Are Genetics Holding You Back?

Over the last few years, I’ve become ever more interested in the world of psychology – how our minds work, how personality types determine our social functioning, and the reasons behind why a comment made to one person may get laughed off, and made to another may cause them to break down in tears. I’ve been spellbound by the behaviours of introverts and extraverts, and lap up anything I can get my hands on that leads to a better comprehension of myself, and of the world around me. More knowledge leads to more understanding, which leads to more confidence, right? Throughout childhood and adolescence, I didn’t understand why people did the things they did, and my natural reaction was one of opposition. I’d like to think that now, halfway to thirty, with a bit of education as my weapon, I can face the world a little more prepared, understand actions a little better – and deal with situations in a much more adult way. 

But for all the studying and human understanding in the world, there will always be something that lies beyond the realm of our control: our genetic makeup, and how the world reacts to it. It’s no secret I have issues with body image. It’s no secret that the majority of people do. My problem is that I it’s something I can’t control. With relationships, personal struggles, fears or inner monologues – everyone can consciously make a choice to deal with things differently as the situation requires. We even do it subconsciously every day – we’ll leave the office wishing our boss a delightful evening, in our button-up shirts and pencil skirts, only to get home, change into pyjamas, and start cursing like a sailor, because our target audience is different. We act differently depending on who we’re with so we can best fulfill the image we want the other person to have of us. But what happens when it’s something you can’t control?  

For my entire adult life, I’ve encountered one situation repeatedly: Based on how I look, people think I’m far younger than I actually am, and consequently react according to their preconceptions. I don’t get taken seriously. I’m almost a decade over the legal drinking age and get ID carded every time. In my early twenties, I worked a reception job, and had people come in asking if I was “the boss’s daughter”, thinking I was on work experience through  high school while someone else ran the show. A couple of years later in a similar position, I even had someone refuse to deal with me “because I didn’t look old enough”, and actually request someone who was “at least forty” – who gave them the exact same information I already had.  In facilitating workshops, or teaching classes, I have the hardest time because all my students are older than me – but an even harder one because I have to fight their initial impression that I can’t possibly be old enough to be a) in a position of authority, and b) know what the heck I’m talking about. It’s been my biggest roadblock my entire professional life: looking like I’m younger than a high school grad makes people not take me seriously.

I try to look more “adult” in the workplace. Where others are in baggy jumpers, I wear blazers. Where others are in palazzo pants, I’m in pencil skirts. Where half my colleagues can shop at Giant Tiger across the street and still get taken seriously, I make regular stops in my overdraft spending money on business staples that will hopefully give the impression that I’m just as much a professional as anyone else. A couple of years ago, I took over a Coordinator position for someone going on maternity leave – and though continuing the position identically, my title somehow converted to “Assistant.” Why? Because you have to appear older to qualify for a more impressive job title? I keep my hair long and dark, because with it up or short, I look even younger. Once recently, my supervisor caught me reapplying red lip colour. “Are you wearing lipstick?” she asked, in a manner reminiscent of a mother catching her child for the first time with a face full of her blusher and blue eye shadow. This past Friday, a government official was on a tour of our office, at the end of which she took the time to ask how I was in this position, because I “barely looked fifteen.” On our honeymoon, when booking a spa day, several members of staff actually asked me how old I was. What, because I looked like a child that couldn’t possibly have got a trip to an adults-only resort on my own? I’m sure no other guest was asked their age on that resort, just as I’m sure it wouldn’t even be mentioned if another member of staff were reapplying their makeup. 

Perhaps this is one of the reasons I write, and I encourage real-life people to read my blog, too. It feels like if someone can see I actually do have something intelligent to say, or an adult opinion worth reading, then somehow they’ll take me more seriously. It’s almost like I want my writing, and what’s inside to make the first impression, because the reaction to the phsyical one isn’t what I want it to be. People always laugh, and tell me I’ll “be thankful for it when I’m forty”, but what about now? What about the CV full of job titles that don’t accurately describe the responsibilities I have, or the lower salary I’m paid because I appear younger than my colleagues?  What about the years of having to work twice as hard to earn people’s respect, just because I look like I’m fresh out of high school? For years, studies have shown that women are paid less than men. I’m certain the same goes for those within the same sex who differ based on how “mature” they look, too. A growing body of research also supports the notion that physical appearance is directly correlated to job success, and managers are basing hiring decisions somewhat on how somebody looks – and not just in the outfit department. Women are being fired for being overweight, underweight, not attractive enough, not mature looking enough, and even too attractive and “distracting” to other members of staff. Perfectly qualified people in their mid-twenties are being overlooked because they look younger, and therefore less qualified, for jobs they can do just as well as – if not better than someone twice their age. But of course, nobody admits this is going on. Nobody wants to admit that important decisions affecting the course of somebody’s life can be based on something so frivolous as physical appearance.

So what’s a late bloomer to do? I can’t control the fact that I’m short or small any more than I can control people’s reactions to my genetic makeup. I can buy all the business suits, high heels and push-up bras in the world, but it’s not going to change the fact that underneath it all, my face is a traitor to my age, experience and intelligence. How do I get people to see me for what I really am, and not what I appear to be on the surface? How does what’s inside emerge victorious in the realm of the first impression?


  1. as a 5′ 1″ gal, this happens to me all the time, even by people younger than me (i regularly work with people TEN YEARS MY JUNIOR who are shocked that i’m married and just shy of twenty-seven; they usually guess me to be closer to their own age). it doesn’t matter how i dress. it doesn’t matter that i do my makeup better than most women ever learn to in their whole lives. it doesn’t matter how i carry myself or how well i communicate.

    i am grateful that i look younger rather than older, but sometimes it is of little comfort that i might not appreciate it for another fifteen years. i’ve been conditioned to think i’m complaining when i vocalize this, but i, like you, want to know, “what about NOW?”

    i told my mom a few years ago how i’d noticed – before i even graduated college – that being a female + being short really put me at a disadvantage. it’s exactly what you said: i don’t get taken seriously. i get looked over: both in a literal, physical sense and professionally. i feel that my intelligence has been underestimated because of my height, my gender, and my youthful looks.

    put briefly, i can most emphatically agree with how you feel about this and i’m glad i’m not the only one! but i don’t know what to do about it. presenting and carrying myself in the way i wish to be treated has helped, but it’s still an obstacle. i don’t know, emily, but thank you for opening this venue for dialogue about it! xo

    1. And thank YOU for being so open and sharing your experiences!! Most of them are pretty much the same as mine, and I think it is a combination of having a “young face” and being short/smaller build. Plus vocally, I think I sound young too – my mum always said she’d been asked “if her parents are home” when people would phone for her whole life, so I don’t think it’s going to change!

      I wish there were a solution – people always say “you’ll appreciate it when you’re older”, but our yound adult years are just as valid as our older years, and we have just as much right to want to be taken seriously now as we would when we’re older.

  2. Your posts always captivate me. What an interesting challenge you have. Here’s the bright side: because you’ve been faced with an unusual adversity, you have become a deep, introspective, highly intelligent thinker. And you will be wildly successful. I believe it!

  3. How frustrating. If ever you need to be taken seriously, it’s as a young woman in the workplace. Especially in workshop situations – you need to be seen as an authoritative source. Unfortunately our physical appearance is only partly under our control…you can only do so much to try and project a certain image. I guess the best thing is just to keep on shining and earning people’s respect for the great work you do.

    Me…I think I have the opposite problem (depending on whether I’m wearing glasses or contacts) people think I’m older than I am. The only time I ever recall being mistaken for younger was when I was nine – a visitor asked my parents “How old is she? Seven?” (Yep, stupid memories stick with me…when you’re in single digits two years obviously matter!)

  4. We have the same problem. People don’t believe that I am 28. I’m not even comfortable in business suits because I feel like I look like a teenager playing dress-up. Or something. It is actually frustrating. I know how you feel.

    1. I don’t feel comfortable in suits either – I’ll usually only go to a blazer and black trousers, never a full on “career woman” suit because that would be ten times as formal as the rest of my coworkers! But you’re exactly right – people’s underestimations of us based on our physical appearance MAKES us feel like we’re “playing dress up” (like the lipstick comment), and subsequently takes a toll on our self esteem, I think, anyway…

  5. Very thought provoking post here, and the short answer is I don’t know how you would go about “fixing” it, but I agree with what Lucy said, because you have had to work doubly hard to get taken seriously you have become a very intelligent, introspective thinker. Not that that makes it any less frustrating, but if you had “looked older” and hadn’t had to work so hard, would you have become such a keen observer on the world around you? Keep your head up, and keep being the strong, shining, smart person you are – it won’t take long for people to realize that’s the “real” you.

  6. I used to be 5’2.5″ (now 5’1″) with a small frame and baby face. When all the girls were flirting with boys, I was told I looked 11. When I was married, I tried to buy a coat and the salesperson refused to sell it to me until “my mother came to see it.” I could go on and on. It was always frustrating that no matter how much expertise I might have had, some people would always see me as some little doll-like creature without substance. But I learned that I could use that “innocent” demeanor to diffuse situations, to sucessfully deal with clients who were upset or students who were hostile. When people perceived me to be completely non-threatening, they calmed down and listened to reason. We can all use the tools at our disposal and we all have such tools.

  7. I have a similar problem to you as well. I’m almost 29, but my high school students think I’m not a day over 21. I find I really have to assert myself in order to gain their respect. It’s not just that they think “Eh, she’s young and nice, I can take advantage.” It’s more, “Eh, she’s young, I’m going to unload all my boy problems and secrets on her.” I really have found that I have to set boundaries.

    You do look young, and pretty, but I’m sure your actions and words are age-appropriate. Don’t change for anyone else. People are jealous of youth and beauty, and as long as you are doing your job and doing it well, they can’t really fault you for that.

    1. Not faulting me is one thing, but virtual demotions and low-pay is another, and it’s not fair. I think I really need to work on being more assertive, and not just hiding behind the scenes so I don’t have to deal with people’s pre-conceptions. I guess by avoiding something, we only disable ourselves from dealing with it the next time it comes around – by being continually assertive and proving people wrong is probably a better tactic after all.

  8. i’ve never had this issue to be honest. most people assume i’m much OLDER than i really am. people regularly think i’m around 30 – which is (barely) more than 5 years away! in high school, people thought i was in college, etc.

    not that i’m REALLY complaining, but i can understand the frustration. the thing is, i’m tall and i’ve, shall we say, filled out? i’m by no means overweight, but i’m definitely not skinny either. i pretty much look just like my mom plus 4 inches.

    so now, i’m even starting to buy and wear ‘adult’ clothes and i wonder how that will affect me in the future. i can only imagine that it will help me to play the ‘older’ part, which in itself lends more credibility, but when i’m forty (or whatever), will i still be mistaken for older? and will that bother me? who knows. i guess only time will tell that.

  9. have you tried wearing darker makeup? not that you need makeup but i think wearing darker lipstick, eyebrows etc. might help make you look a bit older. also wear heels… i’m short too and i know when i’m in a pair of high heels i FEEL more confident and respectable. because you have to work harder to get respect, i know i felt like it got in the way of my confidence -remember to keep strong and believe in yourself even if you feel like other people aren’t as quick to believe in you as you’d like, don’t let it make you feel like you aren’t just as intelligent or deserving of respect as others.

    1. I’ve tried that, but I get dissuaded by comments like the supervisor made about me wearing lipstick (as if I were twelve years old!). I like darker makeup anyway but I hate the hassle of dark lipstick – flaking and staining my teeth etc., I tend to go more for the eyes, but if you have any brand recommendations, I’m all ears!

      I actually do wear heels all the time – at work, anyway. I feel even more out of place in flats which really emphasise how short I am.

      Thanks for such a sweet comment – it really meant a lot 🙂

    1. I’ve tried going short, and the number one comment I got was that it actually made me look younger! I’ve gone for the Emma Watson crop (years ago), I’ve had a bob, I’ve had a fringe… anything other than long, people always say I look more like a kid. Which is why I’m having such a hard time not getting the extensions replaced… I wish they weren’t so expensive!

  10. I have often wondered this as well… I am often mistaken for looking too young.. But I think it is a matter of putting yourself out there. Right out there. Speaking loud and clear. You are a rare find, Em. Anyone who talks to you for five minutes would know that.

    Hold tight to that.

  11. I love this post. I think we have shared similar struggles, insecurities, and perhaps judgments. I was promoted by the director of fundraising (male), and fired once placed in the position under three different women. In my mind, I assumed they were happy to have a new Marketing member on board, and happy to give me a chance as they were once given. Now I see they were angry to have the boss go over their head and place this young looking girl under them. It was over before it began, in a sense that they had made up their minds, and made for a very, very long 7 months.

    Had I looked different, perhaps I would still be there. But maybe not. It’s been a harsh rejection to overcome, but have learned much since then. However, it leaves me to wonder how they expect young people to graduate from college and gain experience?

    1. That sounds like a terrible situation to have been in! I often wonder, if I looked different, would I have been allowed to continue in the same job title as the one I took over? Or would I be making more money? I think, in both cases, the answer would be yes, and it is a tough rejection to overcome especially since it’s something beyond anyone’s control 😦

  12. This was a very interesting post. I have pretty much bounced back to my actual age when it comes to how people perceive me as an individual. When I was younger, however, people assumed I was much older. I was a full 5’10 by the time I hit my teenage years. During those times when every girl is longing for a boyfriend, no one looked at me – I was too tall, seemed too old, when in fact I wasn’t. I am glad things are reversing these days because now that I am quickly approaching the big 3-0 (Only three more years!), I am glad people don’t look at me anymore like I am 10 years older than my actual age.

    1. And it’s funny to hear someone on the other side talk about that as a bad thing when it’s something I’ve wished for ever since I turned eighteen. I look at high school girls now, and they all look older than I do at ten years older than them! I hope, like you, it’ll balance out at some point, and one day people WILL start taking me for the person I actually am.

  13. First off, awesome post, really enjoyed it. Secondly, I don’t have the issue you do of looking younger, however I deal with something similar.

    I work in the tech field answering support questions from many levels, and the issue I get is not being taken seriously because I’m female. Many times I’ve had customers (male and female) refuse to work with me because I was female, or if I said something they didn’t like, would demand a male.

    I’m sure yours is way more frustrating… I guess the only answer is get some wrinkles lol or professional make up artists to age you.

    1. lol that could be quite the feat on a daily basis! Although I did manage to pull off a pretty convincing Ebenezer Scrooge one Christmas…

      I bet it can be frustrating being a woman in a male-dominated field like technology. The only similar experience I have is being dressed up at Comic-Con one year and having to deal with a bunch of guys who didn’t expect a girl to play WoW, lol

  14. I worked at a liquor store for a while and you’re supposed to card people who could look anywhere between 18 and 30. Once I carded a guy, and he was like “well, can I see your ID” because he thought I was too young to be behind the counter.

    In other words, I can totally relate.

  15. Can I just underscore how much I know how you mean? I feel you, Em.

    It’s so upsetting to have your abilities questioned because “you don’t look that old” or “you couldn’t possibly know what you’re talking about”- yes, because the organisation is self-destructive and is going to hand me some responsibilities so I can screw them over and they can go up in flames. Yes, you’re absolutely right- here, have a biscuit for your genius deductive skills.

    Sorry, I get a little ranty over this. People are constantly telling me that I couldn’t possibly be a day over 17, job applications have minimum age requirements of 25 (and I’m overqualified for them!) and everybody is constantly trivialising my experiences because I’m “young” and “it’ll change when you’re older”.

    And it makes me all kinds of angry because these aren’t things that I can control or change or switch up. I can’t help the fact that I look the way I do or that I’m as old as I am- I can, however, help that I am very good at what I do and that I know what I’m talking about. I wish people would just accord young people or young-looking people the level of profession respect that is accorded to them. It’s only bloody fair, let alone professional.

    So, when I don’t get annoyed by this BS attitude, I play the “Yes, I’m young but I’m also very good at what I do and you’d be silly to overlook that” card by ignoring their comments and trivialising their “you’re so young” observations. “Yes, I am. It can be rather difficult when you’re trying to prove yourself. As I was saying about the ICPD document….*insert clever analysis*” and then they usually shut up and leave me alone.

    Or maybe it’s the death glare.

  16. I can unfortunately completely relate, I am going on 35 but thanks to my youthful appearance and my height I frequently get asked to “prove” my age. Seriously like show me your drivers license right now “prove to me”, still get carded (that’s cool) and looks of disbelief when I state my age (thanks Mom to my genetics)
    I am grateful in social arenas that I look younger then I am. But in professional it’s really annoying because of my young, petite stature I often get talked down to and very frequently treated like my opinion doesn’t matter, or worse rate.
    My authority is often questioned and is which why I tend to avoid applying for managerial positions. Employers don’t think people will listen to my authority and employees think they don’t need to respect me because I’m smaller and younger looking. So I don’t bother and stay behind the scenes.

    I just keep looking at this way when I’m 50 I will be grateful for all the money I won’t need to spend to look young. Also I will find the elusive employer that judges me on my intelligence and ability to do the job rather then my appearance.

    I appreciated your article and could understand the sentiment and am now going to add you to my Google reader so I can continue to read your very entertaining and informative blog.. keep up the great work from “one kid” to another.

    Tina Marie

  17. It’s infuriating when people’s judgment is based on something so far beyond our control. Thank you so much for UNDERSTANDING!! I love your retort – I’m totally going to adopt “actually, it can be difficult when you’re trying to prove yourself” to all those people who see it as a bloody blessing!!

  18. Stellar things come in small packages. And you, my dear, are nothing short of stellar.
    No pun intended. 😉

    You’re brilliant, funny, warm and engaging. You deserve the absolute best. It’ll happen for you; I have absolutely no doubt. 😀 xoxo
    (Side note: I’m doing observation hours at a local high school for one of my Education classes, and one of the administrators stopped me in the hall to ask “why I wasn’t in uniform?”

    Um. Cause I’m 26?

    I consider us lucky; we’ll always have our youth. 😉 Love you!!

  19. I would suggest that you dump whatever isn’t really you and be yourself as fully as you can be. I recognize that, that isn’t easy advice but I do believe it is the only way.
    I too looked much younger than I was in my twenties and early 30s. I had my own dressmaking business when I was 23 and I looked 17. It was hard to get clients to trust me at first. I solved the problem by being brilliant at what I did and ended up running a wardrobe at the age of 31, (not all that common) still looking much younger. By that point no one questioned my age because my work did all of the talking.
    Having to prove myself made me better at what I did. It also made me smarter.
    Trying to look older than you do might actually make you look younger, just as trying to look younger makes you look older. It is absolutely true.
    I learned this as a costumer working with actors who are playing a different age. The best results occur when you work with what is already there instead of against it.
    Yes the comments are annoying. It hurts not to be taken seriously. That is rough. But that said, too much focus on the externals might be reason for others not to take us seriously, just as over-compensating gives the impression of low-confidence and people who are not confident do not get the same opportunities.
    Ageism happens to all of us. Try changing careers at 40+ and you will quickly realize that too many assume that you can’t learn new things or change what you do. A young person is a safer bet.
    We are discriminated against for our genetics all of the time and we do need to learn to be better as a society, but we can’t hope to combat this unless we choose not to play along. Believe in yourself and your abilities and focus on that. You’ll be better at what you do and it will get noticed far more than lipstick or high-heels.

    1. That is excellent advice. I try always to “solve the problem by being brilliant at what I do” – but unfortunately it’s not going to change how people first perceive me. I guess I just have to realise that I can’t change people’s perceptions, I can only change how I let them affect me and how I choose to subsequently act – and you’re right. Why not let it be brilliant?

  20. You asked: “How does what’s inside emerge victorious in the realm of the first impression?”

    My answer: body language. Being who you are, knowing it and feeling it, will come out in your body through confidence, and people pick up on those cues. I imagine myself as a center of gravity–like the sun– and all the people around me are like planets that are in my orbit, and I provide them with constant warmth and strong, positive energy, so people want to be around be. Keep the image in your mind, it will help I promise. Gravity.

    Also remember that it can be still difficult to overcome the initial impression people have of you, and you won’t always do it. There’s nothing you can do about that, but the rest you can disprove in time. Time is the key. Remember these labels are only temporary–they are all we have to go with for the first few minutes of an encounter. After we familiarize with something, our preconceptions dissolve. A flower will look different than the others. An indie rock band will sound the same until they break the mold in the middle verse with an energetic chord shift or a sound you’ve never heard before. For you, it’s just up to you to make that shift happen by simply being yourself.

    In the mean time, don’t sweat it. What you’re feeling is unsettling, for sure, but it’ll be fine. Every time you feel inferior for how you’re perceived–and that will happen–just remember all the times in your life that people have built you up, cherished you, saw a great light within you, and deemed you as someone remarkable. And that’s who you are: you’re the super cute, friendly, supportive girl that builds up everyone around her in the best way possible. You have quirks and habits that make you unique and you have a passion for life and a talent for writing that few people can match. That should be enough to brush aside these little trivialities that emerge from people who pass these crass, trivial judgments. They really are nothing compared to the beauty that is you. Give it time, and they will learn it too. Keep your gravity going!

    1. ^ what jon michael said! body language does go a LONG way. of all the things that have helped me, body language (sort of what i said before about “how you carry yourself”) has given me the greatest advantage to overcoming these problems.

  21. I may be small in height but I have curves so I’m not sure what to think. I’ve been called ma’am since I was 16 and I always associate that word with older people (and I HATE when I’m called ma’am). Other times I think I look so much younger than I actually am and that bothers me too. Not so sure WHERE I fit.

  22. Emily, this blog post was a great read,…I love reading your posts and you’ve always got relevant, important things to talk about! This post seemed to resonate with me on an emotional level as I guess I could relate in some ways. I feel that through my childhood, into adulthood,…and still feel at times, that I haven’t been taken seriously as well as judged by they way I physically look or dress. I dress more professionally when appropriate these days, and casual otherwise. I’m not the person I used to be, but in the eyes of other people, that have known me for many years, I’m still that skinny, quiet, little boy with nothing important to say, or so some people thought. That’s the vibe I felt anyway. Well,…great blog post, thanks!

  23. I was also wondering,…am I the only guy that reads your blog? LOL! I seem to be the only one making the occasional reply. Just in touch with my feminine side I guess, LOL! Anyway, thanks and have a great day Emily!!

  24. how annoying hey? at my last job, i would often tell people whatever they needed to know and then they’d look at me skeptically and say something like, “well. ok. is there an adult here i can talk to?”
    i got so mad. i’m freaking 23–and i realize that doesn’t make me “old” but it should make me at the very, very least, able to do my job well.
    but i’d just swallow it and calmly reply, “yes, there are plenty of OTHER adults around here, but i’m the one to talk about about _____. so.”
    and i often get the “you’ll love it when you’re 40!” line too. probably will, but…

  25. I used to have this same problem when I entered my field. I was the youngest in the office, and was considered the “baby” for a long time. I looked like a student and was lacking experience and confidence, although really eager to learn and take on more responsibility.

    I found that by trying to appear older I actually looked younger – like when I tried to wear “adult” makeup or wore suits, I looked like a little kid playing dressup. Eventually I started acting and dressing my age – professional, but not replicating outfits my mom would wear. I got comfortable with being the office baby and with growing into my role at the agency rather than trying to jump ahead and take on too much. The truth was I had a LOT to learn and rushing didn’t help.

    The only thing that fixed it for me was time. I find that now I generally get taken pretty seriously. The only times I feel self conscious is when I have meetings with old-boys-club clients who still have a disgusting Mad Men mentality, and I don’t think it would matter if I were 19 or 59, the “problem” is I don’t have a penis 🙂

  26. Emily, I share your frustration on this. I’m 29, own a consulting business, but I still get it. Got it a lot earlier in my career. But I found it was more of an initial thing, and once people got to know me on the job and recognize my accountability and good work, it was of less concern. But argh, I hated it so much – can certainly sympathize! Just keep your confidence up and feel good about being able to outshine their maturity expectations!

  27. Ageism is sadly alive and well! If you’re too young (<30) you lack maturity and experience, especially if you look younger than your years. On the other hand, a worker older than 50 without a job now will likely be perpetually unemployed, or at best, tremendously underemployed if s/he is lucky enough to find someone to hire her/him at little above minimum wage.

    On the other hand, the whole concept of "commanding authority" unless one is in the military, is an anachronistic concept in today's world. Those who think that a legitimated position in the upper end of a hierarchy conveys the right to "command authority" (I'm hearing Eric Cartman here 🙂 belongs in another era.

  28. Hi Emily! I know this is hard. Its always been my sense that people who say such things are actually feeling insecure and threatened. We know that all successful work teams consist of diverse talent – all ages, backgrounds, gender, etc. Keep your head about you and work to the level you know you are capable of. Ignore the fools and don’t internalize their judgements. It will sooo pay off for you in the end!

  29. I feel this way with people who have degrees behind them and those who don’t. I was not able to finish my degree because I got frustrated with student loans & mounting debt, and because I’m not sure I wanted to invest more time/money into that career path.
    Anyways, I’m doing the exact same job as another woman – I took over for her as she went on mat leave. I know for a fact I am getting paid substantially less for the work. Why? I’m doing the same job (and if rumours are true, doing it BETTER, but whatever), and you really don’t need a degree for it. It’s an accounting admin position, her degree is in HR. So why does she get paid more? I am definitely arguing for a raise when she comes back, depending on my new position there 🙂

  30. I feel like I could have written this almost word for word about myself. I’ve dealt with these same situations in the work place and in various other situations, all because I appear so much younger than I actually am. (I’m turning 27 next month, and I still get carded, too! The best I’ve ever heard was when I was helping my mom do some work at a middle school and another teacher asked me what grade I was in. I haven’t been in middle school since the 90s…) I don’t know if there will ever be a time that what’s inside will come out above initial impressions as far as this is concerned, but I try my hardest to come across as mature as my actual age suggests I am!

  31. What a great post – I think lots of women face this and it is a real challenge. (Somehow, guys looking young doesn’t seem to be an issue…hmm..) I’m in the same boat. Last time I traveled by myself, the security person at the airport actually asked me if I was traveling alone and needed a minor escort – and I’m almost 30! As time goes on I see more and more how this has hampered promotions, pay, or respect at work. Have you ever tried calling a boss out on this? I wonder if it would change anything…. In the mean time the only practical tip I have in addition to what you’re doing is glasses – dark frames – I think they help! I also refuse to ever tell anyone my age. When people ask (and they do, a lot), I either don’t answer or if its appropriate I joke that I’m 85.

  32. The sad thing is I think it can go the other way too — I’ve heard many stories of older employees feeling that they look “to old” to get hired by a company who fears they might leave for retirement in a few years.

  33. You know what, I went to a public speaking workshop where a 12 year old kid gave a speech. After some time, we forgot how old he was because he had such a good stage presence. Public speaking is a good way to show authority at any age.

  34. I don’t fit the part for my position in the looks department.So, I struggle with getting respect as well. I used to feel that I had to go overboard with proving myself. Now I just do what I do best and let people think what they want. It’s usually their own insecurities that drive their perceptions.

  35. The first time I spoke at a seminar I wore glasses I didn’t need. My field is not business but I don’t image there is that much difference when you graduate young and look younger. My bespectacled self seemed to get more respect. The totality of my work should now speak for itself but in situations where I have to speak publicly or meet individually with people who are significantly older than I the spectacles are still a bit of a crutch.

  36. Hi Emily,

    I am a new reader. I really like your writing. However, while I wholeheartedly agree with the pursuit of knowledge and self awareness, I do know that such knowledge will make you any more confident.

    I also used to think that my looking younger kept me tethered in my career but over time I’ve realized it was my hang ups about looking younger not everybody else’s. Sure comments are made but sometimes I think people really do mean them as compliments.

    I think maybe you are trying too hard to appear “older”(like that high school girl that really wants that college guy to like her so she behaves contrary to her true self and tries to fulfill her perception of what “older” looks like).

    Apply yourself sincerely at all the tasks you take on and respect and appreciation will follow (sometimes shortly after, sometimes somewhat later). I know this from experience (and I know I say this at the risk of sounding like a grandpa — but I sincerely believe it).

    I am now almost 45. Some people treat me like a 20something still and don’t think I have any knowledge or grounded opinions. Some people listen — And I listen to them — And together we do the best job we can.

    So I guess what I am trying to say is try stopping trying to look older. Focus your efforts on the job and perhaps set your sights somewhere where your talents are appreciated and fairly rewarded.

  37. …of course appearances matter and the spoken word, too. I learned long ago to behave in accordance to the environment and what, how & when I spoke was always judged causing me to “upwardly adapt and always cautious.” Think about a role model worth emulating. Always have at least 5 corporate mentors asking for feedback & not support.

  38. Wow this was really interesting. I never knew so many people had this issue. People normally take pride in looking young. I never thought of it to be a hindrance.

    It’s hard being a woman for many reasons and this is one of them. Remember, our struggles and downfalls are what make us better people. These things are here to teach us something. Whatever that something may be.

    Also, be aware that life is beautiful, ever flowing, and ever changing (Just like you). Things will not be this way forever even though it may seem like it for the time being.

    You’ll be fine. You got this. ;]

  39. Great post Emily. I enjoyed it. There’s not much you can do other than stay true to yourself and do your best work. I had the same problem as well and it was compounded by the fact that all my prospective clients are in their 50s and 60s. They saw only someone who could be their grandchild.

    I just laughed off comments and said “bless you for thinking that. Glad I could still be mistaken for being in school.” The humor diverted them and allowed me to show what I can do.

    Just direct people back to what you do best. My sister got a promotion to run the math department despite looking like her 12 years old students. The parents got over her “age” quickly when their children’s scores improved.

    On the bright side, by looking young, you will avoid the other side of agism. Many people over 50 cannot find jobs and are laid off for younger workers.

    Everyone has bias and prejudices that you just need to help them see past.

  40. Emily,

    Try to use humor to deflect the comments. Looking young may last decades and you can only be yourself.

    I’ve been there too since I am under 5′ and was 90 lbs for most of my life. People thought I was in junior high school when I am fighting for business clients whose executives are white men in their 60s.

    Just use the advantages it gives you because people under estimate your abilities due to their perception about your age.

    One of my friends is over 50 and she still looks like a pretty young senior in college. No one knows she’s the owner of a multi-million company and she drives super hard negotiations. Vendors always think she’s not savvy because of her looks.

    Body size has a lot to do with age perception. She’s 5’6″ and about 95 lbs dripping wet. I gained about 20 years in age perception when my weight went up 35 lbs in one year.

  41. Oh my gosh, I get this ALL THE TIME. I always get carded, I always get perceived as naive, and I usually get underestimated in the business world. People still think I’m 19 (don’t know why that is the age they always pick). And I hate the response they give when they find out your real age that you brought up, “It’ll be a good thing when you’re 40.” Oh, shut up…

    And silly girl…you said you’re halfway to 30…that would make you 15 😛 hehehe. Sorry, had to point that out.

    1. oh and I wanted to let you know that I saw Doctor Who for the first time in Turkey. haha. Of course I thought of you. It was an episode with a giant wasp. ha.

      1. LOL, I meant halfway through my twenties! 🙂

        I remember the giant wasp episode! With Agatha Christie. It does sound rather random when you talk about it like that 🙂

  42. I with you Emily. I had that happen a few years back. There were 2 things I really focused on: 1. My work and demeanor (I am actually an old …MoreI with you Emily. I had that happen a few years back. There were 2 things I really focused on: 1. My work and demeanor (I am actually an old soul). There are little silly things I could have done, but I saved that for outside of the office (that in itself could be draining because you are holding part of yourself back.) 2. I was ready to answer the question which I got frequently; “How old are you?” I would quickly point to my head and say, “You want to know how old I am?” or then point to my physical body, “How old I am?” When I stated both questions, I put an emphasize on the word, “old.”
    Keeping it going Emily, with a network like Brazen, you are well beyond your physical age.

    Your Ambassador,

  43. Hi Emily,
    I saw your link on Brazen Careerist and this is my first visit. I am at the ripe old age of 46, but still feel like I am 30. I guess that is why I like hanging out on Brazen….

    Anyway, take it from an elder….you can absolutely overcome this!

    I was in senior management positions in a corporation when I was about your age and this was almost 20 years ago so it was all men too! I think I read another response about confidence…which is very true…but I also am a huge believer in taking the challenge and persevering.

    Be an expert at what you do and go about it boldly and with confidence. I think for me it was more like desperation, but appeared at times as confidence.

    Also, be comfortable explaining. I am a counselor now and I have learned through studies and clients and personal experience that people mirror our own reactions. If I am comfortable with a situation, even an awkward or frustrating one, than others will be comfortable with it too. I have a daughter who lost her hair to a disease called Alopecia. She was so comfortable with herself that she readily explained to people the situation, even those who asked her why she shaved her head.

    Now at 46 and 22 years of marriage, when I have an older couple come in for marriage counseling (like my age) they ask me how old I am and how long I have been married. At this side of the age coin, I still smile secretly as I explain my many years of marriage ups and downs and my true age.

    It is a challenge, but you are up for it. I can tell from your writing. You are talented and you are confident. You just have to do the persevering part!


    Sue Miley

  44. In addition to the folks that just look young, you have a group of us that ARE young and in positions typically held by people w/ ten years or more of experience. I am the youngest PR person the City of Hattiesburg has ever had. I constantly am put up against directors and chiefs (who don’t understand the concept of PR), trying to fight to be heard. I am slowly building relationships with all of them, but my favorite part has to be when I find out info via 6 o’clock news. Thanks guys…

    I was reading Penelope Trunk’s article on how the next generation (gen z) is going to be so different than gen X and Y (…). She commented that gen Y changed work whereas gen X changed family. I have found in older businesses and government, I am working with a bunch of Gen Xs who have been w/ that organization for years! Dare you try to change something or be a risk taker for your career.

    Looking young and being young in a career will always be something you have to fight through.

  45. You may look young, but it’s how you carry yourself and how you interact with co-workers that counts. Very young looking employees can go far based on competence, maturity and their ability to get the job done. At my last job, my entire team was under 30 and I couldn’t have managed all of my responsibilities without them.

    If you look young, you might bring attention to it so that it is an issue that you get out of the way quickly. Like…”people always tell me I look young, but don’t let that fool you”….then go on to list all the great things you can do and the awesome skills you bring to the table.

  46. @Jeanetta I sooo hear what you are saying and I recall at the beginning of my career feeling the exact same way. However, I do want to add that I now no longer believe that change agency comes from the young. What I have found is that wanting to change things for the better and fighting for what you know should be done is difficult at any age…and can be very lonely. I think that you are absolutely approaching this the right way by alliance-building within your organization. Building trust is the best way to move things in your direction. But I hope you are able to get comfortable with being the change-agent that you are…and will be able to recognize potential allies in your process (regardless of where they are in the “alphabet soup” of the generations.

  47. As women, it seems like we automatically have two hurdles to cross: our sex and our age/appearance of age. When I took this new job, I was shocked at how equally I was treated, regardless of my age/appearance. My opinion is asked for and respected, and it’s been quite an interesting thing to get used to! At my last job, I was looked at like the “kid” who was better to be seen and not heard – instead, given menial tasks that others didn’t feel like doing, because it was all I was good for. After all, what did I know? I was young and dumb, right?! I think you’re doing all you can – you’re dressing the part and you’re commanding respect, and you’re working hard to prove that you know what you’re doing. Aside from that, the only thing I can say is hold tight to who you are, learn to laugh off others’ insanities, and hold your head high. I hope things change for our generation and the ones below us, but it may be a long time coming.

  48. I all but run the office in which I work. I technically have an assistant, though none of us talk about it that way because we’re more friends than anything. But that doesn’t stop FedEx and UPS delivery guys from asking if my supervisor is available to sign for packages requiring a signature from someone 21 or older; they’re convinced I’m a high school student helping out. It’s so frustrating! I always try to reassure myself that when I’m 40, I’ll be thankful. That when I’m 50, I won’t look it, and people my age will be envious. But it doesn’t make it any easier.

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