In my teenage years, I’d always prided myself on coming across as older than my peers. Perhaps my reading of all the Vogues and Elles, alone in my room while everyone else was out trying to get into pubs and clubs gave me a false sense of (smug) superiority. While everyone else was swiping on frosted lipsticks I was channeling supermodels and playing with classic ‘red lip and winged eyeliner’ combos. But for some reason, when I entered The World Of Work, something changed; people stopped assuming I was older, and instead, began assuming I was much younger.
When I started considering writing this piece – I have to confess that our Editor-in-Chief Tamu had to convince me – I wanted to talk to other women about it. So many women that I admire on Instagram are totally indefinable when it comes to age, and I like that. If I’m following you it’s likely that you’re a creative, a voice, and an inspiration, whether that’s via how you look, work or live your life. I decided to get in touch with one of my favorite style bloggers, Taye Hansberry (bytaye.com). Bearing in mind, I do not know Taye’s age (and if I did I wouldn’t tell you), but instead, I had been inspired by a comment she’d made. She’d run one of those ‘ask me anything’ things on her Insta Stories, and of course, someone asked her age. Taye kept things cute and said she wouldn’t be answering, because, in the words of her grandmother: ‘it’s no-one’s business.’
I reached out to Taye via email and simply asked her for her thoughts. And before I go on with my own personal experiences, I want to share them here.
“I am older than most of my counterparts and I don’t really talk about that. I don’t look older than any of them but I am and I do get asked my age, a lot!”
“I had an experience years ago when I was an aspiring actress; I was the front-runner for a huge main part in a soap opera. I remember my manager and I being so excited, because it looked like I was getting this part! The character I was testing for was 19 and at the time I was in my late 20s. As I was leaving one of the very last auditions, after they’d praised me, in front of everyone, the casting director (or producer, I don’t remember which one), asked: “Taye, one more thing: how old are you?”
“I just spit out my age without even thinking about it. But I saw their faces drop. I left the room and in the short time it took me to walk back to my car, my manager was calling me to ask if I had told them my age. I said, ‘yes, they asked me.’
It turned out that, because I was so far from the age of the character – no matter what I looked like, no matter that I did a great job, no matter they thought I was the age of the character – I lost the part. From that day forward, I knew that I was going to be judged on my age, so I stopped talking about.
I let people think whatever they want to think – whatever age people think I am, that’s the age I am. Some days I feel my age and most days I absolutely do not. By society’s standards I have not done ‘what I am supposed to do’ and I say fuck that!”
“I think that today, we like to think we’re a little more progressive in the age department, especially as women of all ages are crushing it right now. However, that does not hide the fact that ageism is a serious problem – more so for women, mostly for women – actually, I’d say 99 percent of the time, for women. I can do the same thing – in fact I can do it even better – than I could in my teenage years or my 20s, because women get better with age. Our minds get better with age and so does our confidence.”
“Until the time comes when age is not an issue, I say to all women, keep it to yourself because it’s no one’s business.”
Although my background is decidedly different to Taye’s, I was struck, but not surprised, at her experience and how it resonated with me. I’d studied for a degree in Fine Art and Photography, and once I got my degree I (and my BF at the time) convinced myself that I needed to make money, and get a ‘proper job’. So, I ended up working at a firm that sold computers to large corporate companies. Although I was my usual, mature self while at work, it seemed everyone surrounding me assumed I was at least five years younger than I actually was. When I ended up making a career leap into journalism a few years later, the perceived/mistaken age gap increased further. By the time I was working on newspapers and glossy womens’ magazines in Dubai, I was clocking a good 10 years off my actual age. And by that time, it didn’t bother me one bit. Because I realized: 1) people are going to assume what they want and 2) people are going to treat you however they feel. So, no longer would I be concerned that someone’s tone towards me might be politely patronising; it no longer bothered me that someone assumed that I couldn’t do something, or wasn’t aware of something, because of my perceived age. When they realized that I could do that thing, and was indeed aware, it garnered me praise.
Another thing looking younger gave me was the fact that no-one really saw me as a threat; no-one assumed that I was after their job, and so I would often find myself privy to conversations and information that I might not have known about if I’d come across as my older self.
Of course, there were some negatives too; people assuming I was younger meant that they felt they had no reason to promote me or pay me more, because I was ‘paying my dues’ and ‘working my way up the ladder.’
Throughout my life, the question of ‘how old are you’ comes up frequently. Back then, most of the time I’d play it off, call them nosy, but sometimes, I would say the real number. The surprise on their faces, the compliments on how youthful I looked, would soon be usurped by: ‘oh, but you’re single, right?’ Or, ‘have you thought about having kids/learning to drive/owning a house?’ Suddenly, the more open I was about my age, the more expectations were put upon me.
While I totally understand that such ‘life goals’ are of major importance to most; I never felt like that. All my life I’ve wanted freedom, to chase dreams, to travel, to create art, to inspire. I’ve never been fussed about owning a house; it just doesn’t equal happiness to me. Learning to drive? No, I’m very cool with walking and public transport and of course, my Uber usage is strong.
As the years pass by, I wait to see if others like myself, and Taye, come into my life, but sadly, society still seems to have a one-tracked mind. Although we’re finally seeing acceptance of lifestyle choices and sexual preferences, it seems it’s still just weird if you haven’t accomplished certain things in your life by a particular age.
Actually, let me just rephrase that; if you’re a woman, and you haven’t accomplished certain things by a particular age, YOU’RE the weirdo.
No kids? Hmm, cold-hearted and calculated.
No mortgage? Bad with money.
No man. Lesbian. Also, cold-hearted.
But let’s reframe those subjects within the male audience.
No kids? Yes bruv. Keep spreading that seed.
No mortgage? Bachelor for LIFE. Keep it moving.
No woman. Why buy the cow when you can drink the milk for free?
Of course, these judgements change with age. For example, if a man, (let’s call him ‘Richard Gere’), has a child at 60+, he’ll most likely experience knowing chuckles, pats on the back and comments such as ‘there’s life in the old dog yet.’
If it’s a woman, celeb or not, of say late 40s, early 50s, it’s more a case of tuts and murmurs of being selfish at being such an old mum.
And let’s not forget the whole dating someone 20 years younger thing; when it’s a male he gets high-fived, when it’s a woman she’s a cougar at best (cause that’s sexy, right?) or a perverted cradle snatcher.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not sitting here angry and bitter at the world for judging women about our age – I have way more annoying things to get angry about. No, I’m good, because I’m at peace with not telling you my age. If you think I’m younger, thank you. But please, let’s move the conversation on from, ‘so, how old are you?’ It’s so dated, I’m over it.