pet names like cutie or pumpkin your entire life. For me, I was never bothered by it until I entered the work world and suddenly wanted to be taken seriously. Those years were behind me and it was time to figure out how to look closer to my age and carry myself in a way that proved it.

Many people tell me that looking young is a great problem to have and I’ll be thrilled when I’m 50. Maybe I will be, but I’m focusing on how I feel today. The truth is, I don’t like it when people gasp in astonishment upon hearing that I’m 33 years old. They blabber on about how I could pass for someone in high school or college. To me, it doesn’t feel like a compliment even though that’s often the intention. Depending on the reaction, it can diminish my confidence and be a harsh reminder that I may need to work harder than others when trying to come across as a confident, professional woman.

I also don’t believe that it’s acceptable to make comments about people’s appearance whether it’s positive or negative. It’s always nice to hear a “You look great today” but it’s not appropriate to gawk at how young someone looks or how skinny they are. These can be deeply personal issues and they should be left as that. It would never be appropriate to comment on how old or fat someone looks, right? The same should go for the opposite situations. That’s my take.

So, let’s say you’re like me and you look younger than you are. Here are a few tools to help you combat the issue and feel like the confident, radiant woman you are!

1) Dress professionally: This may sound like a given, but it can be hard to maintain, especially at startups. As the saying goes, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” Try to develop a personal style the hits the right balance of being polished, yet also casual if you work in a casual environment like that.

2) Wear heels: If height is part of your problem and your feet can handle it, wear heels. But always keep a comfortable pair of flats in your bag or desk drawer just in case.

3) Wear the right makeup: Throughout my teens and 20's, I never left the house with more than lip-gloss. I may be an anomaly, but makeup never felt that important to me. As a thirty-something, I now realize it matters and the right makeup, applied the right way can make a big difference. It’s an investment well worth it.

4) Pay attention to your tone, how you speak and how you carry yourself: I’ve always been on the quieter side when I speak, especially in groups. Today, that doesn’t help my cause. The best clothes and makeup won’t help someone who can’t speak up or with confidence and authority. Practice this in front of a mirror at home until you get it right and feel good about it.

5) Stand Up Straight: No, this isn’t your mother talking. Good posture is proven to make a difference in how you look, feel and your overall health. Similar to tone and authority, those who slouch don’t display the same confidence and assertiveness as those who stand up straight and proud. As a side tip, basic yoga classes are helpful to get into this practice on a regular basis.

6) Kill ‘Em With Kindness: If you get comments about your age or anything that diminishes your confidence, find a way to respond that’s professional, keeps the conversation going, and is true to you. Cube Riot’s “Scripts of the Week” are full of suggestions that can give you ideas on how to approach conversations like this. A simple “thank you” can be sufficient, then you can move on.

So there you have it. Looking young and innocent can define you as a kid, but doesn’t have to as an adult. This is how I’ve learned to deal with it, but I’m eager to hear if others are in the same boat and how they handle it.

[Guest Post] // Amy Bernstein is a Startup Marketer who recently relocated from Boston to L.A. and enjoys the sunshine and the thriving atmosphere of what is known as “Silicon Beach”. Follow Amy on Twitter at @aberst.

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