I looked up from the GED prep packet to see one of the girls eyeing me up and down.
“How old are you?”
“How old do you think I look?” I couldn’t stop myself from replying.
She bit her bottom lip as she gave me a careful once over.
“I’d say 23. Maybe 24. How old are you really?”
“Well…this coming March I’ll be…” and then I paused, because for the life of me, I couldn’t remember how old I am. I doubt that it’s old age settling in just yet. Because, I eventually remembered that I’m a ripe 31 and will turn 32 this spring.
The two girls I was helping nodded, clearly impressed.
“Wow. Well you look good…young,” one of them clarified.
My drive home was spent replaying that conversation over and over again in my head. I’ve been told, on occasion, that I look younger than I actually am. It probably didn’t hurt that this day I had been sitting cross legged on a desk as I tutored these girls in science, my black leggings peeking out between my tall boots and colorful dress.
I also reflected on that surge of “awwwww yeah!” that spread through me when they thought I was almost 10 years younger than I am. I have absolutely no qualms about my age (considering I can barely remember it when pressed to do so), yet I still got a rush at being mistaken for looking younger.
Did their assumption help hide any of those white hairs that have been popping up around my head lately? Did it somehow magically erase any of those wrinkles that have been creeping up around the corners of my eyes?
Perhaps the rush I felt was a subconscious reaction propelled by years of living in a culture that promotes and rewards the concept of youth in beauty. It’s no surprise that people are opting in for things like Botox and plastic surgery at younger ages.
At the same time, however, we’re pushing little girls to grow up faster than ever before. Between updating television shows that turn Strawberry Shortcake and Dora into teenagers, clothing that would look more appropriate on teens than toddlers, and toys that encourage mimicking adult behavior (note the debit card, cell phone & lipstick…what messages is this toy trying to sell?) it seems as if companies are intent on having little kids grow up at accelerated rates.
Talk about irony. Older women are bombarded with creams that will “wipe away the age” from your skin, bras that will perk those saggy breasts right up, and TV/movie/magazine images that reinforce the notion that youth is the desired goal. At the same time little girls are being marketed to in a way that is encouraging them to age faster.
So which is it? Do we want to be young…but not too young? Old…but not too old?
I had the pleasure of speaking with Peggy Orenstein recently, and I shared my story of being asked my age and the resulting conflicted feelings I harbored. She said that 21 is the magic number, according to advertisers and companies. It’s the one age that we (supposedly) all aspire to reach or go back to.
But then I thought about my 21st year. Sure, it was fun…but it was also stressful. I was in my last year of college, trying to complete all my work while looking for a job. I didn’t realize how “good” I had it at the time, and while I had good times, it’s not a year I look back at and wish…”If only I could go back and be 21 forever.” Although, that sounds like a C grade movie that will probably be out this summer, eh?
Coming soon to a theater near you: A story of a woman who slowly drives herself to the brink not knowing if she should be shopping for herself at Chico’s, Forever 21, or Gymboree. A chance encounter with a young girl who is four going on fourteen only confuses things more. This summer, she’s: Damned If You Do…Damned If You Don’t.