I look older than my age. How can I look my age?
October 26, 2012 7:03 AM   Subscribe

I look way older than my age. How can I fix this? It's really starting to take a toll on me.

I'm in the first half of my twenties, and people often express utter shock when they find out how old I am. I take care of my skin, eat well, am slender, and don't wear too much makeup. Some people say I just carry myself well. I've been told I'm really beautiful, but then people really seem surprised when I tell them my age. People think I'm anywhere from four to eight years older! Only once somebody though I was much younger--this was when I was volunteering for an event. It is really starting to make me depressed. What can I do to look more my age? Is it just my bone structure? Am I doomed to look this much older for the rest of my life?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (50 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Hard to say without a picture or knowing anything about you. Maybe no makeup? Less expensive/well tailored clothes?
posted by missmagenta at 7:05 AM on October 26, 2012

Hard to tell with the information you've given. If it's something about your demeanor ("Some people say I just carry myself well") there may be something you can change if it matters that much to you. I do get the sense it's not a question of looking worn out. If it's your features-- well people do have ages at which they look their best, and it varies. You may grow into your looks.
posted by BibiRose at 7:08 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you sure people are saying "you look older" in the sense that you look like you're preternaturally aging, or that "you look older" in the sense that you look considerably more put-together and poised than the average young woman in her early 20s? If you're regularly wearing Nice Business Clothes and acting confident and professional, they're probably just hamhandedly complimenting you.

I mean, "dress less classy and act less confident and put together" is godawful advice but it would get people to think you're younger.
posted by griphus at 7:08 AM on October 26, 2012 [57 favorites]

I think having someone say you look 4 years older in your early twenties is supposed to be a compliment. Don't worry about it so much, keep doing what you're doing (except maybe add sunscreen to your daily facial care regimen), don't start smoking, and if people are still saying this in your late twenties, then they are just not nice people, and by then you probably won't care as much anyway!
posted by Grither at 7:08 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

I looked old for my age in my 20s, but now people think I look young in my 30s.

I wouldn't sweat it. There are a lot of factors that people consider when assessing age--clothing, mannerisms, diction, hairstyle, etc. It doesn't mean you have the translucent skin of a frightening old witch.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 7:09 AM on October 26, 2012

I encounter this a lot with women in NYC -- I am completely unable to guess a woman's age between 22 and 35 because people tend to look more like their career than their age.
posted by modernserf at 7:09 AM on October 26, 2012 [51 favorites]

Agree that it's hard to tell. But if it makes you feel better, these things often even out. You might look older now, then look your age for a decade or so, then start to seem younger. I looked young for my age (not in a good way) till I was in my early 30s, now I think I look my age because no one expresses shock when I tell them how old I am. Either way, I think it's a pretty common scenario for people to "catch up" eventually.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 7:12 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's no way to answer this without more information or a photo. I understand if you're skittish about providing that, but this is something you could likely get a solid answer to and maybe you wouldn't have to be depressed about it anymore, so it could be worth it. You can MeMail me a link to a photo if you're not comfortable posting it here.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:13 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

A lot of it could be how you carry yourself. Confidence and self assuredness can seem more mature, therefore older.

Colour choices in your clothes can have an effect as well. It has been my experience that younger people tend to wear brighter vibrant colours (bright reds, oranges, peacock blues, etc) and older people go for more muted or darker colours (maroon, navy, tan, etc). This may just be how it is where I am, it may not be the norm, so your ymmv.

Also, your hairstyle could have an effect. There are some styles that just look more old on people. I, for example, look really young for my age when I have my hair longer than shoulder length. I'm in my 30s and still get carded at the liquor store. However, if I cut my hair in a bob I look way older than I am (I think because I end up looking like a soccer mom) and don't get carded.

also, being thought you're younger isn't as awesome as it sounds. In my job, people didn't take me as seriously and are often more dismissive of me until they learned that I am actually in my 30s and know what I'm talking about. Also, my partner is in his late 30s, and when I get carded they are suggesting I am 18 (legal drinking age is 19 here), which would make my partner more than twice my age and old enough to have fathered me. Eww.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 7:16 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd follow up on griphus' comment.

"Your looking aged" is not the same as "Your looking more mature and confident" for example.
posted by carter at 7:20 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

So people are assuming you're between your late twenties and thirty? You should take that as a compliment.
posted by The Michael The at 7:21 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

Most 30-year old women I know could still pass for 24 if they chose to present themselves like a college kid. The difference is largely a projected image of confidence and self-respect. Frankly, if you look 30 at 24, I'd take it as a blessing and be asking yourself instead "How can I make sure I still look 30 at 30?"
posted by 256 at 7:22 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yeah, without actually meeting you, it's hard to say. It could be carriage, or voice, or dress, or any number of factors that have nothing to do with your physiognomy, skin, etc.

When I was young, people thought I was much older than I was (like, when I was 14, some people thought I was a college student). Now that I'm older, people think I'm much younger than I am. So go figure.

Do you think dressing younger would change people's perceptions? Maybe try that.
posted by adamrice at 7:22 AM on October 26, 2012

I really think modernserf's got it. If I pick up a bottle of wine after work in my careerwear (which isn't much more than business casual), I'm never carded. If I go out with friends in my non-work uniform of jeans/t-shirt, even at the sedate old-lady places we tend to go, I am always carded when my peers aren't. I am 38. Embrace your enigmatic persona.
posted by rumposinc at 7:22 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

FWIW, [most] people wouldn't make this observation unless it was a compliment... that you seem preternaturally poised, knowledgeable, etc. It bubbles out because they are pleasantly surprised, perhaps especially compared to some 20-something slackers they may know. If it was an insult, their filters would kick in and the remark wouldn't reach their lips.

In my 20s, people thought I was older because I was responsible. In my 50s, people think I'm younger because I'm a flexible thinker and remain interested in pop culture. YMMV
posted by carmicha at 7:22 AM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

In professional settings, people often guess my age at 5-10 years older. In more personal settings, people guess my age at 5-10 years younger. I just started and committed to my career early, so I take it all with a grain of salt.
posted by kamikazegopher at 7:23 AM on October 26, 2012

My students routinely think I'm quite a bit older than I actually am -- I had one guess 32 when I was 26. This has very little to do with the way I look and much more to do with the way I dress and act around them.

I've also found that I get carded more when I dress "young" (t-shirt and jeans) and not so much when I'm a little more fancied up with a blazer or something.

So probably it has much more to do with your carriage and attire than your actual face. Don't fret!
posted by baby beluga at 7:25 AM on October 26, 2012

Looking at my friends, I think clothes has a lot to do with it. Sometimes a really put together or more conservative look translates as old. I try to introduce a little bit of crazy to each outfit to keep me on the younger side of the spectrum. Things like neon details, bolder accessories, colored tights. I'm too old to wear anything that isn't comfortable anymore, so my outfits are generally dresses/leggings/sweater combinations, but I try to keep it a bit funky and routinely am taken for a 20 year old instead of a 34-yr old.
posted by Kronur at 7:41 AM on October 26, 2012

A lot of people are just terrible at guessing other people's ages.
posted by orange swan at 7:42 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would say this really isn't such a bad thing, but maybe you're dressing older/more conservatively than the people in their early 20's stereotype. People assume all kinds of things from clothing.
posted by ashtabula to opelika at 7:44 AM on October 26, 2012

When I have thought people were older than they actually are, it's almost always been because I assume that they have authority and associate authority with age. I am 38 and there are people who are younger than me that I still assume are older because of how they act. It really has nothing to do with how they look, unless they wear strongly age-linked fashion and even then the effect is weak.

I add that the only people I know who really looked "old" when they were in their twenties do indeed now look "young" - I know a guy who must be in his mid forties by now and he looks exactly as he did when I met him lo these 15 years ago.

And I add that I implore you not to waste your twenties on anxieties about your appearance. If you are dressing in a flattering manner (regardless of expense), washing regularly and taking care of your hair, I promise you that you look much better than you think and you'll regret the anxieties when you're older. I'm not even good-looking, and I looked just fine in my twenties and hate that I spent so much time being miserable. (I also spent a lot of time in my twenties feeling "too old" because I grew up with my parents constantly telling me that I was "too old" for everything - so instead of thinking "I am 24 and it's a great time to be figuring out my career, starting an adult job and building my adult life" I was constantly thinking "OMG I am 24 and I have not picked a career yet and I am still in my first grown-up job, I am such a failure, my parents said I should have my career lined up straight out of college and be in my permanent field/company". Age worries are ipso facto foolish, since barring time travel or cyberpunk novel level plastic surgery/genetic therapy, you can't do anything about it anyway.
posted by Frowner at 7:49 AM on October 26, 2012 [6 favorites]

I've mentioned this before on MeFi, but..

George Clooney has a great quote on everyone ageing 10 years one year in their life. Some people look 20 when they're 30. But when they're 35 they look their age.

You're just one of those people for who looks a bit older than you are. What might have been a boon when you needed to buy alcohol at 19 is now an anchor. Fear not. Everything levels out and it tends to do so sooner rather than later.

Men get this a lot if they bald early on. You look prematurely older and then.. you can often stay the "same age" for 15 years.

Particularly if you look after yourself, moisturise, keep fit, don't smoke and don't spend lots of time out in the blazing sun, I can guarantee you that you will not only look your age, but over time you stand a pretty good chance of looking younger than your peers.

Of course you can do things with your make up, hair, clothes and demeanour, but don't fret. You will find over the next 5 years that some of your peers age quickly. Some won't. But it's only the very lucky few who sail through life looking younger than they are and, assuming they are otherwise fit and healthy, only the unlucky few who go through life looking older.
posted by MuffinMan at 7:50 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is a compliment. Without a picture, I'm guessing it has to do with fashion and not any physical features. Are you hanging out with people who are older than you? Context matters a lot. If I meet people at clubs, people always assume I'm ten years younger than I am, even though I have fairly obvious gray hair in my beard. Most people guess my age correctly at work, though.
posted by empath at 7:51 AM on October 26, 2012

If by "eat well" and "am slender" you mean that you have low body fat, then your face may lack some of the roundness and fullness under the cheekbones that visually signals youth. In which case your age will catch up to your appearance in a few years.
posted by nicwolff at 7:52 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yeah, it sounds like you look "older" in the good way, not the premature-aging way. If you're in your early twenties and don't dress or act like you've come straight out of college, then yep, people are gonna guess you're older. If you're told you "carry yourself well," you probably have nothing to worry about.

If you're getting this comment in professional settings, I get the impression that most people assume all of their coworkers are 26 and up. Anything younger than 26 is met with "Really?? OMG you're a baby!" Especially if you have anything that resembles a career track and aren't a temp/intern/admin.

Think of it this way: Snooki is 24 right now. Audrey Hepburn was 24 when she starred in Roman Holiday. Who seems older? Who would you rather be compared to?
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:53 AM on October 26, 2012 [8 favorites]

Are you in the US? We're so bombarded with media that has actresses playing Moms of actors who are older than they are and 30 year olds playing teenagers and no images of people in their 60's who are not air brushed, photoshopped or surgeried to within an inch of themselves that no-one has a fucking clue what any age actually looks like. So all those people who think you look almost 30 when you feel still practically 20 are--as noted above--not thinking you actually look old (like, out of style or wrinkled or whatever negative association you have with looking 4 years older than you are). They are reacting to the fact that you seem more like an adult than a teenager.

People in their 20's seem to fall on one side of the line or another--still acting and looking a lot like college kids, who seem very adolescent to most people in their 30's or older, or not acting and dressing at all like college kids. Physically, there just ain't that much difference between 25 and 29.

So get adequate sleep, drink plenty of water, don't smoke and wear sunscreen. You look fine.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:53 AM on October 26, 2012 [3 favorites]

When I was in college, oh so long ago, the funniest thing someone said to me was... "When I first met you (I would have been 18 at the time) I thought you where one of those guys who went off and had a family and job after high school and then came back to college".
It all had to do with demeanor and not really looks. Assuming this is the case, you actually have a huge advantage over many folks your age, you have poise that will only get better as you get older and will serve you tremendously well.
Unless you really want to be seen as carefree and just a little vapid I would take this in stride and use it to your advantage.
posted by edgeways at 7:56 AM on October 26, 2012

A lot of people are just terrible at guessing other people's ages.

Seconding this - I pegged one former Mefite as "late 30's" when I met him. He was 26. (He'd gone gray early shut up)

Honestly, 4 or 5 years older than you are sounds kind of in the realm of that weird sort of fudging people do with "well, I know they're in their 20's as opposed to their 30's, but I don't know any further so...I'm gonna guess." I know it's frustrating, but unless you look about 15 years older you're fine.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:11 AM on October 26, 2012

It sounds like you are put together and with-it at an age where people are not expected to be so. (Which is, itself, dumb, because you are in your twenties and a functional adult, so the fact that society is increasingly regarding people in their twenties as not-with-it is pretty messed up, but is also a whole separate issue.) It's intended to be complimentary - like calling a teenager mature. You are fine.
posted by pmb at 8:14 AM on October 26, 2012

"Four to eight years older" doesn't sound to me like an extraordinary mistake. It might seem like a lot, but the range of people you consider to be "around your age" really does expand as you get older. I'm 28. I mostly hang around people in their early twenties through their middle thirties. Sometimes it's hard to guess who is how old, but they're all sort of "my age." Except those college students who perpetually look like they're still in junior high. What's up with them?!

On the flip side, when I was a high school senior, I was invited to a college recruitment event for Clarkson University at a local campus. I had a messy bowl cut and no nice clothes to wear. When I got to the door, the attendant (a college student, I assume) asked me if I was an applicant or an alum. That was a little jarring. On the plus side, since my parents didn't come, I got to sit with the dean of admissions!
posted by Nomyte at 8:20 AM on October 26, 2012

It is probably meant as a compliment and how mature you seem. Could also be that you dress really conservatively, never wear jeans or casual clothes which are seen as "young", or that you don't go in to fads and trendy stuff.

Again, no way to know since we don't know what you look like, but I wouldn't worry about this. I used to be mistaken for being younger than I was because I had a lot of energy and passion, then being older when I was depressed and my health was bad, and now I'm mistaken for being younger again! So this is not set in stone.

Maybe the easiest thing to do would be to ask the people closest to you if they think you come across as older than you are, and why. Then you can post another more specific AskMe, like, "How can I dress like I'm younger than I am?" (Hint: show off that slender figure with clingier clothes and more bare skin, like a bare midriff. Older women, especially if they've had kids, tend to get a bit puffy in the lower abdomen as a natural part of aging.)
posted by misha at 8:22 AM on October 26, 2012

I don't know why, but some people tend to look a certain age and stay at that point for their entire lives. For example, my biodad is stuck at chronological 50. He's always looked that age for as far back as I remember - even in photos from his youth, he looks much older than he should. Of course, now he's above seventy, so this curse has been a huge blessing.

Another alternative to consider is that maybe they're saying this because they're attracted to you. Are the people who say this to you generally older men? I know that when I find myself flirting with somebody and then discover that she's younger than my preferred dating range (4-8 yrs younger), there's a moment of awkwardness for me as I mentally refile her from my "datable" into my "non-datable" category. To cover my discomfort (and retroactively try to justify why I was flirting with her, so I feel less like a perv) I may say something similar to what you're hearing: "Oh, you're 23! Uh, you look much more mature than that." It's smoother than saying: "You're 23?!? Jesus, I was totally about to ask you out for coffee! I am so, so sorry. What the hell is wrong with me? Look, I'm really not a creeper, I swear - I just didn't realize your age. Please allow me to retract my flirting advances."
posted by wolfdreams01 at 8:30 AM on October 26, 2012

Yeah, when people are surprised that you're so young, they don't mean to imply that you look old, but that you impress them with your maturity. Huge difference.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:32 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you tall? I think taller people tend to be pegged as older, for some reason. Maybe leftover from when we were kids and tall meant old, or maybe because adults treated taller kids as though they were older than they were their whole lives and they developed a more mature carriage partially due to that. I say this as a tiny person who is often pegged as 6-8 years younger than I am, and this has always been my hypothesis as to why.
posted by millipede at 8:46 AM on October 26, 2012

I don't think you can do much other than hydrate, limit alcohol, wear sunscreen, get facials, or try laser peels.
posted by discopolo at 8:56 AM on October 26, 2012

Try bangs if you have a high/large forehead. In some instances I find that people with very large foreheads with all one length hair can age a person.
posted by Fairchild at 9:01 AM on October 26, 2012

If someone tells you they thought you were older, they mean it as a compliment unless they are FANTASTICALLY rude and lacking in social skills. These people are telling you that you have your shit together much more than they would expect from someone your age. That's a good thing.

And jesus, don't go get laser peels because of this.
posted by echo target at 9:15 AM on October 26, 2012 [4 favorites]

Unless it's your doctor telling you this -- and it is something doctors look for -- don't worry about it. I looked like I was 23 from my late teens to my early thirties, then *boom* suddenly aged.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:29 AM on October 26, 2012

I have no idea what you look like, everyone else is more than likely right-- people mean you look put-together and more 'with-it' than the average early-20's women. And I work with that population.
But if you want to try something to make yourself feel younger to fake-it-till-you-make-it about liking who you are as you are, here is a suggestion:
Often-suggested Lisa Eldridge makeup tips, especially how she applies foundation, how she does a no-makeup makeup, and this guest spot. Many people wear foundation that is mattifying-- too mattifying. Young and well-cared for skin is dewy, not oily, and very fresh-looking. Eyes have a natural contour (depending on eye-shape). Many people apply everyday makeup as if it were a thing unto itself, but it was designed to enhance.
posted by oflinkey at 9:34 AM on October 26, 2012

I looked about 26 yrs old from the time I was 16 until I was in my mid-30's. It was just my face, my features. I never took it as a negative. Now I look a bit younger than my age. Have confidence in the way you dress, use (or don't use) make-up, and have a flattering hairstyle, and you'll be all set.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 9:52 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've looked the same since I was 12. When I was younger I was mistaken for older and more mature, now that I'm on the other side of the age hill, I'm mistaken for younger.

Think of yourself as having Timeless looks.

Or if you want to look younger, have a bunch of tattoos, wear glitter eyeshadow, wear cheap, trendy clothes and talk like an idiot.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:07 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's most likely the way you present yourself. Look at Sarah Silverman. She looks far younger than 42 when she's dressed for her stage/television persona: jeans, sneakers, hair down, natural makeup. When she glams up for red carpetting, she looks like a woman in her late 30s/early 40s.

What's your eyebrow situation? If you overpluck or overwax them, stop. Thinner eyebrows make women look older. If you have naturally thin eyebrows, try filling them in. Eyebrows are an overlooked but telling physical feature of aging.
posted by peacrow at 10:08 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Are you tall?

I have the opposite problem. I'm in my mid-twenties and most people think I'm four to eight years younger than I am. I sort of have a baby face, but I think it's mostly that I'm little. Never mind the fact that most women stop growing in their early teens - for a lot of people, taller is older than shorter. It makes no sense, but people are weird.

I also have really long hair. I've heard that makes me look younger, but really . . . who knows? I think most people are paying you a compliment. Do people say that you seem older, or that you look older? "Seeming older" is generally a good thing. Take it as a compliment.

And, while I hate to minimize your distress, I imagine that you get taken way more seriously than your petite, baby-faced peers.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 10:12 AM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

For a bit of perspective, if you get a chance look at a high school yearbook from the fifties. They all look way older than teenagers.

It is in how you present yourself and how you dress. People aren't saying you look haggard.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 10:21 AM on October 26, 2012

1. People are bad at guessing age
2. People use a lot of unconscious, difficult-to-pinpoint cues (like bearing, manner and subtle details to do with head shape) to judge age. Unless it is something obvious (and I assume it's not or you would be aware of it) there's a good chance there isn't much you can do about it
3. In the absence of some concrete cause that would tend to magnify with age (wrinkles, grey hair) there's no reason to believe this error in perception will track with your age - that is to say, for all we know people may just as well think you look thirty-ish when you're twenty-five, thirty-ish when you're thirty-five, and thirty-ish when you're forty.
4. Not to be all middle-aged on you but the age difference (let's say average 6 years) you're talking about that seems super consequential at twenty-something sounds like pretty much a wash at forty-something. It isn't worth worrying so much about.
posted by nanojath at 10:34 AM on October 26, 2012

I looked much older than my age from about 16 to 22. Then I waxed my (very thick) eyebrows into a flattering shape. Boom--now people think I look younger than I am. Caveat: if you make them too sparse, that's aging as well.

You can also lighten your hair to the color it was when you were a child; have your brows tinted to match if necessary. And avoid "soccer mom" hair.
posted by availablelight at 10:57 AM on October 26, 2012

Unless you have like a lot of wrinkles or premature grey, you probably just give off a slightly older/more mature vibe. Without knowing what you look like, the way you describe yourself you sound like someone who dresses in a polished, classic way, stands up straight, and probably just has one of those faces that seem a bit older? I think being slim and having certain bone structures just makes this happen. If you are healthy and take care of yourself and wear sunscreen I bet you will look late 20s/30ish for a pretty long time. Most people I know in their late 20s/early 30s who appear their age don't have a lot more obvious signs of being older, they just seem more confident and mature and generally are a bit more put together.

In some ways it's probably a blessing, because people will take you more seriously? I have kind of the opposite problem in that I'm 29 and have a masters degree but people tend to think I'm a lot younger at first glance (like I still get IDed more than half the time I buy booze), and I feel like it does affect the way they treat me (not liquor store clerks, people in general). The reasons I think they assume this is I am short, slightly overweight (though when I was more overweight I got IDed less, that's my main gauge for how young I look), have a roundish face, freckles, and rosy cheeks. I also wear a lot of bright coloured clothes and makeup and nail polish but I still look young in a blazer and neutral makeup. I tend to think it's probably a mix of how I present myself and my unavoidable baby face. I mean, my mom smoked when she was younger and she still got IDed until she was like 30.

Sorry, I'm not sure that this is actually helpful advice at all. You can't change your face, you probably don't want to act less confident and put together, and I mean, sure you can change your clothes or makeup - and as previously stated, don't underestimate a good eyebrow, it does amazing things to your face, i don't know what your brow situation is - but you probably don't want to do it in ways that make you feel uncomfortable or less like yourself. So I guess just embrace it?
posted by SoftRain at 11:05 AM on October 26, 2012

I looked older when I was younger, I look younger, now that I am older, some people just look a certain age and it will seem to others that you stopped aging for a decade or more.
posted by kanemano at 3:24 PM on October 26, 2012

People suck at guessing age, and attach all kinds of baggage to the idea of certain ages, and have weird ideas about how to compliment women. None of this age-related banter you're getting has very much to do with what you look like in any meaningful way.
posted by desuetude at 4:56 PM on October 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

It could just be competence and poise making them peg you as older.
posted by smirkette at 6:38 PM on October 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

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