On Looking One’s Age

Hello. I’m thirty-three, although apparently I don’t look it.

A couple of weeks ago, I showed up to a rehearsal and saw a friend I haven’t seen in a while. I was wearing my hair parted in the middle such that my ever-growing grey streak showed clearly. He happens to be quite a bit taller than I am, so he noticed and asked “Oh, are you going for an older look now?” I had to laugh because 1.) it was such a typically clueless comment from him, and 2.) I’ve had that grey streak for at least 10 years and it just shows in varying degrees depending on how I wear my hair.

But it got me thinking about aging and looking one’s age. When I was younger, I looked older. In fact, I never got carded for R-rated movies, and by the time I was in college, I was routinely mistaken for over 21. It’s a fun thing when you’re a young woman, to be thought to be an older, sophisticated woman. The young woman I knew as a teenager loved to pretend to be older than they were. Then, around the time I was graduating from college, I had an acquaintance give me the standard line about being surprised I was a college student and that I looked old. I coyly responded, “You know, I’m getting to the age where I’m not sure that’s a compliment anymore,” to which he responded hurriedly, “Twenty-five. You look twenty-five.”

From there, I went off to graduate school and paid little notice to my age, except occasionally to note that I was creeping closer to thirty all the while still in school. Occasionally I would be mistaken for an undergraduate on campus, but just as often I was mistaken for a new professor.

Then, I turned thirty.

When one turns twenty, it is exciting, almost. It’s not quite twenty-one. You feel like you’re getting there, but still, another year would be nice. One more year and you’ll be happy. But the years keep coming because that’s what time does. It moves. Constantly.

When one turns thirty, the fact that one is aging starts to hit home. I noticed aches and pains I didn’t have before. I would wake up creaky. I would feel “hungover” simply from staying up too late. Not to mention my alcohol tolerance started dropping. I felt my body becoming less resilient. I felt older. And when I looked in the mirror and then looked at the 18-year-old face on my old college ID, or the 25-year-old face on my graduate ID, I looked older, I thought. I was getting older.

I was also divorced, had finished three degrees, and had lost my father. I had lived a lot in those thirty years. I wore my age with a badge of honor.

And then, I started auditioning for theater roles again for the first time in almost ten years. When I was in college, I was the dark, severe, mature-looking woman. I was cast in roles that should rightly go to women in their late 30s at the youngest. So when I went to my first community theater audition, I started with roles for women in their 30s-40s. When I got into the audition room, I was asked why I wasn’t auditioning for the ingenue. It turns out, I still looked like a 20-something.

Since then, I get cast as characters in their 20s as often as characters that match my own age. Two years ago, I was cast as a 21-year-old (Personally, I thought I looked ludicrous in the role, particularly since a co-actor of mine was a pretty young woman who actually was 21 and the difference was stark, but the reviewers didn’t bat an eye). Now, I’m finally given more consideration for the more “mature” female roles (NB: women’s roles in theater are often either 20-year-olds or old women, with very little of interest in between).

I actually hope I am starting to look my age. I still get the compliments about how young I look, and I appreciate the thought. What I don’t appreciate is the idea that I want that as a compliment. I want to look my age. I don’t want to while away my life with a Dorian-Grey-esque false exterior while my life experiences are written somewhere hidden.

And to that end, while I love skin care, I focus on the health of my skin, not its youth. I don’t color my hair to cover grey (and indeed, I haven’t colored my hair at all in years). And I dress to accentuate my personality, not to make myself look either older or younger. I strive to look my age in that I strive to look like I’ve lived the life I’ve lived.