Apparently, I look very young. I suppose it has to do with my height. At an inch short of five feet, I am admittedly smaller than most college females. Heck, I’m shorter than most fifth graders. Sometimes I forget just how diminutive my frame is, until I’m provided with a reality check: sinking knee-deep into snow, seeing a very short person and realizing I’m shorter, or a stranger pointing it out to me.
The last one seems to happen the most often. It always amazes me how unabashed strangers are about telling me what they perceive my age to be. Once while shopping at the grocery store my senior year of high school, an elderly cashier told me I looked a little young to be shopping by myself. Considering a twelve year old could competently navigate a grocery store, I was miffed.
The summer before my sophomore year of college, I picked up a job at a deli. On a regular basis, customers would lean over the counter and ask, in a hushed voice, if it was legal for me to be operating the slicer. Leaning on my tippy toes to see over the counter, I would assure them I was old enough.
Last semester, while riding the train home from school, a woman across from me heard me mention that I was a college student. She caught my attention when I heard her exclaim, “Girl! You must have sold your soul to the devil because you don’t look a day over fifteen.”
More recently, I was in the ER for what turned out to be an anticlimactic eye allergy. Despite my hospital band noting that I am twenty years old, they took me back to the pediatric trauma room. I admired the pastel elephants and balloons painted on the walls from the edge of a cot covered in a whimsical circus print.
Unfortunately, the chronic “under-aging” I am subjected to is not limited to concerned adults. Two semesters ago, I walked by a group of middle school kids touring campus. A group of snickering boys caught my attention to mockingly ask me if I was a college student. After answering with a cold “yes,” I was met with a taunting, “you’re too little to be in college.” Kids can be so cruel sometimes.
When I complain about it, people always tell me that someday I’ll appreciate it. I reason that by the time I’m old enough to appreciate having my age grossly underestimated, gravity will have taken its toll and I’ll just be wrinkly and short.
For the time being, though, I’ve made a conscious effort to not find it offensive, but nice instead. In a weird way, it’s actually sort of comforting when strangers refer to me as “sweetie,” “honey,” “cutie,” and all those other patronizing names usually reserved for young children and significant others.