How to Be Taken Seriously When You Look Young

looking young - body languageWhat should you do if you look young for your age, and you do all the basic things you’re supposed to in order to seem older (dress professionally, wear heels, etc.), but you still get mistaken for a college student? What more can you try to get your colleagues to take you seriously?

Reader E wonders…

I’m a college professor (outside your normal demographic, but I really enjoy the conversations here). I often am told that I look like an undergrad. I have two questions. First, how do I respond to this in a workplace setting? With a frosty “Nope, I’m actually in my mid-thirties”? With “I’m told that I’ll be grateful for it one day”? Why do people think this is an acceptable thing to say to someone? Second, how can I actually look older so that I avoid these comments and am taken more seriously? I’m short (5′), which is part of the issue, but I already wear 1-3″ heels/wedges (more would look out of place here and are not my style). I use basic makeup (tinted moisturizer/blush/mascara), wear professional and structured clothing, have nice-looking but understated jewelry (including my engagement/wedding rings), keep my wavy hair shoulder-length and mostly under control, and make an effort to speak in a lower voice. This all feels like Looking Older 101–I need the upper-level class!

Hmmmmn. Hmmmn. We’ve talked about a lot of this before — how to avoid acting young, how to lower your voice, and whether long hair makes you look younger — but it sounds like Reader E has already taken a lot of these tips. What else can be done? I’m curious to hear what the readers say, but I did come up with a few tips. I don’t think everyone needs to take these steps, but for people like Reader E, who have tried everything else and are still frustrated by people telling them they “look young,” these may be the tweaks you need to consider:

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  • Go beyond basic makeup. I’m not suggesting Reader E do a full face every day, but there is a correlation between makeup and perceived competence. A bit of eyeliner, or even a bit of contouring (such as a darker eye shadow in your eye crease) can go a long way.
  • Watch your accessories. I think that skinnier heels (even for wedges) tend to read “older” than chunkier heels — until, at least, you get to the orthopedic shoe section, but then that also reads older. Make sure that your bags and shoes are good quality (and in top condition) — no scrapes, scuffs, or loose threads.
  • Consider bolder jewelrySome people do think that delicate jewelry is for younger women — perhaps because by the time you get a bit older you’re ok with making a statement? I’d avoid small pendant necklaces and go for a bolder statement. If you’re thinking, “but I’m a classic girl, really!” then it doesn’t get more classic than a strand of pearls — just avoid the pearl-on-a-pendant look.
  • Spend some time tweaking your body language. There are a ton of articles, videos, and books on women, power, and body language — I’d suggest Reader E spend some time in front of a mirror improving her body language. She may even want to ask a friend to take a video of her teaching a class, having a conversation, or even just walking across campus.

As for how to respond when people tell you you look younger… when in doubt I usually try to go for something simple or even joking. “Thanks!” or “You made my day!” both sound good to me.

(Pictured: Body Language, originally uploaded to Flickr by Kristian Bjornard.)

Readers, do you have any better suggestions for 301: Advanced Techniques in Looking Older? If you’ve run into this problem yourself, how did you deal with it?

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Comments

  1. “I often am told that I look like an undergrad. … Why do people think this is an acceptable thing to say to someone? ” It is a compliment and most people think that compliments are acceptable things to say.

    • KateMiddletown :

      I don’t think it’s a compliment. I am young in my field and I dislike when people comment on my age or “youthfulness”. It has a connotation of “not experienced.”

      • Anonymous :

        How in the world does it have a connotation of “not experienced”? It is really unfortunate that you are taking it this way.

        • Senior Attorney :

          Uh, because people who are younger generally do in fact have less experience than people who are older? (All things being equal, of course, and subject to many exceptions, of course.)

        • …because undergrads are not experienced?

        • Context clues give it away. It is often used in that way and in my ‘experience,’ sometimes, even used as a euphemism.

      • +1

        I get a lot of “you look so young”! and also “are you [law partner’s] secretary?”

        Not that there’s anything wrong with being his secretary, but when the answer is “no sir, I’m your attorney” it tells me that they are under the impression that I am not experienced.

        maybe it’s something in the way that it’s said, but it does not feel like a compliment.

        plus, why would my client or opposing counsel randomly compliment me on looking young? they shouldn’t compliment me on looking fit, or pretty, etc. etc., so why young?

        • Senior Attorney :

          Or not compliment your appearance at all because it’s none of their business? How about complimenting your awesome legal skills?

          Wouldn’t that be refreshing?

          • Yes, please! Do not compliment my appearance! Compliment my skill set.

            Other gems I’ve heard in the last few years have included:

            “I have pocket lint older than you!”- client

            “How long have you been out of school?” -client

            “Look at you cutting up your fruit!” (as if she was talking to a child)- my secretary, who is my age.

          • Anonymous :

            Those are not mutually exclusive!!!

          • Ok, so they’re not mutually exclusive, but can you please explain how it is appropriate for people to compliment others on their appearance in the work place??????

            “nice blazer” among friendly co-workers is one thing but “you look beautiful” or “you look so young” or “I wish I had your figure” start to cross lines. Especially from people you represent or oppose in court or supervise or work under or do not have a close relationship with. Or do you not think so!?

          • Anonymous :

            No, I do not think so. I personally do not make such comments but when people say something along those lines to me, I smile and say thank you and don’t look for any hidden messages.

        • It’s not about looking for hidden messages, it’s about what’s appropriate.

          I just do not understand how you could think your client looking you up and down and saying “wow, you’re so skinny!” etc., is appropriate. Whatever. To each their own. Glad I don’t represent you.

          • Senior Attorney :

            Wow. Same here. So not okay.

            I think this whole thread would be totally unnecessary if everybody adopted what I think is an obvious, common-sense rule: Do not make remarks about people’s appearance in a business setting!

            Gah. It’s not that hard…

      • Well one thing you can be sure of….it won’t last.

    • No, people need to learn that it’s not a good idea and often rude to comment on another person’s appearance. Sure, “you look young” could be a compliment. But obviously it’s insulting to a person who is sensitive about looking overly young (and you never know how another person feels about her appearance). Similarly, people constantly feel the need to tell my husband that he is “skinny” or that he has a “thin face.” Could be complimentary, but he’s sensitive about both these things, so these comments are hurtful. Best to just avoid the whole topic!

      • Anonymous :

        What? Lol. Certain comments can definitely be rude or insensitive but “you look young” is never rude, “insulting” or “hurtful”.

        • Never been on the receiving end of that comment then, huh?

          • Different anon, but I’ve heard this plenty of times & am grateful every single time it’s said. I really think this is a ridiculous thing to be upset about. It’s like “I’m too pretty, will people take me seriously?” Or some other such genetically blessed nonsense complaint.

          • Anon, when you’ve been hearing it your whole life- people thinking you’re 12 when you’re 17, wedding vendors flat-out asking you just HOW old you are because they can’t believe you’re getting married- it’s not a compliment, and there is a sting. Being told you look like you’re in your 20s when you’re in your late 30s is totally different from being told you look like somebody who’s not yet a real adult. It’s desirable to look fresh (think supermodels), but still have adult features. It’s not considered desirable to have a round baby face.

        • Obviously it can be, the letter writer is finding it upsetting. Just because you feel a certain way doesn’t mean everybody feels the same.

        • Away Game :

          Completely disagree. “You look young” absolutely can be an insult in the workplace in many circumstances. For example, from a peer or subordinate or even manager who doesn’t take you seriously because they judge you don’t have enough experience to manage/do the job right. It is/can be code for “I don’t respect your authority” in the “you don’t have enough years on you to have the experience to know what you’re doing/I’ve been here longer than you’ve been alive, etc.” A lot of workplaces have seniority systems or promotion systems where you really can’t be in XYZ position until you’ve served 10/15/20 years, and if you don’t “look” like you are old enough to have that background, you can absolutely be mistaken and treated as a junior staffer.

          I for one am absolutely delighted to finally have a few gray hairs (age 42) and won’t even consider coloring until I have enough wrinkles to go with them.

        • In House Lobbyist :

          It can definitely be insulting. I got called before a legislative body when I worked at a state agency and thr presiding member said “no wonder we have this problem with people as young as your running the place”. True, she was old and mean and just wanted to yell at someone in public and I happened to be the only one in the office that day. Unfortunately now that I’m getting older, I am not hearing that as much. I work with older people and I’m the youngest by a good 20 years and I try to avoid calling attention to it.

        • Looks super young :

          “Lol” all you want, but when you are NEVER taken seriously at any of your jobs, no matter how important (from a minimum wage job all the way to a high paying career based on a 4 year degree), because you look like you are “forever 21” and haven’t a wrinkle on your face, then you’ll have a problem. Every co-worker I’ve ever had, when finding out my age, has exclaimed “NO WAY! I thought you were 26!!” And I’ve been asked out by many younger guys who are totally immature (most under 25!!). It sucks to be treated like a child right off the bat at every single job due to my young face and boyish figure. I literally have to unwillingly “gloat” about previous jobs and schooling, my 38 year old fiancee who is a special ed teacher, talk about our Lincoln car, and point out all of my millions of grey hairs just to get people to understand that I am not a child and do not wish to be talked to or treated like one. No management takes me seriously when I have a concern because they don’t know my age unless they look at my application in their system. I’ve also had MANY co-workers bully me because they thought they were my elder or more experienced. I’m sick of this issue always coming up and I really wish to start an initiative against psuedo-ageism….or lookism for that matter since those who are graced with a young face are generally considered good looking to most. I find it discriminatory as much as I find sexism discriminatory. I don’t know what else to say on this matter…it’s just SUPER tiring!! I also agree with Katie (10/21/14 at 1:17 pm) that I also do not use filler words such as “LIKE” or “ANYWAYS”etc. that would make me seem younger than I am, and it DOES get grating.

        • Oh, being told you look young is MOST DEFINITELY rude and hurtful. It makes you feel like less than nothing and makes you feel there is no point in trying to build a career. It’s just rude. I wish nobody had ever said such things to me.

    • To me, there’s a difference between somebody who has youthful features (young-looking skin, etc) but otherwise looks mature enough for their field, and somebody who has a baby face. I’m 30 and have been mistaken for a high schooler while in a suit! I’m neatly groomed, wear classic clothing and accessories (including a wedding band, so the high schooler comment is always extra funny), and don’t use filler words or play with my hair or other markers that indicate immaturity. It’s really not a compliment in many situations and gets grating when you hear it all the time.

      I’m thinking of the difference between looking fresh versus having more… childlike features. Those in the second group know it’s not desirable to look that kind of young, so it’s not a compliment.

    • Just to chime in here… I look very young for my age and get this a lot. In social settings, I try to take it as a compliment and actually enjoy hearing it (that was NOT the case in middle school/high school/early college, when looking young meant that I felt undesirable and had no confidence, but it’s completely changed as I’ve gotten older, early 30’s now). But the workplace is a completely different story. It’s either (1) a “positive” comment on your appearance, which is completely inappropriate/skevey in the workplace, or (2) a thinly-veiled way of saying that you look inexperienced and not fit for your job, which is incredibly insulting. While I love hearing this from friends/random guys in bars/people carding me, the few times someone has said it to me at work (most recently, a client at a deposition), I’ve cringed.

      • Also, to those who are saying that this is like complaining about being too pretty, the OP wasn’t complaining about looking young, but about the fact that people point it out in the workplace and the way that they do so. How would you feel if someone told you “wow, you look too pretty to be a professor/lawyer/architect/professional”? That’s not any different from being told “wow, you look too young to be a professor/lawyer/architect/professional.” Somehow the former is considered beyond the pale and the latter is okay, but they’re equally insulting.

      • +1,000

    • I think her issue is more with the “[she’ll] be grateful for it one day” aspect of these comments. I also am petite, look young and work at a university and I am constantly told that I’ll appreciate looking young some day. Maybe I will, but right now I find it incredibly annoying that you’re surprised that I’m old enough to drive, see R-rated movies, buy alcohol, etc.
      I’m an adult and would like to be treated like one.

      • I am in my middle 40s. I am not grateful for the supposed youthful appearance and never will be. It still hurts when people tell me I look young, just not so bad, but it is kind of bad because it reminds me of why my career never took off. My performance has excelled, it’s people’s reaction to my looks that held me back. That and nothing else (I talk to others and listen closely, every place I’ve ever worked, so I know.)

    • Brunchaholic :

      Telling someone that they should take being called young-looking as a compliment implies that being old is negative or an insult. Being old isn’t an insult. It’s what happens when you continue to exist. Placing a women’s value heavily (if not solely) on her youthfulness (i.e. looks) is pretty degrading, although it’s done by both women and men.

      And not to state the obvious, but are we also supposed to take unwanted catcalling as a compliment, too? One of the ways that women are put down by society on a day to day basis is by others feeling that they have the right to comment to our faces about our appearances. It implies that part of the purpose of our existence is to be visually appealing to others. That’s a mindset about women I for one don’t like to perpetuate.

      When I get these kinds of comments in a professional setting, I just smile politely. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.

      • Anonymous :

        I’ll preface this with the fact that I haven’t read all of the comments, but I’m so glad you brought this up. The standards we as women are held to are a bit ridiculous. I bet if you ask your male friends, people rarely tell them they look young. Especially at work. It’s never even a consideration . Also, I’m sure if you ask around, most women only receive thsee types of comments from older men.

        When people say that to me I just look at them questioningly as if to say “what’s your point”, add a “thank you, I guess?” And finish it off with a laugh. I think it’s important to let people know that it’s strange they commented on your appearance.

        • Brunchaholic :

          That’s a good point about the importance of letting them know. I work in an environment that perpetuates very strong (traditional) gender roles, so no matter how politely I frame things or how qualified my statements are about being treated differently as a woman, I’m pretty much treated as if I’m waving a burning bra over my head. I’m now conscientiously avoiding saying anything, which requires fighting all of my natural instincts.

          I’ve started implementing the “awkwardly long blank stare” method to convey disapproval (generally results in an attempt to dig themselves out of the hole they realize they are in, always unsuccessfully), but I like your approach and might try it, too.

  2. I know you said that higher heels would be out of place, but would a suit and/or blazer more often be? My husband is a shorter guy (under 5’7″) and teaches high school. He usually wears suits or blazers every day, not just because he likes the look, but it helps distinguish between him and the kids, many of whom tower over him.

    • Diana Barry :

      +1, blazers def help project authority and I don’t think the undergrads wear them!

    • I think in academia especially a tweedy looking blazer and a nice briefcase will go further than statement jewelry, more makeup (have you seen what these college girls spackle on these days? they are nuts with this makeup), or thinner heels. A suit is probably too formal, but avoid jeans and choose tailored dresses, pants, skirts.

      As to why people feel it is appropriate to comment on how young she looks, academics are generally socially inept in a major way.

  3. Reader, are you me?! (seriously, college professor, mid-30s, 5 ft, etc…).

    One sad but true thing I have found is that since I have gained some weight (currently weigh 127 lbs), these comments have slowed down. That’s not perhaps the best thing to recommend though.

    I concur with the bolder jewelry recommendation – I’ve embraced the statement necklace trend. I also wear lots of (tasteful) animal prints and blazers – lots of blazers, even though they are more formal than what most other profs wear.

    I am going to look into some of the power pose / body language links; I think I can really use that. I do try to be conscious of taking up more room in a space than I feel that I need, and also to sit in positions of power or at least not in weaker positions.

    Another thing is to consider what you are carrying and how you carry it. Backpacks will definitely make petites look like students. I carry a nice black leather bag that is not too heavy and if I have to carry more things then I use a second very nice canvas bag. I would not be afraid to use a wheelie bag if my load were heavy.

    As for responding: The last couple of times I got the comment – from older, like dad/granddad-aged, men – I laughed them off with “thanks! You just made my day!” I think that response – lighthearted but clearly indicating that I am NOT that young without actually telling them how old I am – was respectful and respect-gaining. That is important in my opinion contextually – it’s one thing when students think I’m young (although I don’t get that anymore – I’ve turned a corner and my students think I am OLD), but it’s another thing when senior old boys’ club professors with power think I am (too) young and dismiss my opinion. In the latter case, it’s especially important to work on how you deliver the response.

    • Meg Murry :

      Yes, I was coming here to say that a backpack or messenger bag will skew the OP much younger than a briefcase or tote.
      Also, does OP have any bad habits or ticks that make them appear younger and what steps is she taking to avoid them? For instance, does she fiddle with her hair or jewelry, and if so, will pulling her hair back help? I’d recommend the chapter in Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office on appearance to the OP to see if she does any other mannerisms like head tilting that read more “young girl” than “confident woman”

    • Yay! This could be me also! I always looked young (even now), but when I was in College, I was VERY svelte, mainley b/c the food was so bad. Then, I moved off campus and was abel to eat out alot, so I went from 102 to 122. But when I went to Law School, I was so busy studying that I got my weight back down to 100 and was considered very young lookeing still even tho I was over 22. Then when I moved to NYC, the food was SOOOOO good, so my weight went back up, but this time I went to 125, mostley in the tuchus b/c I was sitteing to much. Then my dad got involved and you know the rest. Fitbit, 10,000 steps and daily monitoring of my tuchus from LI, so I am back down to 103, tho dad want’s me at 100 so that men will look to MARRY me, not just have sex with me b/c of my tuchus.

      When you look young, no one takes you serius, even the judge’s, who look at me as an object for sex or game’s. I have to work doubbley hard to prove that I am compitent in the law and am aware of my legal responsibilities’ as a member of the bar. Having a few extra pound’s does NOT help b/c so many men look at it like baby fat, and they LOVE to play around with my tuchus, like Gonzalo. FOOEY! We women have to work our way out of the sexist mess men have created for us, where we are objectivied purely b/c of our body part’s. FOOEY on men that do not respect us for our MINDS! DOUBEL FOOEY!

      • thanks, ellen :

        I think you’re making fun of the woman who listed her weight at 127. let’s not name numbers, shall we?

      • Is this a joke posting? Learn the proper use of the apostrophe and work on your word selection. Based on your writing sample in this post, I would not take you seriously either. In the best piece of life advice (from my 5th grade music teacher who hurled it at our unruly class): Even if you are stupid, don’t act like it.

        Regarding your weight and your dad’s involvement in your future relationships, there are men who like women at all weights. What you weigh will not eliminate advances. People will treat you the way that you allow them to, so nip unwanted advances in the bud immediately and unequivocally, or as you put it, it will indeed be all about your tuchus. Further, if you are confident in who you are and what you want, the “right” person will find you. You are not being sold off for goats and camels. Unless you are expecting an arranged marriage, your dad should play no role in your adult romantic relationship. That is creepy. Grow up. If you are an adult, act like it.

    • Another college professor here (who used to be mistaken for an undergrad until I had a baby and got permanent undereye bags).

      In contrast to some other settings, I think it helps me look less like a student when I don’t look too polished/fashionable. At least on my campus, undergrad women all have lovely makeup, blown-out hair, and skinny pants. Profs have no makeup, air-dried hair, and unfashionable boot-cut corduroy pants. I now embrace the frump on my teaching days. Also, the tweed.

      • Concur. Well kempt and polished. Styled but not too trendy. When I started working as a lawyer 6 weeks after my 25th birthday, I wore as expensive a suit as I could afford (Ann Taylor at the time). I also had it tailored for me. All of that helped. At the time, I also thought heels would help, because for whatever reason, men seem to think taller women are somehow older. I do think it worked for men, however, it had the opposite effect on older women. After figuring that part out, I know wear “sensible” shoes that my stylishly comfortable 60 y/o boss would also wear. Glasses were hit or miss based on the frame, but it was easier to just not wear them at all and avoid the “too trendy” factor. Timeless, quiet classics are pretty much all I wear now.

  4. I’m curious about this too. I’m in my early thirties and without makeup in the summer I am still mistaken for a high schooler, i.e. I get carded at R-rated movies. As a mid-level Big Law attorney its frustrating, but like Reader E I’ve already done all the basic steps (and I wear more than basic makeup and statement jewelry). I suppose I could wear a suit everyday, but I think that would almost come off as trying to “play dress up” as my Big Law firm is more on the casual end. The worst part is I think I’m purposefully not being chosen for cases where I will be put in a role to have more client contact because of how young I look, despite the fact that my reviews are stellar.

  5. I suggest not worrying about this at all. In general, youth is a positive, especially at work. I really don’t get the need to try to look older. You’ll be older soon enough. Enjoy all the benefits that come with being young.

    • See my comment above. Sometimes it is really grating and undermines your work.

      • It doesn’t have to. If it’s a gravitas problem or an inexperience problem that you’re experiencing, it’s probably due to something other than looking young.

        • Did you read my comment? In my case, it’s not gravitas or inexperience- it’s my very babyish face, which I can’t do much about. It doesn’t need to be commented on. I’ve been told I have a good “presence” with people by both my boss and peers at work.

          I agree that if it’s the way your carry yourself, then it’s different- but most people who act immature aren’t told that they look young, people just don’t take them seriously. A woman my age (30) at my office who looks her age yet giggles uncontrollably, adds “I know, RIGHT?!” to the end of every sentence, and plays with her hair constantly is not perceived as looking young, but rather acting like an idiot. That’s completely within her control. My face is not.

          I feel like people who don’t experience this regularly often don’t understand how much it can hurt to hear comment about your age so often. Just don’t comment on it. It’s not flattering to hear.

    • Away Game :

      What field do you work in? I’m curious to know which industries or professions consider youth a positive. The “especially at work” line intrigues me. I’m in international relations/government, and that is absolutely 100% not the case with my field. If you’re under 30 it’s hard to convince people you’re not just another intern learning how to file.

      • I’m in sales.

        • Away Game :

          Got it. I think perhaps there is a different metric for success in the sales fields, where in fact youth would matter less as long as the employee’s numbers were good or great. I would think perhaps there are indeed a number of industries where youth would be an advantage (programming? marketing?) but not in others where it does matter a great deal how long it appears you’ve been at the job.

      • I’m in tech and it’s a plus.

        • i’m in tech and it’s NOT a plus. i don’t know what tech company you work in, but in mine, the fact that people routinely think i’m 5-10 years younger than i am mean they don’t think i have as much experience and knowledge as i do. i get left out of conversations i should be included on. people don’t think to consult with me on various topics because they don’t think i’ll have something to contribute. this notion that keeps getting repeated OVER AND OVER again by commenters here that those of us who appear younger should just “be grateful” is getting freaking TIRING. YOU don’t know how it feels and the repercussions it has for our careers, so STOP TELLING US HOW WE SHOULD FEEL ABOUT IT. thanks.

  6. I would think blazers every day would do the trick, unless you’re at a school with a lot of rich, pre-business undergrads who actually dress like that. Also, saying “thanks!” effectively communicates that you’re actually old enough to care about looking young.

    • lawsuited :

      +1 I respond with some version of “Thank you – how lovely of you to say!” so that I’m taking it in the spirit it’s offered if it was intended as a compliment, and to communicate that I’m experienced enough for it to not even register as an insult if it was intended as an insult.

  7. I have this issue. My current solution: I’ve stopped coloring my hair. I have a few greys among my dark hair and I’ve decided to let them speak for me (& my age). So far it’s working. Comments have now gone from remarking on my age to how young I look “for my age.”

  8. I have also taught at the college level, same age as the OP and have run into the same problem. If it’s just a comment about looking young I usually just say “thanks” no need to think too much about it. However sometimes it’s an issue of disrespect from students, (luckily I haven’t encountered this from colleagues). One thing I tried to do was wear blazers and generally look more dressed up than the average college student. It can be challenging though in some roles say when you have to perform tasks where a blazer and heels are unsuitable. Still, sometimes it did not help.
    I have spoken to others about this and some suggest that it’s the looking young thing, others think it’s because I’m a minority–suggesting that because of certain biases some people may have, they doubt my competence. Wish I had more tips, waiting to see what others think.

    • SLAC Professor :

      These are really important points! It’s definitely tied in to issues of respect and who gets to be an authority. I almost always get this comment from (1) somewhat entitled male students and (2) older male colleagues. It has gotten better as I’ve gotten to know more people at my institution; I think some of the body language tips help as well. Ugh, it gets annoying, though…

      • Interesting that you should bring up entitled students, it has definitely happened with male students but I have also experienced it with female students. In two separate incidents, students stormed out of class because they felt that they should have received a higher grade even though the work handed in was sub-standard. one of them (male) openly questioned my authority asking if I was really “the one in charge”. It was the kind of behavior that would never be acceptable in any work place situation. I suppose I am taking comfort knowing I am not the only one who has experienced this.

  9. Anonymous :

    No real advice but I just want to say I sympathize. I’m a 29 year old lawyer and even though I’m tall and wear blazers pretty much every day I regularly get told “You don’t look old enough to be a lawyer!” and similar comments. It’s NOT a compliment. When I’m in casual clothes I regularly get mistaken for a high schooler. I went to the grocery store about a year ago in a t-shirt from my college alma mater and the cashier asked me if I was thinking of applying there. So I feel your pain.

    • I’m 30 and at brunch this weekend, I was asked if I’d gone to the (HIGH SCHOOL!) homecoming the night before. Ugh.

    • TO Lawyer :

      +2 I was asked to enter my age range for a contest and when I said, the girl that was helping me was totally shocked and said she thought I was in high school.

      But I agree with the advice to wear blazers – for what it’s worth, if I go to the liquor store after work and am still in my work clothes, I usually don’t get carded but if I’m in my casual clothes, I get IDed every single time.

    • anonymous :

      This formulation of the “compliment” really highlights how it carries a connotation of “inexperienced.” While I am young for my field and recognize that, repeatedly hearing I “don’t look old enough” to work somewhere/drink at happy hour/pursue the degree I’m pursuing suggests I am not experienced enough to be where I am professionally, which is, while perhaps not intentionally offensive, certainly not something I’m happy to hear.

    • one grey hair :

      I was at a party thrown by a partner at my old law firm. Other non-firm adult people were there too, along with a bunch of teenagers. Someone told me the teenagers were all hanging out playing video games and suggested I might prefer to go join them rather than chat with the grown ups. I was 31 at the time. Now I’m 36 and I am deliberately growing out my one grey hair in a futile effort to look somewhat close to my age. At least now people think I’m 25, which is a perfectly respectable age for a lawyer, albeit a newly-minted one.

    • National_Anthem :

      Opposing counsel once asked me if my mom was going to pick me up after a deposition.

  10. I had shoulder length hair into my 30s too. But it wasn’t until I got a super short hair cut (pixie length) that I felt like my age was no longer being questioned. It is a drastic step but it was the one thing that finally worked.

  11. I went through this a lot in my 20s and 30s, when I was told I was looked too young to be a lawyer, or even “You don’t look like a lawyer!” — dark suit, pumps and briefcase notwithstanding. Depending on the context and who was saying it, I would laugh it off with a thanks comment or go for frosty. (And I was pretty snappish when, at age 35, an elderly male corporate type told me in a deposition, “You ask impertinent questions, young lady.”)

    I am now mid-50s, still probably look younger than many people of this age but of course not actually young. I am vain enough to take a certain pleasure in hearing that, but I don’t feel good about my own response to it. I agree that “young” should not equate with “better” or “more desirable,” an attitude that perpetuates ageism (and, for women, a good deal of sexism, too — it’s not generally considered a compliment to tell a male attorney how young he looks).

    An 88-year-old activist friend of mine has written about ageism, and comments, among other things:

    “You don’t look your age,” is not a compliment. The best age is the age you are.
    and
    Ageism diminishes us all. Fight ageism, embrace longevity.

    Check out http://www.oloc.org/resources/what_is_ageism.php

    • I like this comment so much.

      I’m a 29 year old lawyer who is short with a baby face. The local attorneys all know me by now, and don’t make comments on my age or youthful appearance, but my job also meet new people regularly, and they are often aghast that I am, in fact, the attorney handling the matter (despite blazers/dresses/heels/good personal grooming).

      I don’t put much thought into it anymore. I have no problem being 29 or looking 29. But I also don’t think I’ll have any problem being 59 or 69 or (if I get there) 89 and “looking the part.” I want to take good care of myself, be healthy, and look put together. Whether I have aged “well” or look “young” or not isn’t really important, in the long run. At least in my estimation.

    • I like that link too! This reminds me of the debate about commenting that someone is thin or has lost weight. I consider it rude and am offended when someone does this to me, but the majority believes that “hey, it’s a compliment!” and doesn’t understand. Similarly, the underlying premise is that thinner is always better, not to mention that people have a right to comment on women’s bodies, and that is my objection.

      • Senior Attorney :

        That’s my thing: The idea that women’s bodies are public property, to be evaluated and remarked upon by anybody and everybody, really irks me. Ugh.

    • Brunchaholic :

      +1,000,000

  12. SLAC Professor :

    I am 29 and a college professor at a liberal arts college; I deal with this a lot. While I dress professionally (a lot of pencil skirts), it only does so much. Two issues that I don’t think have been addressed yet: most professors dress quite casually (sometimes pretty sloppily), so dressing up too much can make you look a bit insecure or uncomfortable in your own role; sometimes senior colleagues even make comments about this. (There’s also a lot of privilege in being able to wear your dad jeans to work and still be taken seriously as A Professor, but that’s another issue).

    Second, where I teach, many of the female students are quite fancy; full makeup, for example, isn’t something that differentiates me from them (although lipstick helps a bit). I try to avoid the most egregious undergrad trends; I think dark colors and more edgy and/or minimal silhouettes can help make you look a bit different from the students and more sophisticated. I avoid Fit and Flare skirts and dresses at work — they skew too young. I personally find blazers somewhat uncomfortable for writing on the board; also, almost none of my female colleagues wear them, so I don’t think the blazer is necessarily the ace in the hole.

    • Yup, see my comment upthread. On my campus, professor = unfashionable. I run with it now. It’s really comfy wearing Dansko clogs to work every day.

    • Agreed a blazer does not always work for some tasks. A suggestion though: try wearing more casual styles if you really want to wear one when teaching. I have a waterfall blazer that looks fitted from the back and the front is a flowy style, it’s black, I find it comfortable enough for teaching. Somehow it feels less restricting if I may use that word. Just make sure the rest of the ensemble is not casual.

  13. I look like a teenager, too. I like looking young when I dress casually on the weekends but not at work. The best thing I have found (in addition to appearance of hair, makeup, clothes, shoes and behavior like not twirling hair and lowering my voice) is to not smile as much – especially to older men. I am a naturally smiley person, but I find a smile can be too inviting for people to treat me younger/walk all over me. I try not to smile as much and keep my responses short.

  14. I am petite with small features that have always made me look young. If you need corrective lenses, I have found that certain styles of glasses help to age me a bit.

    • Yes! I always wear glasses because I look older. As a bonus, my eyes are way less dry too.

  15. I’m interested to read what the rest of the hive says, but I am chiming in to say that I’ve had it both ways. I’ve always looked young, and I’m tiny. I have had a lot of compliments (I do take them as compliments) when folks say that I look younger since having lost weight. It’s a two-fer, as my youngest would say. But I certainly see the side of things where a statement like “You look so young!” is/can be taken as an insult, or at least not exactly a compliment.

    However, I, myself think that I have immediately aged myself and/or shipped myself up the ladder a bit by chopping off my hair, wearing glasses, and playing with accessories more. I used to have just-beyond-shoulder hair or a bob for several years, and just a few months ago, I chopped it off into a short shag/long pixie. I think that it has definitely helped me cross the “looks like a grown-up” bridge.

    And, trust me, there are plenty of girls to compare to–I live in a town that is the home to a very large university. This place is crawling with undergrads (the student population here equals, and may even exceed, the population in town of non-students), so I probably do look like one of them in a crowd. But, I don’t get carded at the grocery store ALL the time anymore.

  16. I am a lawyer, and from age 13 looked old enough that I have never been carded. But not changing that much either – say, a steady 18-21. So when I started to practice at 22, each and every one of my initial clients would ask me within the first 5-10 minutes of meeting me a variation of ‘are you old enough to be a lawyer’ or ‘Just how old are you’. This is a negative comment, as in law someone is paying you for your knowledge but also for your good judgment, and judgment is is something most of us develop with experience, and experience takes time.
    So I needed to do something to look older.
    I switched to glasses from contacts. No big sacrifice, as I was in Big Law, and given my regular schedule of 10-18 hour billable days, the contacts bothered me. And I never got the question again.
    Sometime in my early thirties, it occurred to me that I probably now looked old enough naturally, went back to contacts, and have never received the question again.

  17. I am also a college professor in my mid-30s and I have to say that I find some of the snarky comments to be a bit much here. She is uncomfortable with her students thinking she is younger than she actually is. She has a valid reason to feel this way because plenty of research has demonstrated that young-looking women in the professoriate and across upper-level occupations are treated in a way that undermines their competence as professionals.

    That said, I agree with another reader that bold, high quality jewelry is a good option for making a more sophisticated impression. When you are surrounded by students, it is pretty easy to differentiate by ensuring that the quality of what you are wearing is visible (but obviously not garish). I’d also recommend trying bold, clean silhouettes to make more powerful statements. If you have not read the petite style blogs (Extra Petite is a favorite of mine), I would suggest browsing those for suggestions on tailoring and proportion.

    Good luck! This blog really helped me to upgrade my look as a professional and I am better off for it.

  18. SuziStockbroker :

    I had this issue when I first started in my profession, at 32. My office was business formal, so wearing blazer wouldn’t have helped as I wore suits every day.

    What did help, like others have mentioned, is wearing my glasses instead of contacts. I also stopped colouring my grey streak (that I have had since age 15).

    It was a very big deal to me, as my clients were self-sourced. Many, many people will not a let a “young” woman manage their wealth.

    It’s one of the blessings of being in my 40s, I no longer have this issue.

  19. 2 very concrete things that help:
    1) Don’t giggle in response to comments. If someone is telling a joke, fine, but try not to do it as a nervous or “trying to be nice” response.

    2) Don’t use the diminutive version of your name (go by Megan, not Meg etc.). This standard sucks, I know, but it does make a difference introducing yourself as Elizabeth vs Lizzy.

  20. I look very young and I’m blonde so my grey hairs don’t show and I’ve struggled with this a lot and I’m going to try the blazer trick (although I kind of hate blazers but whatever). When someone comments on how young I look I’m actually a bit happy because it gives me an opportunity to correct them. I’d rather that than have them continue to think I’m my boss’ assistant (which happens even though I’m actually a VP), or I’m inexperienced, etc. I will also work in age references when I can, like, “Oh yeah, I remember the 80s, I was in high school” or that sort of thing. It’s a struggle, though, I worry a lot that I’m not taken seriously. I try to remind myself that acting like you deserve respect is a good way to get respect.

    Generally when feeling insulted I try to ask myself if it was intended as an insult. If it wasn’t, I correct them politely and/or with humor/thanks and move on. Life’s too short to be insulted by every little thing, especially when the other person thinks they’re being nice. Take the kindness if someone’s offering it, it’s scarce enough as it is. And if they are trying to insult you, something like this is not really worth your grief.

  21. The Voice :

    I’ve noticed how some women, despite their best efforts to lower their voices, betray themselves when they end statements in a higher pitched, almost questioning tone. It’s as if everything they say is a question. When I hear it, I half expect the speaker to tilt her head and twirl her hair. Comes across as very young.

  22. Anoooooooon :

    What’s wrong with a pearl on a pendant?

    • Well, you see... :

      It’s dainty and delicate. The smaller scale isn’t as bold as larger pieces. If you’re not trying to look older than rock the single pearl! :)

  23. I’m also a short, young college professor. I’m 32, 5’2″ and average weight. I used to be very overweight, it didn’t help. I teach students of all ages. I constantly teach in a lab setting where I have to be careful that my clothes won’t get ruined. I am married and wear my wedding band.
    Last week I had to go to a meeting in another building and when I asked for directions, the woman I was talking to assumed I was a freshman in college.
    Drives me crazy sometimes.

    How do I deal?
    1) I never ever wear my hair in a regular pony tail. Its either carefully styled up or down.
    2) Full face of makeup. Eyeliner, bronzer, blush, the works. Every day.
    3) I wear nice clothes. To the point of when I was in on a day off and was “caught” wearing pants, everyone commented on how “sporty” I looked. I always wear a dress or skirt and blouse.
    4) I’m always in jewelry, even if its just my earrings and wedding band.

    Lastly, and I think this may help the most with dealing with both younger and older people, I reference old things. When I’m with a younger crowd, I’ll refer to something silly like the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and how I was too cool for them, but because of my *younger* brother, I still know the silly theme song. They’ll realize that TMNT went out of fashion before they were in kindergarten and realize I’m *old*.
    I’ll make Reagan and Nixon comments if I’m with an older crowd. Reference MASH.

    When someone “compliments” me on my apparent youth, I always tell them that I want to age like my grandmother and look 70 when I’m 85, so thank you! Maybe they don’t realize that its basically genetic. When they were trying to be mean, now they either have to make a truly rude comment about my inexperience or back down. If they actually choose to comment on my inexperience, I respond with a polite, “well in my decade of experience with teaching […]” or “in over 15 years of doing research […]”. This normally shuts them up because yes, I’m younger than they are, but I’ve been walking this walk for a decent amount of time.

    Finally, when all else fails, ask them when they are retiring :)

  24. As a 4’11 33 year old clinical social worker with now almost 10 years experience I know the feeling! I’ve note as others here that allowing a few Gray hairs to show through helps! I also recommend a shorter structured bob hairstyle or pixie crop hairstyle. Tailoring Blazers so they fit correctly and opting for slim fit or straight leg pants as opposed to trouser cut or wide leg pants which can make one appear even smaller. I also recommend petite blogs like extra petite & alterations needed for petite fashion tips & tricks. Dressing to suit your small proportions is as important as wearing structured clothing in my experience. Theory suit separates are my best weapon! I used to more bothered by ‘you look so young’ comments in the workplace, now I tend to let my experience speak for itself & if someone is superficial enough to judge the book by its cover then more fool them! It is a very real issue though in situations like job interviews – looking young & being petite does mean you have to work harder to show your worth than someone who obviously has more mileage on their clock ;-) good luck!

  25. CA Business :

    Like many other commenters I get this all the time in my role in sales/marketing. Although it is an inconsiderate remark usually made to demean the receiver, I don’t let it get to me and always roll with a joke out of it. “I moisturize”, “Some people pay a lot of money for this”, or just a “Thank you so much”. I then dive right into a business related matter. I’ve shut them up about the age thing, and gotten on with why we’re meeting in the first place.

  26. Think about your choice of color. Opt for rich, saturated colors, like burgundy, forest green, plum, mustard, etc. Try to minimize wearing pastels and brights, or pair them with darker blazers or scarves.

    With respect to makeup, be careful about balance. One thing that screams “teenager” is wearing a lot of eye makeup with out any blush or lipstick. Same rules of color apply – stay away from pale lip glosses, and look for a good lipstick in a saturated, rich matte.

    Also, hair length and style. Long hair is more youthful, whereas shorter hair can look more authoritative.

    Finally, if you need contacts or wear glasses, consider switching up what you do. If you wear contacts, a good pair of frames can really make a statement, and in turn can give you a more mature presence. If you wear glasses, consider whether what you are wearing looks too young.

  27. In case it makes the OP feel any better . . . I’m also a college professor. I’m very tall and in no way have a “baby” face. My voice is naturally somewhat lower than average. I don’t giggle, I dress professionally, and I don’t twirl my hair. And I still got the “you look too young to be a . . .” comment well into my 40s. (I’m now in my 50s.) Honestly, I think it’s a comment that implies some shock, even if unintended shock, that a woman can be a professor at all. I got the comment far more often when I was department chair.

  28. I’m 43 years old and still frequently get pegged as the ‘kid’ in the crowd. So, here’s what I’ve learned.

    It won’t stop. My mother received similar comments well into her 50’s. I just had to develop thicker skin and strategy. No, I don’t think it’s right, but that’s rather irrelevant when developing strategy to combat it.

    Sometimes I AM the ‘kid.’ When everyone else in the room is mid-60’s with worlds of experience they’re willing to share, I need to be mature enough to understand that I still have plenty to learn. That doesn’t mean I’m not good enough or that they’re better because they’re older, but if I’m hung up on labels, I’ll miss a great opportunity to learn.

    Although I disliked it, I decided at some point to stop dressing fashionably (not ugly, just not trendy or pretty). Somehow, if I blended more / stood out less, people didn’t associate me with the ‘inexperienced’ adjectives as much. I started dressing in all classic clothing, nothing trendy, nothing that stood out at all – blend. I want others to notice my intelligence and my experience, not my appearance.

    When given an opportunity to introduce myself (events, work groups, etc.), I’d start with my # of years of experience. It may come off as semi-arrogant, but it immediately gets the point across that I’m not a rookie. Hi, I’m D. I have over 20 years of experience in the field, 6 of which has been with my current company.

    I never wear my hair up at work. Ever. I always wear full makeup.

    Most importantly, I think attititude has a LOT to do with it. The old attage ‘fake it till you make it’ definitely applies. Think about the most mature, strong female you’ve ever worked with. Do they EVER appear to be worried about whether others appreciate their authority? Nope.
    This can be a thin line to walk – it shouldn’t be arrogance, nor be abrupt or bullying, but it can definitely be ‘I’m here and I’m going to be heard.’

    Being perceived as the rookie can have some advantages. Use them when you can.
    I have, for example, had folks talk too much in front of me because they assumed I don’t know enough to be dangerous.
    I’ve also had the chance to impress others when my work speaks to my actual experience rather than my perceived experience.

    Best of luck!

  29. I used to be the same! I’m 5 ft tall and until I had kids, I was always presumed to be in my teens. I didn’t get cheekbones until I was 27. I wasn’t fat but had a youthful look. That ended once I had kids. Now, at age 40 I can pass for 35 but don’t get carded or anything that wonderful.

    This page may be helpful: http://www.extrapetite.com/2010/05/reader-request-how-to-look-older-in.html

    For me, I found I had a naturally enthusiastic personality, so it was hard to be seen as mature. Once I calmed that down and started dressing a half level “nice” than colleagues, I felt like I wasn’t seen as SO young. I got a better haircut, tossed any barettes/cute things and would wear less trendy items. I started shopping at Ann Taylor vs Forever 21 for work wear.

    Now, I’m not saying you don’t dress professionally, I’m just saying what worked for me. But honestly I did still always look young. Sometimes I embraced the “ingénue” vibe I was getting (even if I was 5 yrs older than they thought).

    Now, I like looking younger and find it a benefit. (Just like they said I would). 40 and no crow’s feet…I guess that was worth having a craps game in Vegas halted so they could check my ID when I was 28.

  30. I have a similar dilemma, but I wear a uniform for my career so my options are limited. I’ve found that wearing lipstick and a decent watch help, but ultimately I’ve come to terms with the fact that people will mistake me for younger. Any other non-clothing tips?

  31. Does anyone know of any good (and active) academic style blogs?

  32. I started practicing at 26, but looked much younger; I’m now 31 and still get carded regularly. Comments about age were absolutely questioning my ability to represent my clients (“are you old enough to be a lawyer,” “do you need to ask someone who was doing this when you were in school,” etc).
    I changed quite a few things to look more like an adult, but realized looking comfortable in your body and clothing is a huge step, whether it is fashionable or not.
    To stop the comments, I have used a friend’s suggestion. When someone says I look young, I respond with “oh good, I love my new moisturizer!” and laugh it off. It has worked well.

  33. I used to be a teaching assistant at the university at fairly young age (22-23). The tutorials I gave were from quite technical subjects. I had a groups of around 30 students, 80-90% male, in age of 18-20, but some were even elder then me. Not the most respectfull demographics :)

    I noticed some students had a questionable attitude during the first class, but I’ve learnt to quickly gain their respect. I just did my best to teach well. I am young, look even younger than I am, but that can be an asset! I didn’t tell the students how old am I (why should I?), but some of them eventually learnt it and… respected me even more! Simply because I knew quite a lot about the topic and got the TA position despite very minor experience (I was a (post)graduate student). Your skills are the most important, looks are secondary.

    You are probably way more experienced than me, so you should know these little tricks how to make the students take you seriously and respect your authority. Lower voice, a bit more conservative or mature clothes (I swear on glasses) work, but it is primarily about being a knowledgable and demanding teacher. You can usually spot the student who has a disrespectfull attitude, just corner them a little bit with questions during the first session. They would not know the answer and then it’s your job to show that you can guide them well through the topic. I had one terrible group and I gave them consistently lower grades (by around 10%). I knew that it would be adjusted at the end of the course after adding a teacher-component and it made wonders to motivate them to work hard and take me seriously. I wasn’t a fan of “exercising power”, but I was advised to by a methodology professional, who observed my tutorial. I didn’t overuse it, but those few times it worked wonders.

    (I’m sorry for any spelling/grammar mistakes, but English is not my native language, nor I even lived in an English-speaking country).

  34. I find it sad and ironic that we deal with this crap (I do, too) in a society where Renee Zellwenger has to become a new, younger person in order to keep getting jobs because she was looking “too old” at 45.

    Sigh.

  35. Just curious, but at what point do we have to stop breaking our backs and literally changing our natural selves to be taken seriously? I mean, it’s ridiculous that you have to change your looks, your hair, your voice (!), your tone, wear specific articles of clothing, etc. all because you are a woman who happens to look young. I totally understand that we are judged (unfairly) by our appearances, but where do we draw the line and demand that we’re accepted as we are. Or rather, how? How do we do that?

  36. If you wear contacts, a great pair of Warby Parker glasses could add some maturity to your look.

  37. People always assume in court that I am either the client or the secretary. I also coach varsity girl’s lacrosse at our local high school (granted the dress code coaching is much less formal, obviously)but I am always asked what grade I am in or the refs ask me where my coach is. So frustrating! I make an extra effort to get dressed up for games for this exact reason. If wearing a formal suit in the office/at court everyday doesn’t work, I’ll just need to wait out aging I guess!

  38. I’m a 35 yr old professor who has been mistaken for a student since I started this job at 27. It has gotten better (since I moved to a new department with younger faculty).

    When teaching in Chicago, in a professional program, most of my graduate students were older than me and wearing suits. So I went with conservative, business attire (used this site a lot for advice). Now I am in the sunbelt where students dress as though they are heading to the beach (short shorts, flip flops, tank tops, halter tops, beach coverups). The fact that I am not scantily clad makes me a faculty member!

    But, in addition to what the poster noted, I think walking with authority makes a big difference. Act like a faculty member. Act like you have power. This greatly differentiates you from students (and staff).

  39. Something else to try, that I haven’t seen mentioned yet, is to check your posture. With age comes confidence, and posture is important in conveying that. Are you sitting straight & standing tall, or are you hunched over all the time making yourself look less confident and more immature? I thunk if you are conveying a strong presence then the age question might be less likely come up.

  40. I had this problem when I was consulting – I was 25’ish and managing men twice my age. Short hair helps – especially with an edgier cut. I wear glasses and switching to chunky glasses helped. More makeup can assist, particularly eye makeup and a stronger lip color.

    But I find what helped the most was my change in wardrobe. Lots of black, grey, neutrals. I avoid sweater dresses except on freezing cold on-campus days in February or on Fridays. I try not to overdress, but the black tights, black boots, and black pencil with a colored blazer works well. Chunky jewelry too. And watch your voice – firm, louder than comfortable, and deep.

    And then I dazzle them with my knowledge :-)

    I still get comments about being young (I’m 43) but I smile and make a joke about their needing glasses or my success with photoshop. Laugh it off, once people know you, it’s less of an issue.

    One comment – I let my grad students call me by my first name, but my undergrads I am Professor X even though I’m not a PhD and not TT. I also talk extensively about my work experience in my courses, and that helps.

  41. Angel Michele Cagle :

    My suggestion is be confident in who you are and what you know yourself to be capable of doing. Enjoy looking younger as long as you can. Don’t get offended by someone telling you that because, well, damn, being offended by everything seems to be all young women do. I can assure you, behavior has a lot more to do with how someone perceives you than looks do. You can dress the part, but if you act like a perpetually offended person, people are going to think of you as immature. I can’t believe what young women try to pull off as feminism. First, I read that you all feel harassed because A MAN asked you to smile, when you know it’s because you really do look like an angry, bitter woman, now I’m reading you all are worried about how people think you look? Which is it? No one is suppose to notice how you look or you’re worried about how people look at you? True feminist are writhing in pain at the mockery you all have twisted it into. Being offended at everything is a sign of weakness. Wanting to look older to be taken more seriously is the same as saying young women don’t look smart enough. Unreal!

  42. I’ve come to accept I’m just going to look young for my age for a while, and I just prepare with every new job I get for there to be a learning curve for people who weren’t involved with hiring me. I’m work in the creative side of corporate (design+web) and at my last agency an owner thought I was just out of college until I mentioned I was in my 30s. I actually guest speak at universities and once I get talking and doing my presentation I guess it doesn’t occur to people to question my age — the only time it’s been a huge deal for me is when I actually WAS young. I was able to walk onto an art director position for a sort of visible media role right out of college, and if I look 24 at 32, at 24 I probably looked 19 even in professional clothing. I worked in the news industry and freelanced once for a national industry magazine over a weekend at a conference, and oh my LOLz everyone was talking to me like I was an intern — about what “great experience for my resume!” that weekend was going to be.

    It wasn’t until my boss/mentor popped in and people saw me chatting with him that people really asked me what I did/where I was from. He was also sort of a national figure at the time in the industry and people were like “OH.” LOL. A woman working over the weekend finally understood I was a young manager and not an intern working a very specific and growing niche and I actually wound up being featured in the magazine a few months later.

    These days, it’s irritating when a contractor or someone I’m not regularly in touch with drops by the office and tries to give me some “learning lessons,” but meh. My superiors know my age and experience and I have an old soul so it always seems to just balance out in the end.

  43. I’ve come to accept I’m just going to look young for my age for a while, and I just prepare with every new job I get for there to be a learning curve for people who weren’t involved with hiring me. I work in the creative side of corporate (design+web) and at my last agency an owner thought I was just out of college until I mentioned I was in my 30s. I actually guest speak at universities and once I get talking and doing my presentation I guess it doesn’t occur to people to question my age — the only time it’s been a huge deal for me is when I actually WAS young. I was able to walk onto an art director position for a sort of visible media role right out of college, and if I look 24 at 32, at 24 I probably looked 19 even in professional clothing. I worked in the news industry and freelanced once for a national industry magazine over a weekend at a conference, and oh my LOLz everyone was talking to me like I was an intern — about what “great experience for my resume!” that weekend was going to be.

    It wasn’t until my boss/mentor popped in and people saw me chatting with him that people really asked me what I did/where I was from. He was also sort of a national figure at the time in the industry and people were like “OH.” LOL. A woman working over the weekend finally understood I was a young manager and not an intern working a very specific and growing niche and I actually wound up being featured in the magazine a few months later.

    These days, it’s irritating when a contractor or someone I’m not regularly in touch with drops by the office and tries to give me some “learning lessons,” but meh. My superiors know my age and experience and I have an old soul so it always seems to just balance out in the end.

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  45. For how to respond, a lot of people here are saying to thank the person, even ‘you made my day!’ but OP doesn’t feel grateful to the people making these comments and it didn’t make her day, she’s annoyed at their behaviour. She doesn’t have to lie or encourage their ageism… I prefer to be light and forgiving, with “Oh, yes, everyone thinks that I’m younger.” This gives them a graceful way out of putting their foot in their mouths — like, they were incorrect, but everyone does that, so it’s fine and I still like them.

    Then they invariably say “You’ll enjoy it when you’re older!”, and I can conclude the conversation with “Perhaps; I imagine I’ll find out eventually!” which makes them laugh and keeps us all friends.

    If I’m comfortable, I sometimes even go further: “I well might [enjoy it]! Or, I might like looking 40 when I’m 40, and 60 when I’m 60. I guess I’ll find out eventually!” Your mileage may vary on using the addition — I’ve found that sixty-year-olds (or whatever I guess as their age) find it extremely refreshing that this fresh-faced youngster thinks it’s a-ok to look sixty — but I imagine it depends on the region/culture.
    The rest of it, you can’t go wrong. Good luck, fellow youthful-looking person!

  46. Speaking of it being a-ok to look older, I’m surprised that nobody has suggested drawing in some gentle crow-lines or bleaching/dying some realistic silver strands into her hair. I’m considering that, myself.

    If hair dye is a bit too extreme, and if you are the DIY-sort, then you might consider tying some silver hair onto clips, and hiding the clips in your hair, so that you have just a touch of silver for workdays. (Probably too difficult to hide it in straight hair, but it can work fabulously in waves or curls.) Nice shoes are well and good, but nothing says mid-30s like a touch of silver.

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