I can remember being 13 and going through a phase of dressing up as Patsy from Absolutely Fabulous. When my parents had friends over for dinner, I could be found smothering my face in lipstick like it was my only friend in the world (it probably was), gathering anything remotely furry (the guinea pig) and exploiting it as the most quintessentially glamorous item I could pull off, parading myself around the kitchen with a gel pen for a cigarette, mimicking that retro, drunken, narcotic style in its purest form, in a desperate attempt to join the party. All the time believing vehemently that being a grown-up was the coolest, most exciting, most powerful time to come in my life, and promising myself that when I got there I would be, well, absolutely fabulous.
I turn 25 this year, so it’s the year of fabulous if ever there was one. But there’s one thing that seems to stand in my way quite a lot of the time, something that stops me from transforming fully into the enviable grown-up I imagined. Despite being 24 and still trying with every ounce of my being to become a successful adult, now with fewer guinea pigs to hand, I still look, dressed up or dressed down, pretty young.
To preface, this is something that wouldn’t even occur to me if people didn’t so often take the time to comment on it, so I’m commenting back, on behalf of myself and any other twenty-somethings who experience the joys of constantly being told they look like a teenager. Because besides the prestigious advantages of being able to order from a kids menu or sneak onto a bouncy castle, it is surprisingly pretty unfabulous when, as an adult, you so often have to put up with being treated like a child.
Apparently I have a young face. What can I say? I have good genes; my mum seems to age backwards and my dad definitely hasn’t grown up yet! My skin is dodgy at the best of times which makes me look like I’m stressing out over my GCSEs and I’m naturally very bouncy and overexcitable which doesn’t exactly contradict the image. Working at the theatre I have twice been mistaken for a lost child on a school trip, I’ve been asked to take the schools’ entrance at a museum, and I’ve recently been ID-ed buying Nurofen (“Does the customer look over the age of 12?”), batteries, even a portion of chips, a deep-fried choking hazard if ever there was one.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for enjoying it while it lasts, if only it were an easier ride. It’s hard, for instance, when the experience of being ID-ed most commonly features an attendant with the venom and impatience of someone whose job it is to, say, punch every chicken that lays an egg. As if they physically loathe the audacity of anyone who dares to age inappropriately slowly, like we’re doing it intentionally. But I get it. All hail the law. And generally there are worse qualities to be had in a human than looking deceptively young, like being a criminal, or putting coriander in food. So I continue, with my zest for life.
But there do come the times when it’s very important not to appear “underage”. So your relationship doesn’t look illegal is definitely one of them, and so you can forget your driving license on a night out and not prevent your entire friendship group from being able to get in anywhere is another. But most importantly, at least right now, for me, is so that I can live my professional life with an ounce of respect and dignity. It’s a worry that’s on the brain as I apply for jobs where I may have to give the impression I’ve got a degree and some level of work experience and am not, against all appearances, about to take my Year 9 Sats.
If I had a pound for every patronising remark I received about my age when I was working in Australia I could buy a return flight. It’s an issue, not exclusive to Australia by the way, that’s been bugging me ever since: the apparent right people seem to think they have, to comment on how old, or young, I may look. From being questioned as to whether the show was to fund my school fees or conversational favourites such as “But how old actually ARE you?” followed by “Aren’t you a bit young to be a producer?” or all seven thousand times I was mistaken for Tamar’s younger sister. It was a struggle on occasion to engage in genuine conversations with other artists, who couldn’t seem to get their heads around me being one of them and not just on work experience.
Working in the arts, one always runs the risk of encountering at least one walking and talking embodiment of insecurity and bitterness that naturally finds its way into insulting you. However, attempting to navigate a room full of professional people and to have my age brought up almost instantly (“Wow, you really don’t look old enough to be here”), I felt like giving up and becoming a child star. It is so impossibly frustrating to be limited by looking young and to feel my right to be in a conversation in the first place questioned in the face of…well, my face.
I did not wait the whole of my childhood to kick ass as a grown-up only to find my lingering youth (that actually provides me with endless enthusiasm, optimism and imagination FYI) is going to hold me back and to receive more judgement and condescension than if I still continued to dress up as Patsy in public. I did not sacrifice the safety and happiness of many guinea pigs and ruin my parents’ dinner parties time after time only to hit adulthood and not be taken seriously. I should not have to consistently prove myself at work. It’s bad enough when I need ibuprofen.
I had an overnight revelation at the weekend, after months of hard work, when I discovered at a wedding that I no longer hate gin. To make things better, at no point during the evening had I been asked to prove my age! I had five gin and tonics to test the theory and fell completely in love with my new life as a fully-fledged adult. I was grown up. I was flying through the air on a cloud of maturing taste buds and even contemplated doing something crazy like getting life insurance or setting up a pension fund.
Of course I came swiftly back down to reality at that time in the night when every girl lucky enough to be endowed with full breasts started holding theirs in an attempt to ease the post-dance-off back pain after hours of zero-support, and I, along with the children on the dance floor was still moving as nimbly as one can after five G&Ts, like a pre-pubescent firefly. But that only made me realise I am happy being young. It’s full of fun and light and I will not let the world take it away from me. Let’s ease off the pressure to grow up, please. Everyone can use a little Peter Pan.
I’m not relying on gin to get through life as an adult or I will literally end up like Patsy. And I am not simply waiting to grow old so I can begin my career. If I can’t find a resolution soon I will begin an absolutely furious parade to be taken seriously. There will be guinea pigs and stick-on earrings in a cloud of my teenage ambition, now back with a vengeance, together with the experience and faultless determination I now have to match it. If only you knew.
So take a chance. Don’t judge a book by its cover. No one wants to go through life as a teenager twice. Let us be 24 and absolutely fabulous. Thank you!