Photographed by Julia Robbs.
I don't think I look super young for my age, but the rest of the world seems to disagree. It comes up almost daily. Last week, I got onto a packed elevator on the way out of the office and a man in a suit said, "What is this floor, an all-girls high school?" (Answer: No, we're a digital media company.) Someone on a photo shoot recently asked me, "You're 19, right?" (25.) And, perhaps the most frequently asked question: "Is this your first job out of college?" (It's my third.)
Of course, I know 25 isn't not young. But, it's not exactly 19, either. I'm told it's a good thing when people think I'm younger than I am, as though I'm supposed to say "thank you" when they assume I'm a teenager.
The problem is that while our culture encourages us to hang on to youth for as long as possible and by any means necessary, young women often aren't taken seriously and are typically met with doubt about their professional or life experiences. So, no, I don't feel it's a compliment. It's frustrating, not flattering — but our weird, youth-obsessed world says that's what we should all strive for. To me, it feels backward. Why should we want to look young if young people are assumed to not have much credibility?
Women who are older than me keep telling me that as soon as I start to age, I'll miss my youthful appearance. One aesthetician I've been seeing for my acne is on a campaign to get me to wear less foundation. "It makes you look so much older," she says, missing the point that I'm trying to look older. Her misunderstanding makes sense given that signs of aging are treated as flaws by the beauty industry. Even the phrase "anti-aging" feels hostile, if you think about what it implies.
But, if older women are treated like the aging process makes them imperfect and younger women are treated like they don't know anything, what age are we supposed to be if we want the respect we deserve? Is there any "right age," or are we just forever jumping through hoops?
It's truly a double-edged sword, and we need improvements on both sides: There should be more respect for the experience and competency of women of all ages, based on more than just our appearances or the year when we were born. People also need to stop assuming that looking young is a universal goal. I don't want to be told to be grateful for the daily comments about my baby face. And, in five to 10 years, I don't want to be told that I need to start using an anti-aging cream. Neither is a compliment, and neither is your duty to tell me.
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