Does the Fountain of Youth end abruptly?
January 19, 2011 8:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm approaching 30, but people usually assume I am 17-21. Question for other people who look or looked super young compared to their peers -- am I likely to age more suddenly than most people?

I have a friend who is 42 and looks about my age. She said her sister also looked super young, but then seemed to age about 10 years in 1 year!

Just wondering, does this really happen? Will all the age that I'm somehow fighting suddenly catch up with me and hit me all at once? Or is it more likely that I will gradually age, just like everybody else, so slowly that I don't necessarily notice it?

I'm not particularly worried about aging (and it's irrelevant anyway since we all inevitably experience it) but I'm just curious more than anything. :)

I know everybody is different, but would like some data points.
posted by KLF to Grab Bag (38 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
I have the same problem. I'm a faculty member at a college in a college town, and people always just assume that I'm an undergrad, which for reasons of my own insecurity I find vaguely insulting.

I've considered dyeing my hair gray or taking up smoking to accelerate the ravages of aging, but I suppose at the end of the day you've just got to accept the fact that you're going to be more attractive to other people for a longer period of time than other people your age.

I know, life can be hard sometimes.
posted by elder18 at 8:18 PM on January 19, 2011 [10 favorites]

You will continue to look younger UNLESS you take up bad habits like smoking or excessive sun exposure. I don't look as young as I used to look but I still apparently look younger than my actual age according to acquaintances of mine.

In general you age gradually unless illness or stress or bad habits do you in.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:21 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

i'm in my late 30s and people are routinely shocked to discover my age, usually placing me about ten years younger. one woman i know literally fell out of her chair when she found out my age.

i've never done drugs or been a big drinker. i'll have a smoke on the very rare occasion. i exercise (run and gym) on a daily basis. i slather on sunscreen when i know i'll be exposed a lot to the sun. i have the type of skin that make-up counter cosmetics salespeople go gaga over. my mother also is often thought to be a lot younger than her chronological age, so i think a lot of it is genetics. the rest is lifestyle.
posted by violetk at 8:30 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm 31 but most of the time strangers assume I'm in my early to mid 20's. I always get carded when buying beer. I attribute it to the fact that I hate the sun so I avoid it, so my skin looks very healthy and young. I haven't even had a tan since I was about 9 years old. Obviously, if I look close, I can tell the difference between pictures taken of me when I was 21 and now, but it's still quite subtle. More structural changes than wrinkles. My chin is a little softer, etc.

That said I've definitely observed people who looked very young for a long time and then suddenly within the space of a year, they seemed to age a lot more. For example, I was just talking to someone recently about how David Boreanaz looked quite young for his age up until season 5 of Bones, when he suddenly seemed to age 5 years in the space of one season. (Yes me and my friends have shallow pointless conversations about celebrities, what of it?)

But there's no way to tell with such people whether it's just time catching up, or stress, illness, etc. I assume that with pretty much everyone, the aging process will eventually accelerate to the point where you will look the age you are. What I mean is, there might be a lot of 30 year olds who look 20, and a lot of 40 year olds who look 30, but the vast majority of 90 year olds look 90 or thereabouts, if that makes sense.
posted by katyggls at 8:39 PM on January 19, 2011

I am routinely placed ten years younger than my actual age. This has been going on ever since I was a kid, though the differential has increased with time, and I am 52 now. For me there's never been a catching-up.
posted by jet_silver at 8:48 PM on January 19, 2011

I've seen it happen to family members, but it was in combination with weight gain. Aged them 5 to 10 years with about 20 lbs. However once they lost it, they looked much younger. From what I've seen a lot of people go from looking very young to looking sort of ageless. As in they could be anywhere from 25 to 45. I find it happening to myself a bit. People have always though I was young, but now I get a far broader age range. In the last 4 months I've been mistaken for 19 and 30 and I'm 28, so who knows, but most people think I'm at least 5 years younger if not a lot more, largely depending on what I'm wearing. I drink like a lawyer, but don't smoke. Try to regularly exercise and wear sunscreen daily, however I've still had plenty of sunburns unfortunately.

Most of the people in my family look young for their age for whatever reason and other than due to health, hair loss or weight gain, no one has ever aged rapidly as far as I can tell. Although the sun worshippers in the family do look older.
posted by whoaali at 8:48 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

In my case it definitely caught up with me quickly. I always looked much younger than my age, by 10+ years. People were always shocked to learn my real age. This peaked at about 33 or 34. I was still passing for early twenties at that point, carded without fail whenever buying alcohol etc. Until it stopped, seemingly overnight once I turned 36 or so. No idea what happened. I was never good about sunscreen, or a good nights sleep. I drank a fair amount socially and had a pretty high level of stress. But all my 20s and 30s were like that and it didn't seem to affect my facial appearance.... until seemingly overnight it did. Sigh. I pretty much look my age now. It sucks.
posted by Rapunzel1111 at 8:55 PM on January 19, 2011 [3 favorites]

Me too. Almost 41 and people are generally off by at least 10 years. Last time I went to buy beer the cashier had a manager come over to double check my ID. :|

It's been this way for at least 10 years.

When I moved to New Mexico and didn't use sunscreen as often or as well as I should I did start to see some aging, but it was not sudden. I assume if I had continued to live there and not take better care the process would continue.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:56 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh I just read whoaali's answer and a little bell went off. I gained just about 15 lbs right around the time that I quit getting carded and first noticed that I didn't look as young as I used to. Interesting.
posted by Rapunzel1111 at 8:58 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I seem to have stopped hearing "you can't be X — I thought you were X–10!" so much in the year or so since I turned 44 — my face is aging more quickly and my body too, I feel a lot more fragile physically and am considering not snowboarding this season. I tore something in my shoulder wakeboarding two months ago which still hurts; that would have healed by now a couple of years ago.

I'm hoping this might be temporary; a pretty brutal injury early last year sidelined me from exercise for a while and I haven't gotten back into it — and my GF moved in and is cooking and baking up a storm! — so I've lost muscle and put on fat and that may be what's making me look puffy and feel older. If I can get back into shape maybe I'll get that Fountain going again... unless my hair starts to go gray, then forget it!
posted by nicwolff at 9:10 PM on January 19, 2011

I'm 50 and I think I look pretty close to my age, but I've been told by other people that I look at about 10 years younger. I'm a non-smoker with no kids and have never been a sun worshipper, but I haven't been as good with sunscreen as I should have been. While I don't dress like a teen, I haven't gone for dowdy clothes and the cliched middle-aged woman's helmet hairstyle.

While some people may appear to age gradually at the expected rate, and others may look older suddenly due to stress or weight gain, I think many of us will show age more in some areas that others. For example, I have relatively faint frown lines between my eyebrows, minimal throat "necklace" lines, and almost no grey hair. In contrast, I can see my jowls starting and I don't even want to talk about what's happening to my hands.

So if you focus on some signs of age and not others (random variations in markers of biological aging, as well as choices in hair and dress), you may consider certain people to look younger or older that their age, while other people might have different perceptions of the same people, because they're looking at different areas. A change in one area may be a lot more obvious to you than to someone else.
posted by wexford_arts at 9:11 PM on January 19, 2011

granecdata: My grandmother told me recently that my mother had the most gorgeous pale skin -- "but one day it will just fall in on her and she'll wake up covered in wrinkles from head to toe."
posted by hermitosis at 9:14 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I was one of those who was always thought to be about 10 years younger. Now, at age 55, my age caught up with my looks or vice versa. It's hard to say whether or not that will happen to you. However, I wish you the best. You seem to have an attitude that will help you age gracefully.
posted by wv kay in ga at 9:24 PM on January 19, 2011

I was always mistaken for being much younger than I am. Then I had children and spent a decade sleep-deprived and caffeine driven. Now I look my age.
posted by toastedbeagle at 9:33 PM on January 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Nearly everyone in my family looks super young (the women on my mother's side anyway). My 21-year-old daughter routinely gets mistaken for a high-schooler and stopped while on campus (we go to the same university) to ask her business or if she's been "separated from [her] group."

I'm 44. Most people mistake me for "late 20's early 30's" when they try to guesstimate my age. Nearly everyone I meet is shocked that I have a 25 year-old daughter (I have three daughters, one son - the above mentioned 21-year-old is my youngest) and an eight year old grandson.

My mother looked in her early thirties well into her fifties. I became estranged from her about then so I cannot say if she still looks young.

My grandmother looked to be a good ten to fifteen years younger all of her life. Even now she's in her seventies and looks very good for her age. All of my aunts look young too.

Then there is my twin. She did meth, smoked pot, drank (still does) to excess, and has been a chain smoker since we were 15. Though we still look very much alike (we're identical), she does look right about our age...

Just as an aside, I don't wear make-up or use creams. I wear blouses and jeans most of the time because I'm in college, but I hardly dress like a teenager. People have mistaken me for younger even when I worked in an office and wore conservative clothing. I do dye my hair but that's because I don't like my natural color more than anything else. Also, I've been morbidly obese and have lost a lot a weight and that hasn't made much of a difference in how people perceive my age - they've always thought I looked younger than I am.

I guess what I'm saying with all of this rambling is that at least in my family the "young" look is kind of permanent. It doesn't seem to make a difference what we wear or weigh, or our stress level, we look young (except my twin who pretty much did everything she could to wear herself out). So it's possible that it won't "catch up" with you either, OP.
posted by patheral at 9:35 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of it has to do with exercise and good eating habits (in addition to genetics). I'll be 33 in a few weeks and people still guess my age as anywhere from 22-27 if they don't know me (my life story makes it apparent that I'm not that young). I'm 5'10, 155 lbs, go to the gym regularly, and eat mostly whole foods from scratch. For a long time I was vegetarian but now I eat meat a few times a week and most of it comes from an organic farmer I know.

I find that when I similarly downplay other people's age, it's because they look fit and healthy. When I think someone is older than they are, it's usually because they are fat.

Just my personal opinion though.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 9:58 PM on January 19, 2011

Agreed that sudden weight gain seems to be by far the biggest factor in sudden aging. If you look at actors and actresses - people who have great incentive to stay in shape, and usually do, at least up to a point - the aging process is pretty gradual, and they typically stay youthful looking until suddenly putting on the pounds.
posted by decoherence at 10:18 PM on January 19, 2011

People never believe it when I tell them I'm 36. I'm often told I look 5-10 years younger and that I have a "baby face."

I am not a slender fellow, so go figure.
posted by bardic at 10:22 PM on January 19, 2011

It does sound like people who have had a drastic weight gain (or loss, honestly, some folks look older when their faces get thin), or possibly had kids (what my friend attributes to her losing her youth), or had some other kind of shock to the system are the ones who have the sudden aging going on.

As for me, I also pass for at least 10 years younger, and my dad was dying at the age of 60 and still didn't have any facial wrinkles, so my odds are good, I think.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:23 PM on January 19, 2011

Actually,I find sometimes people with a little extra weight look younger in the face- being *too* thin can make a face look stark and wrinkly.

I also think that sometimes "looking young" has more to do with a person's personality and habits then how they actually physically appear.

I'm often thought to be younger than I am, and am definitely not very thin. I do have a round face and a tendency to befriend people of all different ages. I think I also have somewhat of a naiive outlook on life and child-like perspective (sometimes). I also don't *feel* my age (32).

No idea when it will start to "catch up" with me...
posted by bearette at 10:43 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm in my 20's so I don't think I'm helpful as a data point, but for most of my life people have told me that I look younger than I am. I still get that, but I personally think I'm starting to look more my age (probably doesn't help that I routinely go to bed at 2 AM).

I read an article--I forget what magazine--that covered a study in aging. They pictured identical twins side by side, and it was very obvious that smoking and sun exposure played a huge role in the way they aged. The article also stated that under 40 years of age, people tend to look younger if they are thinner...but over 40 it's the opposite. I guess a little more weight fills in the wrinkles.

Anyway, I'll be watching this post with great interest! I'm Asian, and it's a pretty common joke (at least that I know) that Asians age really well....until BAM! 70 years old and looking like a shriveled crone. So looking forward to that :)
posted by sprezzy at 11:07 PM on January 19, 2011

I read an article a while back that said that women under 35 or so looked younger if they are thinner, but after age 35, a little more weight made them look younger. Interesting, but genetics, sunscreen, and habits like drinking and smoking have a lot of impact.

Anecdata: I have always looked young for my age, and sometimes still get carded at 36. I am fair-skinned and coat myself in sunscreen at all times when I'm outside. People are fall-off-their-chairs-shocked when they find out I have a 19 year old daughter. That's actually kind of fun to watch.
posted by bedhead at 11:11 PM on January 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Re: the weight loss thing--

I mean, seriously! I didn't even recognize Drew Carey the first time I saw this picture!
posted by sprezzy at 11:14 PM on January 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm in the same boat, and my Dad is 65 but looks like he's in his 40s. It kinda sucks now, being in my early 20s, but I'm sure I'll love it when I'm his age.
posted by LarrenD at 12:11 AM on January 20, 2011

I agree with whoaali. I was like all y'all--my haircut guy used to talk constantly about which style would help make me look grown up, carded constantly and always called "Miss"--then a couple years ago when I was experiencing crazy hormonal-feeling weight gain (I went up a zillion cup sizes) I felt like overnight I'd caught up, started only ever hearing "Ma'am" much to my dismay (the grass is always greener). Over half a year ago began losing the weight and it's beginning to swing back, the youth thing. I'll note I don't feel this is true for people who are "naturally heavy"/inclined that way, where it looks like they're meant to be heavier/that's their set point; in fact, usually said folks seem younger. But for a truly "something's out of whack and I don't fit my frame right now" situation I feel like it can age you suddenly. Firsthand experience only though, granted.
posted by ifjuly at 5:10 AM on January 20, 2011

My mom's 60 and looks ten years younger (at least). She's always been mistaken for much younger, so I guess it hasn't caught up with her yet. She's gained some weight in the past few years, but I think it only helps to smooth out her skin and maintain her babyface. She's pretty adamant about using sunblock every day.

I'm thirty and am mistaken for sixteen on occasion. So far, it's mostly been embarrassing.
posted by pineappleheart at 5:17 AM on January 20, 2011

Re: the weight loss thing --

I think it was Catherine Deneuve who said, "Once you reach a certain age, it's either your face or your fanny." Which is to say, the crusade to stay thin will take it's toll on your face, or you can look younger at the expense of being a little heavier.
posted by hermitosis at 5:45 AM on January 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm in the exact same boat as you—almost 30, get mistaken for 22. Last year I was told by a high school class' chaperone to, "Get on the bus before it leaves!!" in Times Square. I was so shocked I almost did.

Then, this year, I was joking around with my new dentist about wanting a gold tooth. He thought I was serious, and replied, "Well, what would your mom think of that?" Whut.

Speaking of mom, mine is in her early 50s and looks maybe 40. She does have a little gray, but not much. So, no collapsing of skin quite yet! I think we're ok.

*crosses fingers*
posted by functionequalsform at 5:58 AM on January 20, 2011

I'm thirty and regularly mistaken for much younger. It seems to run on my mom's side of the family. She and my aunt are in their early/mid sixties and still look much younger. No sudden changes yet.
posted by Adridne at 6:09 AM on January 20, 2011

I used to think that too about the face/weight thing because it's such conventional wisdom but now that my social circle is actually entering its 40s and beyond (I run with a crowd significantly older than I am for whatever reason) I don't think that's always or even often the case. I know lots of naturally birdlike angular ladies (think Annie Lennox and Mollie Katzen) who look youthful and energetic, kidlike. Women who are carrying extra weight--and I mean it that way, not inherently chubby but will tell you themselves they're too busy and stressed or tired to eat right or exercise and feel like they could lose weight if they had time to sort it out--sort get droopy faces, and the jowl lines/chin stuff. I know the fold wrinkles around the cheek/mouth area plus my flabby chin were what was making my face look old, and around Christmas I'd lost enough of the weight I got my face back. Some of how that manifests is genetic too of course (I'm Korean and my sister struggles with the jowl thing despite being younger, it's common).
posted by ifjuly at 6:50 AM on January 20, 2011

Hard to say. I am well into my forties but as with a several other mefites above, I routinely get guesses a decade or so below this. Some years ago I had started a new job on the other side of the country and was working with someone who was about to leave the organization. People were going out for drinks to see him off and someone took me aside in concern before we were going out and said, "I'm not sure what the drinking age is where you're from is, but here it is nineteen. Will you be able to get in?" I replied, "I'm going be thirty-two next week."

For me, anyway, it is not an issue. Sunscreen, a lack of smoking, many years of vegetarianism and the ongoing refusal of my heir to grey all contribute to this. When I look in the mirror, I see the thinning hair, the crow's feet and the jowls, but I have been seeing this face my whole life.

I suppose it is better than the reverse. I went to a high school reunion once when I was 33 and found that the number of my classmates who looked fifty was appalling. I wondered who all these wrinkled, grey, stooped people were who happened to share names with people I had known fifteen years earlier.

Anyway, everyone is different. But based on my contemporaries (fifteen years or so your senior), I don't think you will see a sudden jump in apparent age.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:25 AM on January 20, 2011

i'm 41 and look at the people my age around me (and on tv, in movies) who are all starting to look their age ... i just don't. i'm fairly young and still thin, so that has much to do with it. i also just seem young - not really immature, just not stuffy and ADULT.

i smoked for 25 years and lived at the beach and used baby oil in the sun for at least a decade. and i got carded for cigarettes up until the day i quit.

it's good for some things, but has some down sides. like dating - guys in their 20s are the only ones who really ask me out. the guys my age who ask me out are disappointed to find out i'm their age (so it has nothing to do with wanting a hot body, they want a dumb brain). guys my age who want to date women their age, don't think i'm their age.

i'm always teetering on the brink of wanting to look old enough to be taken more seriously but also scared of looking like the people i went to high school with.

to answer your question, i have a friend who is very small and looks young as well - but is starting to show her age. she doesn't realize it, and i'm not going to say anything. but eventually i guess we'll all get there.
posted by crankyrogalsky at 9:48 AM on January 20, 2011

Yes, I used to look much, much younger than I really am. But I got the mixed blessing of getting some gray hair around age 30. This was not inherited (directly, at least) from my parents, as neither one had gray until their 50s. Weird. Now if I want to look younger than my real age, I've got to go to the salon.

Agree with toastedbeagle; having babies in my mid-30s is doing a number on my looks. It's not weight, it's sleep deprivation.
posted by Knowyournuts at 9:58 AM on January 20, 2011

I know someone who at 30, looked 16. Now she's 41 and age, smoking, sun damage and 3 kids means she definitely looks her age. It just seemed to catch up with her all at once.
posted by Jubey at 2:07 PM on January 20, 2011

I've also noticed that while younger women can look good being very thin, past a certain age, say 35, it can just tend to make you look quite drawn and haggard. Women after that age IMHO look better with a little more weight. A prime example of this are ladies from Friends. Early seasons they all look great, but later in the show they all diet like crazy, drop weight and boy does it age them. Courtney Cox in particular. She's a beautiful woman, so she's never going to look bad but a few extra kilos would have made her look so much better.
posted by Jubey at 2:45 PM on January 20, 2011

Having fat in your face (like Drew Carey did - when he "debuted" his new look it seemed to me he'd aged 20 years) definitely makes you look younger. I get this constantly. I just turned 30. In the past 2 years:

I was visiting a hospital where they weren't letting in kids under 14 due to swine flu concerns. The receptionist asked me how old I was for this reason.

A cashier asked me, around mid-August, if I was ready to go back to school.

Just last week, I went to Applebee's. The hostess said "Is a booth in the bar okay? Oh wait you're not over 21 are you?"

I also don't drink/smoke/do limit my sun exposure. I try to take all the age misunderstandings with humor and smile a lot and thank the person. After all, I guess it's better that I look younger than older. Though when the hospital receptionist asked me if I was over 14 (the most dramatic age misread I've ever experienced), I must admit my eyes got as big as dinner plates.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:19 AM on January 21, 2011

When I was 23 I went to the library and was assigned a computer in the kid's section. It wasn't until I asked whether there were filters on Yahoo that I realised it wasn't because they were short of machines but because they thought I was under 16. At the time I'd just washed my hair and was letting it dry, had no make-up on and scruffy clothing, so I probably looked younger...but I'm also 5ft 10 and do not have a teenage figure.

I last got IDed a few weeks ago when I went to buy sewing scissors.
posted by mippy at 10:12 AM on January 21, 2011

Late to this, but here goes:

Both my family and I have always appeared to be much younger than we actually are. For me in particular, it has been more of a curse than a blessing, and now that I am in my late thirties, I find the constant comments about it from strangers getting on my nerves.

One interesting thing, with regards to my family - many of them are smokers, extreme stress heads, insomniacs, constant worriers, and several have abused the sun in their younger days (mostly the older members of my family, who are around 65+) and yet they still look so much younger.
I am guessing it is predominantly genetic?
Who knows.
It never brought me any luck;)
posted by noella at 3:35 AM on February 13, 2011

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