how should I handle questions about my age at work?

A reader writes:

I want to ask about workplace etiquette relating to a person’s age.

I work in digital media and have done well for myself in my career. Recently, I was attending a conference with my boss and presenting on a project to a group of his peers from other companies when one of them interrupted me in the middle of my presentation and asked how old I was. I was so taken aback that I gave the truthful answer (30), but immediately regretted answering the question. For the rest of the session, I had the feeling that I was suddenly an amusement and not taken seriously because I was at least a decade younger than the rest of the group and they had all lumped me in that broad, nebulous, and maligned category of “millennial.”

I am now incredibly self-conscious because I’m aware that I look younger than I am. I have never dressed unprofessionally or behaved inappropriately at work and I now take great pains to try and be that much more professional in the way I put myself out there to the point where it’s a bit exhausting and others have noticed my stone cold dead seriousness as of late. But regardless, isn’t it inappropriate to ask someone their age in a professional setting? And what should I have answered instead to deflect from the irrelevant question?

In talking with other female friends my age, many noted that they too have experienced something similar and we’re uncertain whether it’s an age thing, gender thing, or a bit of both. It’s not like I am 22 and straight out of college. This year, I plan to start looking for jobs a step up from where I am now, but I am worried the “looks too young” issue will continue to haunt me and cause people to not take me seriously as I try advance professionally in the near future. I would love to hear your thoughts.

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 340 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. 123456789101112 do do do

    Happy birthday to me, I’m 31 today. Does anybody have an opinion on facial blemishes, specifically chronic acne that has not gone away after many years of treatment by several different doctors and will likely be a life-long affliction? I feel like I follow nearly all of Alison’s advice here in order to project the confidence and adult-ness necessary to be taken seriously by my colleagues, but I worry that the acne screams YOUTH AND INEXPERIENCE to anybody who isn’t familiar with me yet. And I am female and wear some makeup, but this would take pancakes to cover and I’m not a pancake type of lady.

    Reply
    1. Whats In A Name

      Have you tried Rodan & Fields? I use their REDEFINE line and while costly is has done amazing things for my skin in a 60-day window; I used to get cystic knots all over and have had none of those in the past 12 months since using.

      My $170 order usually lasts me 90 days.

      Reply
    2. tuesday blues

      Go to the subreddit r/SkincareAddiction! It has been an excellent and knowledgeable resource for all my skin questions and issues.

      Reply
      1. peachie

        Seconding this!

        Also, and this advice is so simple it might seem fake but I promise it’s true, the best thing I ever did for my skin was to come up with an ultra-simple routine that I could afford to keep up and would actually do twice a day. All you need is face wash, moisturizer, and sunscreen.* You can add all sorts of other active ingredients depending on your time/interest/skincare needs, but find the most bare-bones routine you can keep up and do it. It makes a way bigger difference than you’d think.

        Finally, I also had good luck with Curology (formerly PocketDerm), an online dermatologist service–they might be worth a shot! You can usually do some googling and find a code for a discounted/free month or something.

        * I love CeraVe for face wash and moisturizer–it’s cheap but it works. I have dryish skin and use the Hydrating Cleanser and the Moisturizing Cream (in the jar with the pump top!) year-round. I’ve hard good things about the Gentle Foaming Cleanser and the Moisturizing Lotion for oilier skin. I use and love Biore Aqua Rich Watery Essence 50++++ sunscreen–you can get it on Amazon. And for actives, The Ordinary is great and I’d also recommend Makeup Artist’s Choice (MUAC)–their site and packaging is old-school, but that shizz WORKS.

        Reply
        1. Happy Lurker

          Peachie – I second the cheap and simple routine. I also had persistent acne most of my life. I recently found that washing my face twice a day with decent cleanser, exfoliating one of those times with a face brush, ditching the foundation (and sunscreen – I cannot wear it) along with spot salisylic acid treatment for emerging pimples. Lastly, I have altered my diet to remove food dyes and other problem foods. When I eat them, I break out. When I don’t – wow, no acne.
          Best of luck!

          Reply
        2. Anon1010

          I recommend r/SkincareAddiction as well! It’s all about simplicity and using medication only when absolutely necessary (which seems a bit counter-intuitive until you hear about all of the success stories).

          I just use CeraVe cleanser, Simple moisturizer w SPF, jojoba oil, and BHA (plus the occasional clay mask). My skin has never been happier or clearer.

          Reply
      2. phedre

        Seriously, I can’t recommend SkincareAddiction enough. I had perfectly fine skin for years – a few blemishes and breakouts but nothing awful. Then around 30ish my skin took a turn for the worse, including cystic acne. SkincareAddiction helped so so much. I’ve noticed a big difference just in response to a simple daily routine. And the people on that subreddit are so knowledgeable! They were the ones who convinced me to switch to oil cleansing. I thought it would make me greasier and more prone to breakouts, but it actually cleared me up!

        If you haven’t seen a doc in a while, you may want to do so. Turns out at the core of my skin problems I had a hormonal issue linked to an endocrine disorder. Spironolactone (an androgen blocker) really helped.

        Reply
    3. NW Mossy

      I will freely own that I can be somewhat oblivious about others’ appearance, but I don’t think it would register for me at all beyond a vague “I feel for her, adult acne is no fun.” I work with a lot of people in the 25-40 age bracket and it’s just so common to have skin stuff happening (for both men and women), and it’s not at all a reflection of the individual’s capability or competence. As long as you’re not picking at your skin or otherwise drawing attention to it, you’d be surprised how little other people notice this kind of thing.

      Reply
      1. Anon for This

        Agreed. I would likely be sympathetic and not use it as a cue to your age. If I wonder about someone’s years of experience, I try to notice the role they’re in, their professional demeanor, and whether they sound knowledgeable about work topics.

        I’m in my late 40s and have a similar problem, people thinking I have fewer years of experience because I look young. I tend to work my age into conversation with new colleagues, because I have twice the years of experience than new people typically assume.

        Reply
    4. DCompliance

      Not sure if you just don’t like foundation, but there are a many good foundations out there that don’t feel heavy.

      Reply
      1. Liz2

        BB cream changed my life, it’s so light and lets me put on a very light foundation layer with great coverage, evening and no heaviness.

        Reply
      2. Simms

        Often with adult acne, it isn’t about the feel of foundation but simply that that acne is bad enough in spots that it just cannot be hidden by a light foundation.

        Reply
        1. DCompliance

          There are matte foundations that don’t feel so heavy. So if you are going to bother spending all that time applying foundation and you have scars, make it a matte. Often times, people just don’t want to have to apply any foundation at all, which I get. I wish I didn’t have to either. It sucks time and money. But since I am spending the time, I mind as well get full coverage.

          Reply
        2. peachie

          12345…, if that’s the worry, check out Lisa Eldridge’s acne-covering tutorial on Youtube. She’s a genius and has some great, usable tips for covering up acne easily without it looking cake-y.

          Reply
    5. shirley

      Happy birthday! I’m around your age and also still have some acne. Not sure it will ever fully go away either. I have found that most people don’t notice as much as we think they do, especially if you are confident and competent otherwise.

      Skinwise, I’ve had a really good experience with Curology. I hope it’s ok to link here. https://curology.com/invite/PSFKVG9

      Also, a green-tinted primer can help cut down on some of the redness as well without needing to pancake too much.

      Reply
      1. Die Forelle

        Also 31, also still get some adult acne, and seconding Curology. I was prescribed spironolactone oral medication ($5/month with my insurance), and a topical cream, and using both for the last 18 months has cleared up my hormonal acne almost completely. I still get the pre-menstrual zit or two, every now and again, but it’s SO much better. Well worth the $25/month total for me.

        Reply
    6. Papyrus

      I feel your pain. I’m 30, and have regular acne and acne scars (I’m still salty at everyone who told me that my acne would magically go away when I became an adult!). Getting prescription medication from a dermatologist is the only thing that has ever helped, but I still get breakouts.

      If you like makeup, have you checked out any tutorials on Youtube? There’s a lot of inexpensive, drugstore type products out there that can cover acne + scarring with the right techniques, and you don’t need tons of pancake makeup everyday. A good concealer is worth it’s weight in gold!

      Reply
    7. Ask a Manager Post author

      I still get them and I’m 43! My sister still gets them and she’s 47. I assume we will still have them at 70. (Can anyone confirm this?) I think enough people do that it won’t make you look like a teenager.

      Reply
      1. Solla Sollew

        I’m 51 and I stopped getting breakouts about 3 years ago. Until then my chin looked like a war zone more often than not. Then, poof! Maybe a pimple twice a year but nothing that bugs me much.

        Reply
      2. many bells down

        My dad was still getting acne up until he died at 65. It’s just a genetic proclivity for some people. Mine finally faded out in my late 30’s, but I still get red and blotchy and it looks like I’m about to break out – I just don’t anymore.

        Incidentally, the only things that worked for me were: tea tree oil and remembering to never touch my face. I was allergic to OTC acne products and they just made it worse. I also don’t use any kind of facial cleanser, but I also wear makeup very rarely, so I can get away with a daily face rinse in the shower.

        Reply
      3. Elder Dog

        67 and counting. Menopause, like “growing out of your teens” doesn’t work for everybody.

        I use prescription betamethasone valerate, which is the only thing that works for most of it. Cream, don’t get the ointment. And don’t let the cats lick your face. (Look again at the second part of the name. That’s really what the stuff is.)
        I used to also use another prescription topical that they stopped making and I can’t even get compounded. So if you find something that works, stock up.

        Reply
    8. AvonLady Barksdale

      I’m 38 and I still get zits and even breakouts on a regular basis. My advice: change your skincare routine regularly, because something will start working and then it will stop. I recently found a wonderful soap made by a friend and my skin looks awesome (recent chin zit notwithstanding), but I know this is temporary. I had some success with Burt’s Bees facial cleanser for a while. Also, don’t go too harsh, which can make your skin worse. Change your pillowcases once or twice a week, and sleep on a different side every night (i.e., flip the pillow over when you make your bed). Wash your scarves and anything with a collar (like my fleece jacket that I wear zipped all the way up).

      Two things I want to add for you: 1) Most of the time, people don’t notice acne as much as we notice it ourselves. There’s a recent picture taken of me where my skin looks FLAWLESS, and I have no idea how that happened. My skin is nowhere near flawless, but other people think it’s pretty good or they just don’t notice. 2) Acne fights wrinkles. Looking younger can suck, especially at work (I deal with this on a regular basis), but the confidence you’re building will do a lot to counteract that.

      Reply
      1. Anxa

        This is so important.

        I’ve been pretty much perpetually broke during my 20s. So when I found that the best thing for my eczema/acne/rosacea face was pretty much do nothing but a splash of water most mornings and nights, I kind of coasted on that for way too long. Or maybe this is because I got a cat and started changing pillowcases every night (might sound nuts, but I didn’t want my face on kitty pillows). My skin has a bunch of small disasters* but is kind of okay overall, and I found that treating one issue would upset another.

        For the past year of so, though, my face has had it. It’s probably just turning 30 and not any specific issue, but my reflection catches me off guard pretty regularly these days. I don’t even know how to dip my toe back into things. I can’t afford trial an error, I can’t afford too many splurge products, and I almost don’t want to add any new products in case of new allergies. But it’s time to change things up. Nothing lasts forever.

        *Pre-ACA one insurance company rejected my regular application for health insurance and put me on a waiver for “SKIN.” It was so vague it was almost comical. Did they mean the rosacea? Or skin cancer (my dermo insisted on testing a mole that was benign)? Or would they not cover like, skin grafts in case of an accident? What if my surgical stitches get infected? Would the incisions even be covered?

        Reply
    9. Rincat

      I’m 33 and have always struggled with acne, and tried lots of doctors and lots of treatments…and finally determined my skin is actually very dry and sensitive – NOT super oily, as the doctors kept telling me – so I ditched all treatments and makeup, and I only wash my face once a day with a pure olive oil soap, and then use a lotion bar (it’s shea butter, olive oil, candelila wax and a few other things – you could eat it it’s so natural) on my face, and it’s never been better. My issue was that the drugs and treatments and makeup were just irritating my skin, stripping it of its natural oils, and therefore it made more oil to compensate, so I stripped it again (and piled on makeup to cover up blemishes), so I was stuck in a vicious cycle. When I finally went off all of that – and endured a few months of makeup-free recovery, which was hard – my skin emerged like new.

      That’s my experience! I do hope you can find something that works for you. Although I have noticed in the last few years since I don’t wear any makeup at all – not even to interviews – professional people don’t care. They look at your work and achievements.

      Reply
      1. Emlen

        This is also my story. Realized my breakouts were irritation/inflammation, switched to oil cleanser & moisturizer, and that took care of all but one or two minor weekly annoyances. Now, absolutely nothing that lathers touches my face. (Those last one or two breakouts will go away as well, provided I determinedly keep added sugar and dairy out of my diet. When I backslide on that restriction, they come back.)

        Reply
    10. Corky's wife Bonnie

      I struggled with really bad acne for years, it started to clear up in my mid to late 30’s when I stopped using acne products and switched to products for combination skin. I also stopped the liquid foundation and started using Bare Minerals foundation. My skin did a turnaround within months. I’m 45 now, and I still get an annoying pimple at “that time” but that’s about it now.

      Reply
      1. Spreadsheets and Books

        I second Bare Minerals. I love it! It’s so light and natural looking. I’m 27 and have had horrendous acne as long as I can remember. Switching to a birth control pill designed to control acne and using Bare Minerals is the only thing that helped. I still have some scarring, but it’s not noticeable from a distance.

        Reply
      2. ThatGirl

        Nothing against Bare Minerals, but I want to suggest EverydayMinerals as an alternative, it’s tons cheaper.

        Also, if you use a makeup brush or sponge, make sure to wash it at least weekly.

        Reply
        1. Hmm

          Also Aromaleigh mineral foundation. Not cheaper, really, but better than BareMinerals. And they have a broader range of shades (for dark and ultra-pale), plus white if you want to custom-lighten one.

          Reply
      3. ancolie

        Man, every.single.mineral.foundation I’ve ever tried has been wayyyyy too dark. Like, one called “Alabaster” was too orange on me. :(

        Reply
        1. Julia

          I feel your pain. Lately, I was pleasantly surprised by the (new?) lightest shade in Maybelline’s Superstay foundation, and usually professional stores for make-up artists offer more shades as well. I also bought a white foundation that I mix with foundation whose undertone (not too pink, not too yellow) I like, but that is too dark on its own.

          Reply
    11. Somniloquist

      Other than hormonal contraceptives, the only thing that’s helped is a combo of 2% salicylic acid/ 2.5% benzoyl peroxide in the morning and a 2% salicylic acid/mild differin Rx at night. I have sensitive skin so I never go any higher than that.

      Reply
    12. Chickaletta

      39 with acne here, last year was one of the worst. Besides being very picky about what I put on it, using fragrance-free laundry detergent, etc, I finally started changing my diet a few months ago and it definitely has an effect. You can google “acne-free diet” or something similar for lots of advice. Mostly what I gave up was dairy and glucose, which has been hard because what is a life without ice cream, pasta, or bread?? But, I have to admit, my skin is better and when I fall-off the diet wagon (like over the holidays, or that box of chocolates I got for Valentine’s Day) I notice that my skin gets worse. Right now I’m trying to pace myself through those chocolates and be good about avoiding sugar and milk in other areas of my diet. Alcohol also makes my skin look dry and ugly, gone are the days of youth where a couple of drinks didn’t show up on your face the next morning. But I’m not giving up wine, that’s what moisturizer and foundation are for.

      Reply
    13. DeskBird

      Have you looked into Korean skin care? I warn you it can be expensive and time consuming and involves a lot of research – but man they know how to sort out skin issues. The basis behind it is instead of using one product that does 10 different things, buy individual products that each only do one thing and layer them on top of each other – so it is super customized to you and you can change it up as often as you like. I know they have a lot of really great stuff for acne. I started getting into it just as I passed 30 when I had the realization that if I want to keep my baby face around longer I need to put more than passing care into it.

      Reply
      1. Hmm

        I second trying Korean skincare. It sounds like hype but there are a lot of really good quality, inexpensive (compared to Sephora-level brand skincare and Rx after Rx) products out there.

        Anyone who feels like going down that rabbit hole should check out the following blogs; the first one in particular is written by someone who mostly deals with acne.
        – Snow White And The Asian Pear
        – Fifty Shades Of Snail

        Both of those blogs are safe for work.

        Reply
        1. Hmm

          Oh, and I also recommend the blog “Fanserviced-b”. It’s also safe for work and is another skincare blog, with a focus on combating oily skin and hormonal, cystic acne.

          Reply
    14. TJ

      I know said you’ve talked to doctors, but if you haven’t tried it yet: acutaine. The side effects can be a little scary but it will clear your acne (usually forever) after a few rounds of treatment. Worth talking to a dermatologist if your acne is severe enough to warrant it.

      Reply
      1. Buffy

        Second accutane. I never would have become confident enough to land my current gig when I was still battling constant breakouts.

        Reply
      2. Bigglesworth

        Acutaine does work for some people, but not for everyone. My partner was on Accutane growing up due to cystic acne, but he’s one of the not-so-lucky ones that it affected his liver. They took him off of it pretty quickly. It saved his face from most of the scarring, but his back is completely covered in scar tissue from the shoulders to the upper waist. That was preferable to have a liver that didn’t work.

        Reply
      3. Elizabeth H.

        I know it works for a lot of people but also, it has so many side effects and serious risks. It can interact with psychiatric medication too. I had a personal experience that involved this happening (not to me) and consequently I’m always going to feel concerned about its use. That said I know people who had great results with it for a short period of time, too.

        Reply
      4. Joan Holloway

        Most people I know (including myself) who were on Accutane only experienced clear skin for the first few years after going through the regimen. Considering this, I’m not sure if I would go through the process again or recommend it to someone else, considering all the potential health risks. If the commenter is considering having children in the next few years I would especially advise against it. However, as with most things, YMMV.

        Reply
      5. FN2187

        I went through three courses of accutane over six years to treat severe cystic acne. If I had the choice, I would NOT do it again. It dried me out so badly that my hands and lips started to bleed, and around the same time I developed severe digestive issues. There is no conclusive proof that accutane was the cause, but I feel like it had something to do with it. Plus, I had to start taking monthly pregnancy tests because it causes such horrific birth defects. So while the acne kind of went away, the side effects just were not worth it.

        Reply
    15. SystemsLady

      I could use some advice on this as well.
      Anybody else with seborrheic dermatitis that sometimes makes it to their forehead? (I know how to manage it, sometimes I just get caught in a rural town for a week having forgotten the shampoo)

      Reply
      1. kb

        I keep a tiny jar tea tree oil in my purse in case I’m without my special shampoo. I mix it with coconut or olive oil and use it as a mask for a feq minutes on the problem areas. I don’t usually keep the olive or coconut oil on me because they come in larger containers and because I can find them just about anywhere.

        Reply
    16. Lowercase holly

      Ive continued having skin issues into my 30s and saw derms since I was a teenager. I started getting a compound cream from curology (online dermatologists) a few months ago and it really helped. It’s easier than remembering to apply multiple creams/pills plus the consult is online so no having to schedule appts. Maybe not for all but surprisingly effective for me.

      Reply
    17. kb

      It’s been mentioned above, but Bare Minerals for makeup! Friendlier for the skin than a lot of other brands and provides good coverage without cake.

      My older sister had chronic acne throughout her teens and adulthood and what helped most was when she started using retinoid skin products. They help with acne and anti-aging, according to her and Oprah. I know there are caveats and times you shouldn’t take them, but I’m fuzzy on those details and not a skin expert.

      Reply
      1. Julia

        Actually, Bare Minerals breaks a lot of people out. Some mineral make-ups contain an ingredient (something something bismuth, if I remember correctly) that is terrible for sensitive and/or acne-prone skin.

        Reply
    18. Kate

      I use goat’s milk soap every day in the morning, Pond’s cold cream to take off my makeup, then a salicylic acid wipe (like Oxyclean Daily Care or Stridex) and benzoyl peroxide cream to spot treat. I am also on birth control (the pill with no periods version) and that has helped hugely.

      Reply
    19. Acne at 35

      Acne.org was the only thing that ever worked for me. And I’ve tried EVERYTHING. Dr. Rodan of Rodan & Fields was even my actual dermatologist at one point in time, and she tried all sorts of stuff on me including a few of her own product lines and nothing at all worked. Then I tried accutane and it made me depressed, also didn’t work. After many other things down the road, I finally tried acne.org’s BP and it’s truly magic. Takes a little while to adapt but then it’s easy and perfect.

      Reply
    20. Venus Supreme

      My sister and my mom both got adult acne in their early 30s. I don’t know what my mom did to combat the acne, but my sister went to her dermatologist and also did routine facials. That sounds super expensive, but I know my dermatologist offers clinical facials without the cucumber eyes, soothing music, and rosewater. It’s worth a conversation with your doc!

      Reply
    21. narrative

      Long-time lurker, first-time commenter, and it just figures it’s on a skincare comment.

      I had the most obnoxious acne all through grad school and then the first part of my career. Eventually it got to the point where I had *some* kind of blemish on my face at all times (it was like the Sheriff of Rottingham’s mole in Men in Tights). When I finally went to my GP for it, he prescribed a low-dose daily antibiotic (minocycline) and within weeks no more horrible zits! I stayed on it for a couple of years and stopped a few months ago. So far no more breakouts. If your docs have concentrated on topical applications like Retin-A, you might ask about an oral medication.

      Reply
    22. Sarah

      Drunk Elephant skincare line is amazing. Not cheap, but entirely non-toxic and it has done wonders for my skin that products the dermatologist prescribed did not.

      Reply
    23. Liz2

      I’ve learned to own it and love it. I just turned 37 and genuinely could be seen as 25, specially since I do admin stuff which is perceived as a young person’s thing. My work is my work is my work and its polish and merit stands on its own.

      Hormonal BC, plus some skin products with acid have helped in large portion, but it’s still there for sure.

      There’s always going to be people who underestimate you for a ton of reasons. I define myself and project who I want- and that includes youthful. I also don’t let myself be erased in a meeting.

      Reply
      1. Happy Lurker

        I love you…really, I love that you own it. Somedays I own shit, Somedays, I don’t own shit!!
        Liz2 – you just keep owning it!

        Reply
    24. Joan Holloway

      I’m 28 and still get cystic acne and have tried just about everything under the sun, including Accutane. That kept my skin flawless for about 2.5 years before it all came back full force and I had to start from the bottom.

      I currently use Dermalogica’s adult acne line as well as their sensitive skin line (acne products in the evening, sensitive skin for day wear) and together they keep my acne mostly in check. Kat Von D’s Lock-It Tattoo foundation has been gentle on my skin as well (no parabens, sulfates, etc) and the coverage is phenomenal. It color-corrects redness (which takes a few steps out of my routine!), and it’s really easy to apply with your (clean!) fingers and blend out with a damp sponge. The finish is really nice and natural as well, neither dewy nor matte but kind of a satin that’s more flattering on skin with texture issues. Under that, I use Too Faced Hangover Rx primer. It’s good for acne-prone skin because it’s really lightweight, hydrating, and doesn’t exaggerate texture. If you’re going for a more minimal coverage (and have light-to-medium skin) I’ve had great success with Tarte’s BB Treatment Primer. If I’m just running to the store but want to even out my complexion it color-corrects and offers a little coverage, as well as 30 SPF.

      That being said, I know people my age and into their 30’s with acne who wear really minimal makeup and they get along just fine. I hope you find what works for you!

      Reply
    25. Observer

      I’m skipping all the skin care suggestions – you seem to haev gotten a number of good ones. Just know that people with experience know that acne and skin blemishes are not the sole province of teens.

      Reply
      1. 123456789101112 do do do

        I think that’s what I’m taking out of this thread. Thank you, everyone, for chiming in and letting me know that I’m not alone. I will also be looking into some of these solutions. I’ve tried most of them already!

        Reply
    26. Texas HR Pro

      Stupid question, but are you sure it’s acne? I had awful what-I-thought-was acne that turned out to be rosacea. Turns out all the acne products I used were aggravating it.

      Reply
      1. AnonyMouse

        Agreed. I had what I thought was acne for decades, and was actually a non-MRSA staph infection colonized on my skin. I even went to dermatologists, and they thought it was acne. I was finally diagnosed when it entered a surgery site and caused and sorts of havoc and an infectious disease doctor got involved.

        Reply
    27. Misc

      Sugar. Lack of, specifically (this may not help if you have other underlying issues, but…) I had to basically quit sugar for other reasons and my horrible painful cysts (which were pretty much invisible, but HURT LIKE HELL and were a good 1-2cm across on a good week) just… went away.

      And when I slipped up, they came back and I went ‘huh. So that is actually a thing’. Apparently it’s an inflammation thing.

      [note: glucose is fine. Sucrose/fructose is the problem].

      [also fist bump! I also just had a birthday beginning with a 3 :D ]

      Reply
      1. Misc

        *NB: I have no skin care routine (I shower every couple of days or as needed, and that’s it) and my flare ups had absolutely no relation to whatever I do with my face. It was almost all entirely dietary, alas. Still get minor acne occasionally, but it’s not the horrendous cysts, more the ‘WHEEE SQUEEZE IT TO DEATH oh it’s gone’ type.

        Reply
        1. Happy Lurker

          My cystic acne is the same way…aggravated by food dye too – Twizzlers, Swedish fish, OMG. Painful face next day.

          Reply
    28. Hmm

      As a first step, check the pH level of your facial cleanser. You want something that’s 5.5 (slightly acidic) and preferably something that doesn’t have sodium laureyl sulfate. I recommend CeraVe Foaming or CosRx Good Morning cleansers (the former is about $10 at any drugstore/Walmart/Target, the latter is about the same price on Amazon).

      I’ve had acne all of my life. I went through 2 rounds of Accutane to get rid of cystic acne. I’ve been on every Rx known to dermatology. Nothing, I mean nothing, helped as much as switching to a low-pH face cleanser. I realize that sounds too good to be true, but it’s a major first step. It was utterly shocking to me that it was my face cleanser that was the biggest problem, rather than screwed-up skin genetics or or not finding the right Rx.

      Anyway, it might not sort your skin out permanently, and it will take time to heal regardless, but seriously: give your face cleanser a good long hard look. Go low pH. It’s cheap and you most likely won’t regret it.
      Just my 2 cents.

      Reply
      1. Hmm

        Addendum: When I say “check the pH of your facial cleanser,” what I mean is “Google the pH of your facial cleanser.” Because I guarantee you someone has written it up somewhere.

        Reply
    29. NaoNao

      I do!!! I have hormone triggered adult acne that has *plagued* me my entire adult life. Stuff like Proactive is not effective because the acne is *not* based on dead skin cells building up and creating white heads. It’s based on hormones that trigger excess oil production, when combined with skin cell build up, create deep cysts that are painful and repeat every 4-6 weeks.

      I had to go on Rocaccutane to stop the cycle BUT many people find that spirnolactone, a drug that lowers the androgen and testosterone production that triggers excess sebum (oil) works too. I’m on it now (the spiro), and aside from 1-2 small spots during PMS, it’s been a miracle.

      I use Curology, an online dermatology source. For 20$ a month, you get a doctor who will prescribe a topical med and if need be, an oral med. The topical med is free and unlimited with the 20$ fee. The oral meds will vary based on your insurance/Rx coverage.

      I found that NOTHING else worked, because most products treat the *skin* not the underlying cause (the hormone fluctuations that trigger excess oil).

      Many doctors tried birth control pills, antibiotics, topicals like Differin, etc. Nothing, nothing, nothing worked. Hormonal acne is a lifelong affliction that is only *manageable* not treatable, sadly.

      My advice is to specifically ask for spirnolactone. It’s a relatively new treatment option, in the last few years. It is a diuretic so you’ll be visiting the restroom more often but I’ve found no other side effects.

      The signs of hormonal acne are:
      It’s along the chin and jaw
      It’s deep, painful cysts that don’t often become white heads
      It’s cyclical: as soon as it clears up, it flares up again
      It’s unresponsive to OTC topicals, scrubs, etc.

      Good luck and try Curology!

      Reply
      1. Julia

        This is often true, unfortunately.

        I would like to use this to warn everyone off of scrubs, though. Do NOT scrub your face, especially not when it has active acne on it! You’ll scrub the icky stuff all over, and you might scar. Use a chemical peeling like salicylic acid, glycolic acid etc.

        Reply
    30. Jesmlet

      I had the worst cystic acne all around my jaw for the longest time and none of the chemical stuff worked on me. On a whim I decided to try something natural – 1 part apple cider vinegar, 1 part water in a large squeeze bottle and a couple drops of tea tree oil. Mostly cleared up after a year and only the occasional breakout once a month. I hated becoming the caked on makeup girl but I hated the angry red dots more – so relieved to not have either anymore.

      Reply
    31. Julia

      Happy birthday!

      I have similar problems and also found dermatologists less than helpful, but maybe there are good ones out there. Somewhere.
      As others said, SkincareAddiction on Reddit will be a great resource. Spend a lazy day reading through all the posts in the sidebar. They mostly recommend gentle cleansing, chemical peels (you can do those at home), hydrating your skin and sunscreen. Stay away from harsh scrubs and “chemical-free” products – most “natural” stuff (as if cream grew on trees…) has potential irritants.

      Also, how are your hormones? The best skincare won’t work if you have serious imbalances. Do you have allergies? Does dairy seem to make things worse? Do nuts? Carbs? Can you try to cut those foods out for a while and see if things improve?

      Reply
    32. Anonymous Today

      While make-up to cover blemishes is a fine working solution, I’d recommend you try aloe vera gel on your clean skin, especially every night, to get rid of acne and its blemishes permanently. My flatmate suffered from similar terrible acne issues, but once she started using the gel, there was a visible difference in her skin. It took a few weeks of regular application, though, to see results.

      Reply
    33. Anna

      Salicylic acid has changed my life. I admit I never had proper acne, but I definitely had a lot of regular spots and my skintone overall is rosacea red. Using Paula’s Choice 2% BHA Toner has completely changed my skin- no spots (unless I skip using it for a few days) and the redness is definitely reduced. Also, Clinique Smary Serum and niacinamide 10% from The Ordinary helps too.

      I’ve gone from “heavy makeup that was basically painting my face a different colour every morning” to a powder only foundation (estee lauder doublewear powder- so still high coverage but no way in a million years would it have been good before)

      Reply
    34. MeAgainAnonymously

      Hello! I am 33 and still deal with adult acne. I have experienced people thinking I am younger than I am because of it. I look youngish for my age and until I started wearing makeup was getting questions and comments about my age. I also had to contend with those who seemed very distracted by my flaws. So I do believe it can be an obstacle.
      I will echo some of what has been said here, mainly focus on something in your financial budget and time management. Nothing will work if you cannot continue it or make time for it. I have tried dozens of things over the past two decades to rid myself of acne. Nothing has worked quite as well as monitoring my diet, drinking plenty of water and regular cleansing, moisturizing and exfoliating. I have cystic acne scars so I wear foundation almost daily. Because I have kept on top of regular cleansing and using a cleansing brush I rarely have noticeable outbreaks, unless I fall off the wagon.
      I have tried both the $200 brush and $20 brush and they work equally as well. When I travel I use a $3 manual brush. I think it is important for me since I do wear makeup and it gets my face super clean.
      Like others, I have tried things in so many price ranges surprisingly the best product for me is a facial bar and liquid cleanser, both which cost under $10. It really is going to take learning your skin and what is causing the outbreaks to develop a great plan for you.
      Also, until you find your formula, you can try a great concealer for spot coverage if you haven’t ruled that out.

      Reply
    35. Emily

      I don’t know if anyone is still checking this post, but when I was struggling a couple of years ago with jawline breakouts, I found that a zinc supplement (Nature Made 30 mg, in my case) helped clear it up within a few weeks. I continued taking it for a few months and then stopped after that, since I didn’t want to do long-term supplementation without consulting with a doctor first.

      Another thing that’s helped me in general is learning to be gentle/minimal with my skin and leave it alone as much as possible, but other people have already touched on that.

      Reply
    36. Reb135

      I have suffered with hormonal acne and have managed to get it under control finally. Although everyone is different, the following combo has helped me: gave up / very limited citrus fruits … as soon as I eat quite a few citrus fruits I begin to break out, so I know this is one of the causes; less chocolate/sugary foods than I used to eat; glycolic face wash products and exfoliation; evening primrose oil supplement; oil-free face products; proper night’s sleep. Wishing you the best in finding what works for you.

      Reply
  2. Whats In A Name

    OP: I sympathize 100%. I longed to be 30, so I could say I was 30 and be taken more seriously among my peers. I too look young. Even now at 37 people assume I am just reaching 30. I am sure one day I will be thankful, but today is not that day.

    I would follow Alison’s advice to just state your age. Most people don’t intend it to be condescending. Some may applaud you for your maturity, or knowledge, or the perspective you can bring to a room full of 40-somethings as a 30-year-old. Some may be thinking that you are too young, but they are probably in the minority there. And it says more about them than you.

    I know saying “let it go” is easier said than done but work to get there – it will help tremendously.

    And quite honestly, my youthful look has posed much more of an issue in my personal life than my professional one and I wish I could go back and tell my 27-year-old self to stop rushing the calendar along.

    Reply
    1. zora

      I’m 37, too, and still look young for my age (my mom always did, too, so I’m assuming it’s always going to be true for me) and as I’ve gotten older it’s come up less often, which is a relief.

      Once when I was about 32 and was introducing speakers for the organization I had founded and was running, this woman (probably 60s?) came up to me and just kept gushing about what a wonderful job I had done up there. I kept saying thank you, but she just kept saying it over and over, getting more and more effusive. I couldn’t figure out what was up, until she said “No, really, you were fantastic, you should consider that for your career, how old are you?” and I groaned internally. I pointedly said “32. And I’ve got my career under control, thanks.” Then she was visibly DISAPPOINTED that I was so old and therefore my skill wasn’t that impressive any more. Thanks, lady.

      Now, it’s a slightly different context. I am underemployed, and I am not happy with myself. So, when people find out how old I really am, I feel like the subtext of their “Oh!” is more like, “huh, why are you still just an Admin Assistant when you’re so old? That’s kinda pathetic.”

      So… I don’t know, I’m not feeling that thankful for looking young, because it’s a constant hassle that never seems to go away. But I agree, I continue to work on letting it go and remembering that it’s the rude person’s problem that they are obsessed with age, not mine. But you are not alone, OP!

      Reply
      1. Whats In A Name

        Well that lady was just ridiculous!

        I get what you are saying though – it definitely has it’s ups and downs, the young looks. I am actively working on letting it go – more in personal context. My partner is 11 years older than me and we’ve had more than one comment about him being my “sugar daddy” because people think we are closer to 20 years apart. I just try to keep telling myself those people are ass-hats.

        Reply
        1. MoodyMoody

          It happens even when the age gap is less than that. My husband was in the hospital a few years ago after surgery. One of the nurse techs (CNAs) asked me if I was his daughter. I am literally two years and one day younger than my husband.

          On the plus side, it’s nice that everyone thinks I’m about 35 and is visibly shocked when I say that I’m 53.

          Reply
          1. Workaholic

            I was 24ish and volunteering at the college i was attending helping run an event for high schoolers. A woman came up to me and asked what school i attended so I have college name. She was super impressed and shocked and asked my age. Turns out she thought I was 16 and one of the high school kids. She was the parent of a 16 yr old. and when I was 29 I was in training at a new job and sat with a group on the 19-21 range – they all thought I was barely 21. It’s always shocked me.

            Reply
      2. Anxa

        Oh my goodness can I relate!

        I get a lot of “so what do you want to do?” questions AT WORK and it’s just like, well, yeah, obviously not this forever because I can’t live on part-time hours forever, but it’s so uncomfortable. I think my youthful appearance is a factor, but people are taken aback when I am actually serious about my job and it’s not just a convenient part-time job for me.

        Reply
      3. mskyle

        Haha, I remember getting this once when I was in my late twenties – a woman was incredibly impressed by me until I told her I was an adult who got paid, not a high-school-age volunteer (it was a dark room, but still!).

        Reply
      4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        That lady sounds awful. But if it’s any consolation, I remember very exactly when I went from “precocious, dynamic and exciting” to “yes, you’re old enough that competency in this area is expected—whatcha want, a cookie!?”

        Reply
    2. Simonthegreywarden

      I just went in for my 20 week checkup/ultrasound, and my midwife thought they got my birthday wrong. I am 35 but apparently look years younger.

      Reply
    3. Koko

      My go-to answer for, “How old are you?” has become something along the lines of, “Old enough to demur when asked that question,” delivered with a smile.

      Reply
    4. jesicka309

      Haha I encounter this all the time. Like when I get carded buying alcohol and the attendant starts laughing when he gets the card because it says I’m 27, or when I had a car accident and the driver assumed that I was on probation & was just hiding my plates/had a fake licence.

      Most recent was on a ski trip where a lady on the ski lift told me off for not wearing a helmet and asked ‘what would my mother say if she knew’. I told her that given I am married, I don’t think she really has a say. She was taken back, I think she thought I was 15 all rugged up like I was. Same day I also got offered a high school ski lift pass instead of an adult (again, 27!).

      Mostly it’s just funny, but there was a period in my early 20s where it really held me back in my personal life – if we went to the shops and my boyfriend decided to buy beer and I waited outside, it would look like he was trying to supply liquor to a minor, and I’d have to go in and prove my age even though I had no intention of drinking it.

      Professionally I tend to get mothered a lot more than necessary, and the habit for me is to avoid the tendency to slip into ‘child’ mode. It often catches me off guard when a well meaning motherly colleague says ‘I can speak to grumpy exec for you if you like?’ and I reply with relief ‘oh thank you’ without thinking – I should do those things on my own.

      Reply
  3. Kimberly R

    My former boss didn’t want to tell me her age. (I didn’t just come out and ask. Somehow, we ended up on the subject of age and I readily told her my age, at which point she said she didn’t want to tell me hers.) I asked why, if she was comfortable answering the question, and she said it is because she is youngish to be a manager and she has had older people, especially men, question her and her authority over them. So now she refuses to give her age. I respect that and I agree that she shouldn’t have to give out that information, but it does suck that her direct reports felt like they could disrespect her based on her age.

    Reply
    1. Effective Immediately

      This has happened to me a lot in my career. I came into management very young and it’s a constant uphill battle. Now I just say, “I’ve been doing this for about 10 years” if those questions surface.

      Oddly, it’s never been direct reports that give me a hard time about it. They’re skeptical at first, but once they see I do know what I’m doing, they come around. It’s always been peers and *my* bosses–all older men–who treat me like an inept child (bosses) or are grouchy about me getting projects and assignments over them (peers).

      There’s a mix of ageism and sexism for young women that is sometimes just so exhausting.

      Reply
      1. ArtsNerd

        Yep, I’m so excited to hit a point in my career where I’m not constantly being undermined for my ‘youth.’ Feeling secure in my expertise had a big part in that I think.

        Reply
    2. MeAgainAnonymously

      This is my current experience. I am a senior manager and all my counterparts are males in their late 50s and 60s. They don’t know my exact age, but it is pretty obvious that I am not out of my 30s. I have had to work very hard at helping them understand that I am in my position because I bring just as much value as them and am fully competent. When people ask about my age, I NEVER tell them. My professionalism as well as the fact that I am kind of an old soul keeps them guessing a little bit. I made it a point to be well versed on things that are “before my time” and because I have climbed the ladder at a younger age, I have a lot of older people in my network to guide and coach me.
      My lesson learned was when I initially started in my industry. My work garnered me the attention of Directors and VPs. No one had any problems with my work and moving into a higher level role. Until one day a colleague asked my age and I told her. Several people in the office stopped what they were doing and acted shocked. From that point on I was the “kid” in the group. Suddenly, me being a manager over people who had been there for years became an issue and I honestly believe I was not given a promotion because of my age. There was actually one supervisor who said I shouldn’t be his manager because I was not qualified, but the month before it wasn’t an issue. I have never made that mistake again.

      Reply
  4. Marillenbaum

    LW, you have my sympathies. This can be a difficult and frankly, really annoying part of looking young in the face. I think a lot of Alison’s advice is spot-on, particularly about looking at women who project the image you want to convey. In my case, I realized that while my clothing was professional, the women who had the careers I wanted tended to have a higher level of finish–wearing a watch, incorporating some color, or pulled-back hair. Of course, being fashionable is not a requirement of being taken seriously as a woman in the workplace, but the idea of modeling yourself after people is a solid one (my aim: Diane Lockhart of The Good Wife fame). Also, I have found that if you act as though you are a competent adult among equals, people tend to follow your lead. It doesn’t stop all the insulting comments (like the person who once asked if I went to public school in a particularly snotty way), but it makes it clear to everyone reasonable that that person is way out of line. Good luck!

    Reply
    1. The30YearOld

      I’m the LW! You are a commenter after my own heart – I watched “The Good Fight” this week and my new goal is Maia for workplace attire. In general though, I wear my hair back and while my workplace is business casual, skew more dressed up than not. But I definitely could work on my confidence after being in my own head after this experience!

      Reply
    2. Ann O'Nemity

      Yes, this advice worked for me. Fake it until you make it.

      I used to be self-conscious about the discrepancy between my age and my position. I dressed more professionally than the workplace dress code required because I wanted to look competent and confident. And dressing well made me feel competent and confident.

      Reply
    3. Anonymousaurus Rex

      Yes this! I am a 34 year-old woman, and not-particularly-young-looking. But I have natural long light blonde hair, and I really find that I’m taken a lot more seriously if I keep my hair up and away from my face (either braided or in a low bun) and dress like I’m one step up from my current position. So right now I report to a Director, and she’s about 10 years older than me. I aim to dress and comport myself, if not like her, at least as if I had her job and was her age.

      Reply
  5. fposte

    Oh, to hell with that dude, really; he was trying to make you uncomfortable and show off to the room, and he deserves to get bedbugs from his convention hotel.

    In addition to what Alison says, I doubt that the truth undermined you that much with the rest of the attendees, though. 30 is hardly a baby, and it doesn’t sound like you have a grizzled military countenance that made them think you were 50 until you said your real age. Don’t get wrong-footed just because somebody set you up to make it seem like your age was a bad thing; I doubt the others read it as being so.

    Reply
    1. Bonky

      Absolutely – it says so much more about the interrupting guy than it does about OP. (And the other people in the room will have thought that too.)

      Reply
    2. The30YearOld

      Hi! I’m the LW. Strangely enough (or not), it was actually a woman who interrupted my presentation.

      But her advice is spot on, I’m definitely being in my own head with anti-millennial thinkpieces and worrying about my age being a detriment.

      Reply
          1. Emi.

            Seriously–Mike, I dunno if you were being serious, but I’ve only ever heard men say this seriously. Women say it with bitter irony, or not at all.

            Reply
            1. Whats In A Name

              I dunno, I am a woman and I always talk about solidarity with my female counterparts. And would definitely be on the side of solidarity with a young(er) female professional in my industry. Presenting at a conference at 30 is pretty awesome IMO.

              Reply
            2. SystemsLady

              I think some older women who’ve been in male-dominated fields all their lives can get caught up in their colleagues’ behavior.

              I don’t think it has anything to do with consciously not wanting to have solidarity, though (I’d use that sarcastically too), and I’ve certainly seen a pattern of younger women (and some men!) in my field rejecting this kind of borderline behavior explicitly.

              Reply
            3. Mike C.

              I see a lot of women here understand the need to support each other in the workplace, and that’s certainly the case with the women I know in real life as well. And yes, I know plenty of folks who only care about #1 but I’ve never seen it happen at the expense of someone else in such an abrupt and public fashion before.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                I see people being jackasses at conference on the regular. While there may be some gender patterns, no gender visibly dominates the behavior as giver or receiver.

                Reply
                1. Mike C.

                  I should be more clear, I’m not trying to imply a special gender obligation per se, just a recognition that if someone is a member of some group that faces unique challenges, they shouldn’t make those challenges worse for other members of said group.

                2. Mookie

                  Women aren’t uniquely responsible for patriarchy, though, Mike C., so we can’t do it on our own and there are strong incentives not to rock the boat and competition to be Final Girl / One Chill Woman is sometimes palpable. We’re not noble because we’re suffering and we don’t have stronger character because we’re women. We’re human, warts and all. Men sometimes hold one another up, and sometimes they tear one another down. Depends on the individual, the circumstances, a thousand and one details that aren’t gender-specific.

            4. HRish Dude

              “Sisterhood” was a huge concept of first wave feminism before some women came along and were like, “Maybe you shouldn’t paint us all with the same damn brush.”

              And I’ll just mansplain my way right out the door.

              Reply
        1. Chickaletta

          There is no solidarity. I’ve been asked my age, my weight, and what size I wear by women coworkers. I’ve been asked to house sit, babysit, and pet sit. I’ve been asked about my marriage plans and assumed to go out and party every weekend. It’s not a new millennial thing either, I’m a Gen X’er and this happened about 15 years ago when I was in my 20s and a good decade or two younger than most of the people I worked with.

          I do think that there weren’t any bad intentions in their questioning. Maybe they were trying to relive their youth or boost their own egos, maybe they were genuinely curious. I don’t know. But it was really, really hard to get taken seriously at work and one of the reasons why I didn’t stick around long – I just felt like I would never get a leg up.

          Reply
          1. Elizabeth West

            Yeah, I remember this happening a lot when I was younger. It was usually older women who asked questions like these. I have actually heard the phrase, “Oh, you’re just a baby.”

            Reply
          2. fposte

            I confess I have mixed feelings here–I dislike any presumption that women owe other women in some special way, but I also think it’s a better world when people with a shared experience help one other.

            Reply
            1. Mike C.

              I can see why there is some question as to what active good a member of a group should be obligated to give another, but I think it’s ok to say that one shouldn’t actively tear them down.

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                But I mean, women are people like everyone else. Some of them are rude, some of them are condescending, some of them are wonderful people. There’s no special obligation just because of Ladyhood. (And I really don’t want to be accused of lacking solidarity if I happen to dislike or decline to go out of my way to help someone who happens to be female. Accuse me of being callous, fine, but not of lacking solidarity.)

                Reply
                1. Elizabeth H.

                  I feel the same way. I also would point out that it’s not really the case that you could make a legitimate argument for “male solidarity,” so I feel like it implicitly suggests that women need more help and support by means of some kind of cooperative alliance than men do.

                2. Mike C.

                  I’m not saying that someone is lacking solidarity for not going out of their way to help. I’m not criticizing lack of action at all.

                  I’m saying that publicly attacking someone in a way that uniquely hurts a member of a particular group while being a member of that same group is bad. Maybe my use of “solidarity” is incorrect, or maybe I’m just way off in general.

                  If you (or another woman) were to attack another woman in a sexist manner, what would you call that? Now generalize that for any sort of group that is regularly marginalized. That’s the sort of thing I’m trying to point to as “lack of solidarity”.

                3. Elizabeth H.

                  Mike C.: I think when you frame it this way the question becomes, at least how I perceive it, is that both men and women are capable of being sexist, so is it especially bad when women are sexist? My answer would be that I don’t feel like it’s especially bad, it’s just bad whenever somebody does it. I think it’s more puzzling, and more atypical, but not really worse.

                4. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Yeah, agreeing with Elizabeth there. And really, one particularly lovely thing about sexism is that it’s so internalized in the culture that a particular feature of it is that women frequently display elements of it themselves without realizing it. (I’m including myself in that too; that’s the nature of internalized cultural biases.) That’s no better or worse than when a man does it though; it all sucks.

                5. excel_fangrrrl

                  not to mention… accusing women of “lacking solidarity” is just another shade of victim blaming. because, you know, if we all just stick together and support one another, it will all Be Okay and we will all Rise Up and Succeed. so the fact that we’re still struggling is proof that we’re not trying hard enough, not being supportive enough, not Being Sisters in Solidarity *barf*

                6. Gadfly

                  Something I have found with ALL the -isms I’ve seen up close over the years, is that marginalized people may cling hardest to some things because of their own vulnerabilities. Being a bit ablest can make it easier to be female, for example. And that does include even embracing the biases that effect them most directly. The idea that people who experience discrimination should be most sensitive to it regarding others seems to as often be that people having experienced discrimination fort up, batten down, and defend whatever privilege that they have to protect themselves.

                  Intersectionality is hard and not as natural as I would expect it to be. Solidarity isn’t much easier.

                7. Mookie

                  Also, there are intersections that take place within gender, and class and race distinctions matter and have a notable effect on how women negotiate power between one another.

                8. Effective Immediately

                  Ah, I can’t thread further but Mookie is spot-on. Preserving status and negotiating power, even unconsciously, is central to a lot social interactions and I’d even argue it’s heightened in the workplace, where status is more measurable and has material consequences.

                  There are plenty of women willing to kick other women down the ladder so they can cling to their rung. There are plenty of women who perform “solidarity” in a patronizing way. There are a lot of women who are excluded from a narrowly defined concept of womanhood.

                  It’s complicated.

              2. designbot

                There’s quite a distance between what people should do, and what they actually do. I remember reading studies a few years ago that showed that in sexist organizations there is quite a bit more in-fighting amongst the women there, due to a perception that only one (or at least a very limited number) of them can succeed at a time.

                Reply
        2. Purest Green

          I wish more people had it. My manager once introduced me to an older (maybe 40s) woman in another department who looked me over, then back at my manager, and directed this question to her: “Are you hiring them out of high school now?” I was 28.

          Reply
      1. Tau

        The thing about the anti-Millennial stuff is that there, as far as I can tell, people are using “Millennial” as a shorthand for “young people who’ve just entered the workforce who don’t behave the way I think they should.” Which means they’re thinking of late teens to early or mid-twenties. Although Millennial does actually include people in their early or even mid-thirties, that’s not something many people realise – and especially not something people realise when they’re railing on about Young People Today.

        None of this means that anti-Millennial views are okay, of course, and I understand why they’ve gotten into your head, but I’m not sure you’re necessarily as much in the firing line for that one as you think – at least not based on your actual age rather than how old you look.

        Signed, another 30-year-old who looks a lot younger than that

        Reply
        1. The30YearOld

          Hi! I’m the LW. I hear you, however I’ve definitely had more than my share of offhand “you millenials and your frivolous technology” comments from older individuals at my workplace. My theory is that to many colleagues my work in digital communications/social media plus my babyface equals the perception I am 22 and in the firing line for these odd remarks.

          But yes, I definitely need to get out of my head about it.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            I don’t think they’re even differentiating the way you think. As somebody in my mid-fifties, I don’t hugely culturally differentiate between somebody who’s 22 or 30, and I don’t think that’s unusual; I doubt that most twentysomethings do much cultural differentiation between fiftysomethings and sixtysomethings, either. It’s not that they think they’re 22, it’s that you’re a lot younger than they are, and 30 counts as “a lot younger than they are” same as 22 does. It’s all relative–just wait until you have family in retirement communities and you get to be “the kids” when you’ve got an AARP card.

            Reply
          2. PlainJane

            Anti-Millennial bs makes me see red (and I’m almost 50, not that it should matter). It’s the same nonsense that’s been directed at every new generation since Plato’s time (and probably before)–“those kids today..” followed by some derogatory comment implying a lack of work ethic or poor morals. I’ve called out a few of my friends for doing it, usually by reminding them of how much we hated hearing that garbage when we were young. I’m sorry you have to deal with it.

            Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        That’s ok—she deserves bed bugs, too ;)

        (It really is a jerk move, and when done this way, it’s only apparent purpose is to undermine the speaker. Boo on that shady lady.)

        Reply
    3. SystemsLady

      Agreed. I’ve run into similar jerks with similar…determination and they probably would’ve found something else to dismiss about you. Hmm, sure is odd that most of the other similarly worded questions I’ve run into tend to go to women! (Oddly specific questions about count, size, success, and importance of projects completed, “were you the project leader though”, etc.)

      And seeing the interrupter was a women, some particularly competitive women can have this bug worse than the men who do this. I’ve seen that myself.

      Reply
  6. DCompliance

    I would be so annoyed if someone interrupted me in the middle of a presentation to ask me my age. I believe the rule of etiquette is that you do not ask anyone their age, let alone interrupt that person in the middle of a work presentation to do that.

    Reply
    1. tigerStripes

      Yeah, interrupting a presentation without a good reason (asking a related question, an emergency that the speaker needs to know about, a problem with the presentation that the speaker needs to know about) is rude, and to ask a trivial question like age while interrupting makes it worse.

      Reply
    2. turquoisecow

      I want to reply with “irrelevant. As I was saying….” and then continue, or else ignore the person entirely, after staring them down.

      In the moment, though, I don’t think I would have had the chutzpah.

      Reply
  7. Ashley

    That was beyond rude – they stopped your presentation???

    I am the queen of having a perfect comeback after the situation has passed but it would have been amazing to respond:
    ‘I am 30, how old are you?’

    Rude people are going to be rude. It sounds like your work speaks for itself, go foward in your career as boldly as ever. If someone wants to discredit you because you are ‘young’. Their loss.

    Reply
    1. Clever Name

      My after-the-fact zinger is: “Oh, I’m sorry I stopped. I thought you had a question relevant to my presentation” and then continue without answering her question.

      Reply
      1. OhNoNotAgain

        Better than what I would say, which would be something like:” how much do you weigh?” If they get mad about it, respond: “oh, I thought we were just asking each other inappropriate questions!” and then move on with the presentation. But I’m pretty.

        Reply
      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I’ve totally done this before, and although mean, if done with just the right tone it can be wildly effective.

        Reply
    2. Anonymous Educator

      “Can I ask why you thought this was an appropriate question to interrupt my presentation with?”
      “Oh, really? Can I ask why you thought it was appropriate to interrupt at all?”
      “Okay. You can stop talking now. I’ll continue, if you don’t mind.”

      Reply
    3. Misc

      Just ask “…why?” and then continue. Or stare blankly at them for a moment then continue and don’t give them an opening at all.

      Reply
    1. Another Lawyer

      YUP. I have a whole list of dismissive combacks to be delivered with a twinkly smile. My go-to is always “I’m trying to quit” like someone just offered me a cigarette, e.g. “when are you finally going to get married?” “oh hahahaha, thanks, but I’m trying to quit”

      It always throws them for a loop and makes them realize that they just asked an inappropriate question without me having to get gruff.

      Reply
      1. BadPlanning

        Replying “Every time someone asks, the clock resets” really freaks people out when they ask when you’re getting married.

        Reply
        1. On Fire

          Ha! When we first married and got all the “when are you going to have a babyyyyyyyy?” questions, that was what we ended up going with.

          They finally stopped asking. And we still don’t have kids.

          Reply
    2. Emilia Bedelia

      In the OP’s situation, I would have liked to say “Can you please hold all questions til the end? Thanks!” and then hope that she learned sense in the minutes between.

      Reply
  8. Ruthie

    I’m 28, look young for my age, have a more senior position in my organization than my colleagues closest to my age and unfortunately the topic has come up a lot in my office. With that experience, I would actually advise someone not to admit their age in an attempt to be matter of fact about it. Because I tried that and the issue just got worse.

    A former senior colleague brought up my age often once she leaned in. To be fair, she was unusually hung up about it and frequently compared all of our colleagues based on age. But she used it as a reason I shouldn’t have been hired at a higher level as my precedessor (because she was older) and the reason I shouldn’t have been offered her position when she left (I was and took it). I always answered that while age was out of my control, my expierience and hard work is demonstrated by our metrics and growth.

    But she shared these views with several of my colleagues and to this day I have difficulty getting some of my older colleagues to take me seriously.

    Now when it comes up I take the other approach suggested and say something along the lines of “Older than I look,” or “Old enough.”

    Reply
    1. Lily Rowan

      Yeah, I used “older than I look” a fair amount when I was around 30. Who knows if it was even true at that point!

      I’m still older than I look, I guess, and I do throw in references to my age quite a bit, or more to the point, length of my career.

      Reply
    2. Kate

      I agree, I have never found admitting my age to work, but telling them politely that age has nothing to do with my hard work or my competence. First I say something like “Why do you need to know?” or “Older than I look.”, but if they persist I tell them plainly the first statement. It tends to make them think and realize they don’t really need to know.

      Reply
    3. tigerStripes

      “to this day I have difficulty getting some of my older colleagues to take me seriously.” If someone isn’t going to take you seriously because someone else told them your age, those someones are part of the problem.

      For “reason I shouldn’t have been offered her position when she left”, could you ask her if she thinks she knows better than the manager(s) who offered you the position? Maybe that wouldn’t be tactful.

      Reply
  9. AdAgencyChick

    If you, like me, are easily taken aback when put on the spot, it’s great to have a stock answer for certain rude questions or behavior. For rude questions, my favorite is “I’ll forgive you for asking if you’ll forgive me for not answering.”

    If you have a stock response at the ready, then you’ll be able to respond quickly despite your shock.

    (And if the rude thing that’s said is not a question, I like “I can’t believe you just said that OUT LOUD!” I once said that to a client who was making totally inappropriate “jokes” about going on a date with me. It worked!)

    Reply
      1. HelloItsMe

        Like if you can pull it off, “That is so sweet of you to ask, what a dear.” And then go on with your presentation. Lol.

        Reply
  10. My2Cents

    All right. So.

    I strugged with the same thing. But dressing a way that’s uncomfortable or having to watch your mannerisms and speaking with a specific tone and fixing your posture and being self aware 24/7 is a lot of work. Try it if you think it sounds fun.

    I look young too. And I realized that the thing that bothers me isn’t other people — like anything, it’s how you see yourself. They’re just projecting back to you how YOU feel. Do you feel like you shouldn’t be taken seriously? Like you don’t have enough authority to be there? That’s the main thing. If you don’t care, they don’t care. And the other superficial stuff won’t matter because if you feel good about yourself, you’re likely to come off confidently anyway.

    Reply
  11. CBH

    What if you answered jokingly along the lines of “old enough to have my degree young enough not to be president of the company” or “I’m forever 29 years old” Something as to where the questioner would realize that it’s an inappropriate question but that your answer would lighten an awkward moment.

    Reply
    1. Agnodike

      I have no sense that it’s my responsibility to rescue someone from an awkward moment caused by their own rudeness, and I don’t think anyone else should, either.

      If someone interrupted me while I was giving a work-related presentation to ask me an inappropriate personal question, you can bet I wouldn’t be worried if they felt awkward about it. My usual approach is to turn rude questions back on the questioner: “I’m 30. How old are you? OK, great. Now that we’ve established that, if nobody else has anything they need to add to this line of conversation, let’s resume the presentation.”

      Reply
      1. CBH

        I agree with you whole heartedly. However I was interpreting this situation to be more of a small group consisting of boss and colleagues; perhaps someone was impressed with something OP said and slipped up asking her age. I was looking at this as a more casual setting, like at a lunch meeting where social and business conversations happen. I was thinking a more of a go with the flow attitude. Again, the questioner was completely inappropriate and OP did whatever it took not to embarrass the boss/ company.

        If this was formal, huge presentations, large groups and an extremely professional-no-social aspect to the conference, then yes I agree with exactly what you said. If someone said something improper, just stay on track. I agree with you, I just think that different situations would have been handled it differently.

        Reply
        1. The30YearOld

          Hi! I’m the LW. It was indeed a small group, but a formal presentation on the conference agenda distributed weeks in advance.

          Reply
          1. CBH

            Thanks for the clarification OP. Despite all the opinions your are getting, you handled the situation as professionally as possible. For that alone you should be proud of yourself.

            Just out of curiosity, how did your boss respond to this situation?

            Reply
        2. Agnodike

          I don’t think it’s my responsibility to rescue someone from the consequences of their own rudeness, especially if I’m the target of that rudeness, even in a social setting. In a scenario where I’m the target of someone else’s rudeness, I’m not the one embarrassing the boss or company; the rude person is. It’s not my responsibility to make their bad behaviour disappear. If my boss feels awkward, or if they feel that it reflects badly on the company, they should take that up with the rude person. “How old are you?” is rude to ask socially, it’s rude to ask professionally, and it’s rude to ask in those weird, liminal is-it-social-is-it-professional situations where you’re in a casual situation with coworkers or work acquaintances.

          I’m not speaking hypothetically; I’ve been in similar situations many times, in many contexts, and I categorically refuse to be responsible for smoothing over someone else’s rudeness toward me.

          Reply
          1. CBH

            I’m not disagreeing with you. It is rude to ask such a question. I’ve had the same situation happen more than once but each in totally different scenarios. Each occasion was handled differently. One was at a happy hour (very casual setting) I made a joke about being asked the question, and was apologized to immediately; Second time before I could respond my boss called the person out on this; Third time was while i was giving a presentation I said let’s stay on target my age isn’t the issue. All I am saying is a lot of factors go into how to respond. Again, I agree with you. It is no one’s responsibility to smooth over an embarassing situation when the questioner should be ashamed of themselves for asking.

            Reply
    2. NewDoc

      I do something similar — “old enough to be your doctor!” (Or “old enough to be a board-certified X-specialty!”) and then a quick subject change back to the patient. Calling out the rudeness would kill the rapport and they usually just want to make sure you’re qualified (I work in an academic setting with lots of students around).

      Reply
  12. VroomVroom

    I work in automotive where most everyone is old enough to be my father. I frequently get “I’ve been in this industry longer than you’ve been alive,” which is also frequently true.
    Many of them seem transfixed by my age, not only because I’m young but because I’m also a woman (throw in that I’m pregnant now and GOLLY I get so many questions). I generally tend to answer that with “How old do you think I am?” or “Older than I look” or “I don’t see how that’s relevant here.”
    Now that I’m pregnant I sometimes get asked by people who I don’t see as frequently (1x annually, our dealers) if I recently got married – which I assume is because they see that I’m pregnant, and then check that I have a ring. I’m like no, I’ve been married the whole time I have worked at this company, and have always had wedding rings on, sorry you just never noticed because you’ve been too busy ogling me in the past. (Yes, this happens, and it’s so frustrating. I have a double whammy of being one of the few women, and on top of that being under 30, and on top of that I don’t look like a trainwreck, so the checking me out by our dealers is blatant)

    Reply
    1. VroomVroom

      I should clarify that most of the people I work with are old enough to be my father, and it’s very rare to see women in my industry.

      Reply
      1. VroomVroom

        Pretty much. I’ve been to meetings where many dealers bring their significant others (we, the manufacturer reps do not as we are the hosts) and it’s often assumed I’m a younger significant other of one of the dealers. I’ve had dealer personnel approach me and say things like “what’s someone as gorgeous as you doing standing alone” and I’m like oh hi nice to meet you I’m VroomVroom we’ve emailed multiple times about xyz, do you want to talk about your sales numbers?
        Ugh and now that I’m pregnant it just invites more blatant comments about my body, but none of them are as flattering. I can’t decide which I dislike less (would say like better, but I don’t like either scenario, it’s just my life)

        Reply
    2. Lily Rowan

      People are so rude! You just don’t have to say every stupid thought that comes into your head! I mean, I have been in my industry about as long as a recent grad has been alive, but I never have to say that to them out loud!

      To everyone who has been in this position: be assured that it is always about them, not you.

      Reply
      1. VroomVroom

        Usually this happens when I’m telling them something that they should be doing differently – they all sell cars like the good old days (think sleazy car salesman stereotype) – and we’re trying to bring them into the 21st century because today’s buyer won’t stand for that. I’ll get the “I’ve been in this industry longer than you’ve been alive” in response to my suggestions of updates to their sales process. In my head I’m all like, “yea and I can tell”
        And they wonder why their customer satisfaction numbers tank.

        Reply
    3. (Another) B

      This reminds me of my last job in engineering publishing. I had a 80-something year old reader give me that line, and write me long email tangents about how I didn’t know what I was doing. Infuriating.

      Reply
  13. K.

    And remember that for some people, this won’t change so long as you’re X years younger than them or if they have children your age. There is no magic number that will suddenly make you experienced in their eyes, if they always associate being younger than them as being equivalent to the toddlers they remember in their minds’ eye.

    While that can sound discouraging, I actually find a freedom in acknowledging that (on the personal side of things, I know it helps me stay sane/calm when my father-in-law constantly calls us “kids” and/or acts like I was a child bride at age 28).

    There’s nothing you can do to change their perspective, so you just gotta keep chugging along with your competence. I find it easier to shrug off little passive comments, conscious or unconscious, when I frame it as something THEY can’t get over, rather than something I need to actively address.

    [Obviously this does not AT ALL apply to all older workers! Just some and usually a loud minority, in my experience. And you’ll know who they are; they don’t really hide it.]

    [And this is also much easier done when these are your peers or junior in position to you. Harder for your boss or more senior folks. But then you can only hope that they’ll ultimately focus more on your results than their biases.]

    Reply
    1. The30YearOld

      Hi, I’m the LW. Thanks for this and I think you make a good point that there’s nothing I can do to change their perspective.

      Reply
    2. Person of Interest

      Yes – so true. My org works with a consultant who is an older man, and he constantly says things like “you ladies are too young to remember this…” Uh, first of all, no we aren’t, and second of all, soooo condescending. I think he means it to be nice and suggest we all look young but it just comes off as dismissive to our actual experience and expertise.

      Reply
  14. Rincat

    Re: the presentation interrupter – I guarantee you that everyone was thinking, “Ugh, it’s that person – who interrupts to ask a pointless question.” I’m pretty sure they weren’t thinking about your age.

    Reply
  15. Delta Delta

    My very lovely sister in law is one of those people who looks like she could be anywhere between 18 and 50 and any answer could be correct. When I was first getting to know her, somehow birthdays came up, or something, and I asked how old she is. She looked at me and smiled sort of a sparkly smile and said, “that’s top secret.” I think that’s a pretty fantastic answer. (I do know how old she is now since we’re related through my brother but I still like the original answer better).

    Reply
  16. MH

    You were in the middle of a presentation, and someone asked you?

    I kind of feel that the response to that is “I’m exactly nunya years old. Now, back to the relevant information in this presentation.”

    Reply
  17. ThursdaysGeek

    I recently found out that a former co-worker is probably only now about 30, so she was in her early 20s when I was working with her. I am old enough to be her mother. And I had always seen her as a peer, competent, and never even thought about her age. I would go to her with questions when I knew she was the person who would have answers. I just found out that other people had asked if she was an intern and I think she felt awkward about her age.

    I guess my point is – some of us will not even see your age. If the company hired you, if you’re presenting, then you’re qualified to do what you’re doing. So all of those people who aren’t asking about your age? At least some of us aren’t even seeing it.

    Reply
  18. Agnodike

    Someone who interrupts your presentation to ask you a rude, irrelevant personal question is demonstrating to you that they have poor judgment. When someone signals their poor judgment to you, take that information to heart, and give less weight to their opinions going forward. Don’t wonder if you need to change what you’re doing, or pretend to be different than you are, based on their perspective, because they’re telling you, loud and clear, that they’re not good at figuring out what is and isn’t important in a work setting.

    Reply
  19. Somniloquist

    The followup I hate to that question now that I’m closer to 40 is “Oh I thought you were X!” I’m always confused what to say. Did they think I was acting immaturely or wet behind the ears? Do they just want my brand of sunscreen? It’s one of those landmines and while I usually just give the person the benefit of the doubt, it does make me second guess my self.

    Reply
  20. Amber Rose

    Sigh. I look young AND I sound young, and the folk I deal with are mostly older, manual labor types. They make small talk by asking me how my summer job is going and when I’m going back to school. I’ve had people exclaim in shock that I could hardly be older than their high school age children.

    I too, used to get flustered and counter with my age. Now I just throw on my retail customer service smile (even on the phone, helps me get into the mindset) and reply “Don’t worry, I’m qualified to speak to you about this subject.” It’s a little on the aggressive side, but it gets very tiring to have people assume my age/appearance has anything to do with my competence.

    Reply
    1. ZVA

      I’m 26 and regularly get mistaken for 16. (A drugstore cashier told me I “looked like I was 12″ a year or so ago.) People are openly shocked when I tell them how old I actually am. It’s a running joke in my family at this point.

      I’m 6’1”, so you’d think that might make a difference, but no… I think it’s that I have a round (aka “baby”) face and that I come off as younger in certain ways, mostly due to shyness. I’m working on that, but it’s not something you can change overnight!

      Luckily this never happens to me at work; I think the nature of my job leads people to assume I’m old enough to be doing it, or something. I can’t be a high school student if I’m working full time…

      Reply
      1. many bells down

        The round baby face is my issue too. One year, I went to my daughter’s elementary school to volunteer for picture day. Now, to be fair, it was early so I’d just slapped my hair into a bun and threw on a baggy sweatshirt. Then a teacher asked me “Now, sweetie, whose class are you in?”

        I was 32. The school only went to 5th grade.

        Reply
        1. ZVA

          OMG. That blows all my stories out of the water!

          Without fail, everyone follows up with “well you’ll be glad about it in 30 years,” which is as just as bad as the initial remarks themselves at this point…

          Reply
        2. Epsilon Delta

          Oh man, I can totally see this happening to me. I am short and skinny, there are 5th graders who are taller and perhaps even bustier than me. I am going to be extra-diligent about not changing out of my work clothes before going to the kid’s school functions!

          Reply
        3. Fire

          Oh man. I was making a delivery to an elementary school and I got yelled at by a teacher for not being in class while trying to go into the office like I do ALL THE TIME. The people working in the office shut him down because they knew me, but maaan. Normally people only go down to 12 for me, so that sucked.

          Reply
      2. Project Manager

        I used to get “you look like you’re 12” all the time. (I now have two children, which I recommend for instant aging. My older son’s first surgery last year was probably worth about 5 years on my face.) What always got me was the sincerity of people’s belief that it was a compliment to tell me, a mature adult woman, that I appeared not to have undergone puberty. When I reacted appropriately to the insult, everyone around me behaved as if I were the one being rude. ???

        Reply
      3. Amber Rose

        I got the same comment about being 12 from a sales lady a few years ago while purse shopping. For the record, I turned 29 this weekend. I’m also shy and have a round face. Also I’m a bit short at 5’6″ and due to problems with my feet and legs, cannot wear heels for more than say, an hour. After that any benefit is offset by walking around with a severe limp and a grimace of pain.

        At this point I’ve kinda hit a point in my life where I don’t care. I wear hoodies and nerdy t-shirts and brightly colored running shoes (the only kind that exists, sadly) and enjoy it. I could probably wear blouses and pressed pants or something and look slightly older, but it’s just not worth it. I never learned how to girl and I don’t really want to.

        Reply
  21. TJ

    I have the same problem. I’m 23, have a fair amount of responsibility in my small company, and look like I’m about 15. I’m still trying to figure out how to present myself so I look older, but one thing that’s worked for me? Just be awesome at your job and confident in your work. People who might’ve doubted you because of your age will usually learn to trust that you know what you’re doing.

    Reply
  22. Feelin' 22

    What if you actually are 22, look young for your age (I look identical to my 16 year old sister), and work with all men? I dress formally, appropriate, don’t apologize or do other “girly” things – that’s not my nature, do good work and I’m probably in fact more personable and less awkward in client contacts than the guys I work with, especially those around my own age.

    I don’t want to have to be a “professional businesswomen” . . .and I am young . . . but the comments get annoying. Nothing else I can really do right? Last fall my team was talking about where they were during the 2008 inauguration, and were aghast at someone saying there were in high school – decided against saying I was in middle school at that time.

    Reply
    1. Christy

      You just get through it. I’ve always been the youngest person in my office. I was at 19 and I am at 28. I’ve most enjoyed owning it. I decided that yes, I was the wunderkind, and they were lucky to have me so skilled and so young, with so much career ahead of me that they could use. (I work for the government and I’ll probably work another 39 years for my agency.)

      I’ve found that I get comments when people feel threatened by me. And that helps me shrug it off, because I’m pretty great, and if that threatens you, that’s a you problem.

      (My ego really is this big sometimes. Other times it’s more in check, but on this issue my ego wins.)

      Reply
      1. HelloItsMe

        I think it’s the feeling threatened is the only reason anyone tries to put you down anyway, be it age or any other excuse.

        Reply
    2. fposte

      It is the habit of every little micro-generation to be bafflingly surprised that there are adults who grew up later than them and therefore had different core experiences and media (TV shows and music are particularly big dividers); it’s a way of musing about change, I suppose, but I’ve heard it from everybody ranging from 22-year-olds to centenarians. It’s kind of dumb, but it’s too common really to change, and it’s a fair bit–maybe even mostly–about the speakers watching time roll on, not about the insufficiency of young people.I differentiate that from the kind of aggressively personal idiocy that the OP faced.

      But then I get to “I don’t want to have to be a ‘professional businesswoman'” and I don’t know what you mean there, but it sounds like you’re thinking of that as being a bad thing despite the fact that it seems like you’re doing just that and doing it well. So just continue to be a professional young woman in business, remember that they’ve probably never met your sister anyway, and let the generational maunderings look after themselves.

      Reply
      1. Feelin'22

        I meant “professional businesswomen” in the way Alison used it – unnecessarily putting up a facade, strictly acting a certain way to try and hide my age.

        Reply
    3. Nerdling

      Hang in there! I was very much in your shoes when I started this job, and I found out that it actually kind of bothered a couple of folks I work with that I’m close in age to their children. I proved that I could do the job by being willing to learn how to do what was needed and by making sure I was always available to help, so long as I wasn’t being taken advantage of. Now, 9 years in, I take delight in needling the oldest guys in the office whenever they get uppity about my age by pointing out that they could, indeed, be my dad. ;)

      Reply
  23. Alex "Barney" Barnaby

    Once you’re 30, another stock answer is available: “In my thirties.” It’s multi-purpose: “thirties” is young enough to be up to date on technology, innovative, etc. (insert other positive stereotypes of young people), but old enough to not be wet behind the ears.

    I’ve found that if you feel pressed for an answer or don’t feel comfortable with a snappy evasion, something that gives your age within about a decade is fine. “Born in the ’80s.” “In my thirties.” “A good twenty years away from retirement” (for those in their forties). “I graduated college in the ’90s – do the math.”

    Reply
  24. (Another) B

    As a woman who’s 31, I can totally relate. I have done pretty well in my career so far, and have many older colleagues in the field. I always wear a suit set at conferences and actively use a firm handshake and try to lower my vocal tone. Mannerisms are everything.

    Reply
    1. (Another) B

      Also, heels! I know not everyone can wear them but being taller makes me feel more confident. Wearing them I am about 5’9 and that just feels powerful.

      Reply
  25. Elizabeth H.

    The advice to not apologize for things that aren’t your fault jumped out at me. I am an extreme over-apologizer (Through my life, not just at work, but especially at work) and worry about this in the context of being a younger woman (29). We’re very understaffed at work and I have considerably more things to do than time to do them in (we are in the process of hiring *2* administrative assistants to help with our workload, after 6 months of this), so inevitably many things get undone. I am a perfectionist, extremely self-critical, and feel guilty 24/7 about all of the undone things, things I actually forgot because of being distracted/busy, or things that went wrong because I didn’t have enough time to follow up on them, everything. What to do besides apologize? I try to do worst case scenario – which I think is, that whoever is on the other end thinks that I’m a jerk or bad at my job – but even if I remind myself of this consequence and the broader context, it’s very hard to break the apologizing instinct.

    Reply
    1. Lemon

      Yes! Especially in the context of the presentation interrupter. The subtext is “How is this relevant to what I’ve been talking about?”

      Reply
      1. Squeeble

        But it’s not only jerks who would do this. A good person will hear “why do you ask?” and realize they’ve been thoughtless and rude. It puts the awkwardness of the situation back on the person who started it.

        Reply
      2. K.

        Yeah, because a truly thoughtless/rude person will have no qualms responding, “Well, because you look so young!” And then how do you respond?

        Reply
  26. PK

    Never dawned on me to ask ages of folks that I work with. If it comes up organically, than sure. If I noticed someone was young and in a senior position, I’d be more likely to think that they must have some great wiz orgies to make it that far early. Just my personal perspective but I could see other folks dismissing you for being young.

    Reply
    1. Elfie

      Bwahahah! I’m now old enough that I consider people younger than me who are several positions higher up than me on the org chart to definitely have wiz orgies!! Or blackmail material. Or shared DNA with someone important. Not good work qualities (yes, I’ve been in a lot of bad workplaces, why do you ask?)

      Reply
  27. Poster Child

    Thank you for this letter! I feel like most people think I should be happy to look younger than my age but the downside to credibility at work is real. I’m 38 and someone (admittedly someone not very bright) recently suggested I must still get help from my parents. Um no, I make a good salary and own my own home and pay my own bills!

    Reply
    1. caryatis

      Yeah…I think this would be insulting regardless of your age. Even people who do get help from parents don’t want to have it rubbed in their faces.

      Reply
  28. Jamie

    I get asked my age fairly often, including at work, and I’m in my late 40s. It comes up around pop culture stuff from childhood and someone is surprised I remember stuff as they assumed I was younger. Or when I mention the ages of my kids I’ve gotten the “step kids? Or did you have then in junior high?” thing.

    I don’t even care anymore. I just usually tell people I’m old enough to remember KISS before they took off their makeup.

    Keep in mind looking young =/= looking good, necessarily :) but I have good skin (my mom and older sisters were/are constantly mistaken for being significantly younger) and a round face. Which I always hated, but people with round faces and doe eyes tend to look younger longer so it’s finally coming in handy. Makes up for all the years I hated my face because I couldn’t get those angular contours no matter what I did.

    Reply
    1. animaniactoo

      I hit 44 on Sunday, and I am still guessed solidly early to mid 30s most of the time. Roundish face, no real wrinkles, big eyes. More anime than doe. I tend to find it entertaining.

      Reply
      1. Jamie

        Anime – that’s it. And yep, it’s amusing. At some point I’m just going to ask the kids why they’re still living in my house since I’m clearly too young to be their mother. :)

        Reply
      1. animaniactoo

        Nah, once in awhile, there’s a good reason “I wanted to know if you lived through X phenomenon and see a connection between this and that”.

        If the answer is “You seem kind of young for this” or other, then it’s easy to say “I’ve got several years of experience in this field, no need for concern” and move along.

        I mean – I was a 25 year old with six years of experience, so my age didn’t actually have a lot of connection with how much experience I had, and it would leave the opening to address the potentially valid concern while still not answering the question as asked.

        Reply
  29. Dhya

    I’ve had to handle this sort of nonsense too. It’s invariably been a middle-aged man who has asked. I’ve tended to deflect it with something like, “Fortunately that has no bearing on this project. Moving on!”

    To think that they interrupted a presentation just to ask you that is a bit appalling. I’d find that hugely disrespectful. Does it mean that if you were 25 he’d stop listening? What if you were 40? What difference would it possibly make for him and why? Eugh…

    Reply
  30. Regina 2

    This is interesting, because I also work in the digital space, and at 33, feel like I’m too OLD to be working in it. Half my team is 25 or younger and they make me feel like a dinosaur. I suppose my inability to figure out SnapChat and general disinterest in how fast digital media is changing doesn’t help my case. I constantly feel like I’ll be obsolete within 5 years. I need advice on the reverse side of your question!

    Reply
    1. Chickaletta

      Hey, they need people like us to slow things down. There’s a benefit in rolling out changes in a slow, deliberate manner and creating apps that everyone can use. The digital trend right now for constant change is having negative effects in several ways (I can think of a few just off the top of my head) and it our generation that’s going to put some sense into this revolving door of digital media. It’s unsustainable for the long run the way it’s working right now.

      Reply
    2. mamabear

      I’m 36, and I agree with you completely. I started my company’s social media presence way back in the day and am still doing it (and burning out doing it). It’s not fun or fulfilling anymore. I would love to hand this over to a much younger, hipper person than I am. Thank goodness digital media isn’t the only thing I do or I’d be miserable.

      Reply
  31. Long Time Reader First Time Poster

    Don’t worry, in another decade people will think you are too old. Such is the joy of being a woman in digital media.

    Reply
  32. Geneva

    I think it’s impolite to ask anyone their age in a work environment – period. I’m 28, but I can easily pass for 19/20. I met a man through a client who asked me to do some freelance work for his company because he “loves working with people right out of college.” Um, no. I’ve had employers also assume changes to benefits don’t affect me because I rely on my parents. Wrong again.

    Reply
    1. nnn

      Even if you were young enough to be on your parents’ benefits if you were still their dependent, wouldn’t you be using your own benefits by virtue of the fact that, like, your job is your job?

      Reply
      1. Nabby

        Well I am on my parents health insurance (for now) even though I have a full time job with benefits. It’s still cheaper so there is no good reason to pay more by using my company’s insurance.

        Reply
    2. HelloItsMe

      Yeah you could say, “Oh my god, I love working with people out of college too! You graduated from Berkeley last year, right?”

      Makes it seem like he was making a joke too and now you’re all having a good laugh.

      Reply
  33. On Fire

    I almost wish I still got asked my age, because I would SOOO love to say, “I’m 83,” as Alison mentioned. (I’m 37.)

    In my mid-twenties, I was a site manager for my company and was the youngest person on location. For most of the (small) staff, that wasn’t a problem, but two women thought it was unforgivable that such a young woman was in charge. One of them had wanted the job herself but was Not Qualified At All (TM), so that made her antipathy even worse.

    Reply
    1. HelloItsMe

      Yeah, but if people are jerks because of your age, it’s not because of you’re age. It’s because they’re jerks.

      Reply
  34. BioPharma

    I’m surprised to see several comments about interrupting a presentation. In every workplace I’ve been in, there’s always an implicit or explicit “Let’s be casual, please interrupt me at any time” attitude. (of course, I do agree that the content of the question was highly irrelevant/inappropriate!)

    Reply
    1. Observer

      Even in the most laid back and casual setting, interruptions to a presentation are ALWAYS supposed to be about the presentation! Interrupting for an utterly irrelevant question is simply rude, even if it was to ask “What is your favorite local pizza place?”

      Reply
  35. DCer

    This happens to me all the time. I’m 31 and look younger – despite doing all the things that can be done to carry myself and project age.

    I often just answer matter of factly. But another answer I’ve started using is, “Old enough to remember the Reagan administration.” In DC, that says something. And it doesn’t matter that I only remember the very end of it – it puts me in an age bracket that is old enough. You may find something else like that – “Old enough to remember when computers used 5 1/2 inch floppies” or “Old enough to remember life before personal computers.” It’s an answer and it pivots in a way off what you do for a living.

    Reply
  36. Mike C.

    Look, maybe I’m weird or just out of touch, but I don’t think coming up with a “witty” line is going to actually put anyone in their place, embarrass them or otherwise cause them to self-reflect and realize why what they’re asking is asinine and inappropriate. If you’re going to try and be witty, what comes out of your mouth has to actually be funny rather than trite or cliche. Even then, if you mess up the line or the jerk has a comeback you haven’t done anything to stop the issue in the moment.

    Why not point that that it’s actually a dumb or irrelevant question and move on? Or just ignore it and move on? Why put all the effort into having corny canned lines that likely won’t stop someone from being a jerk? I get wanting to be completely non-confrontational in all professional situations ever but you (or the OP) isn’t being confrontational, you’re being confronted. Even if that doesn’t convince you, you’re the one on stage, just continue on rather than letting someone hijack your presentation.

    I’m not going to claim that this is easy in the moment, but the rest of us are theory crafting, so…

    Reply
    1. nnn

      I can’t tell from here whether or not it’s applicable to OP’s situation, but in some cases I think witty comebacks to insulting questions are counterproductive, because they might lead to the asker of the insulting question thinking that insulting questions are good ways to make witty conversation.

      Reply
    2. Lora

      I personally find that it’s handy to have something memorized other than “sit down and shut the fk up”. Because those are the words that leap to mind. But another part of it is, women get viewed VERY negatively for any confrontation no matter how gentle and are punished for it in a way that men are not. So it’s often beneficial to women to deflect with something cutesy instead of being considered the Dragon Lady.

      Don’t get me wrong, I am personally OK with being the Dragon Lady, but lots of people aren’t, or cannot function in their own positions as such. It’s a pragmatic decision rather than a philosophical one, I suppose.

      Reply
    3. Cassandra

      Because “stop someone from being a jerk” arguably shouldn’t be the main goal of someone in the OP’s situation.

      My main goals in those shoes would be: 1) get off the discourse road we’re on, and 2) move the heck on, while 3) not actually answering the question 4) without coming across as rude. Some snappy comebacks manage to fit this bill rather nicely, especially in situations where open confrontation will be seen as rude (even if it isn’t given the age-asker’s rudeness!).

      Reply
  37. Alienor

    Is 30 even considered that young? I’m 45 and I admit that brand-new college grads look young to me (not that it stops me working with them as equals) but 30 seems like it ought to be a solidly adult age in anyone’s book.

    Reply
    1. The30YearOld

      Exactly my point in my letter – I was aghast why they were asking. But I have a baby face, so my assumption is the woman who interrupted me assumed I was younger.

      Reply
  38. whatwhat

    I don’t think anyone should ever answer* this question at work, because that legitimizes the request for that info, which is NOT OK.

    “That’s a very personal question? Why do you want to know that?” *confused/slightly alarmed/suspicious face*

    *No one should ASK this question either, obvs

    Reply
  39. nnn

    I have two go-to options, depending on which connotations are more useful to convey:

    1. “31, you?” Either chipper or baffled, depending on which is most useful. This one helps convey being blissfully unaware of any connotations related to age, and can be useful for older people who forgot to address me as an equal.
    2. Channelling Elizabeth Bennet, “With over a decade’s experience in teapot design, you can hardly expect me to own it.” This one has the unfortunate connotation that Older Is Bad, but also has the sometimes-useful effect of making me come across as older – especially since declining to admit one’s age is a bit of an old lady habit.

    Reply
  40. Michelle

    I look “young”, too. Most people think I’m late 20’s to early 30’s. I’m actually 43. When people at work ask me how old I am, I say “I’m 43. How old are you?” They either a) tell me their age because I have very unabashedly told them mine or b) apologize and walk away embarrassed. Obviously it’s rude to ask this and when I don’t give them the reaction they were hoping for they have nothing else to say.

    Reply
  41. Shannon

    I always like prefacing rude questions with, “I beg your pardon?” So the other person has to repeat them.

    Also, “Is that pertinent?” with a confused smile.

    Reply
      1. Not Karen

        This one time I accidentally misheard a rude comment and responded politely, and when the person unabashedly repeated themselves, I was too shocked to respond to it for real. At the time I felt like I should’ve come up with something better to say, but in retrospect I guess the lack of response works to get the point across.

        Reply
  42. HelloItsMe

    I look young, and now I just own it. I let it benefit me. I let people think I’m younger than I am. I think it’s actually helped me in my career because I can make sales without people think I’m selling to them because people think I’m cute and young and they’re helping me. Definitely takes extra confidence though.

    Reply
  43. MegaMoose, Esq

    Out of curiosity, I googled people who, like the OP (probably), were born in 1986. I’d say the highlights are Lady GaGa and Usain Bolt, so you’re in good company.

    Reply
  44. Lora

    Oh jeez. I used to say (ridiculous number) and follow it up with “but, you know, I eat right, exercise, drink the blood of virgins every full moon…” or similar.

    Now when people ask me how old I am in that smarmy way, I tell them older than dirt but I can recommend a good Botox clinic if they’re interested. A dude younger than me snarked that I didn’t have enough experience to know what I was talking about last week, and I told him that if it would make him feel better I could call my colleague who is a tall bald man 10 years older than me to tell him the same thing.

    What the heck – ask a stupid question, get a stupid answer.

    Reply
    1. Observer

      LOL!

      Did you actually say “tall, bald guy who is 10 years older than me” or “barney down the hall” (who happens to fit that description?)

      Reply
      1. Lora

        I said “tall bald guy who is 10 years older than me”. Figured I’d make that prejudice really really clear – I’d been hearing variations of it alllllll week and getting talked over in meetings unless I really shouted, and it was Friday afternoon and I had Had Enough, you know?

        Reply
  45. AFRC

    I’m sorry that this happened to you, OP. I think the challenge is that 1) you were taken aback, and 2) when you answered truthfully, you were ridiculed. So I “why do you ask?” or “old enough to know not to answer that question” are slightly more effective because it calls out the asker and their irrelevant question. You can say it in a way that diffuses the tension you feel, but I am all for letting them know that it’s not okay to ask, and can be done gently rather than confrontationally.

    Reply
  46. Older than I look

    Not much advice, just sympathy from me. Sometimes it is so tiring to look much younger than you are. I am 27 years old and easily looks a decade younger than I am. Most of the time at work it is not a problem but other times… Sigh. Just the other week a customer remarked something about my age and I told him my age. To which he replied: “Then you are old enough to be a grandmother!” Excuse me? First you’re implying I’m a teenager and then that I got pregnant at 13?? I just managed a “Well… technically… yes.” followed by nervous laughter.
    I’ve even had a customer take a step back in shock when she spotted me behind the counter. And another time (when I wasn’t there) an irate customer came in and tore a piece into my coworkers for “letting an under-age girl work here!” There was nothing they could say to convince her I was old enough to work there. We joked that I had to leave a copy of my driver’s license at work XD
    And all of this happened on a pharmacy. You have to graduate college before you can even begin the education to work there!

    Reply
    1. nnn

      Mindblowing that the customer would think “Obviously, she must be underage! I will yell at people!” rather than “Wow, she looks really young but she clearly must be older by virtue of the fact that she’s behind the pharmacy counter”

      Reply
      1. Older than I look

        Yes! And she /only/ came in to yell at them – she had been there the day before, seen me and said nothing! I guess in her mind she was being polite to me by not making a scene while I was there? Which make me wonder what would have happened if I /had/ been a work that day..
        Luckily most customers think the second option. I’ve even had customers saying it to me. Or saying they relaxed when I started speaking and showed my knowledge. Which is very nice to know :)
        But there’s also those who think working at the pharmacy is like working as a cashier… Those people don’t care about age.

        Reply
  47. whatwhat

    Another strategy is to give an obviously ridic answer, like a 29 year old saying, “I’ll be 92 in November! How old are YOU?”

    Deliver with a big smile, then stare at the person who asked, with slightly widened eyes, no blinking. And keep smiling and stare…

    Reply
    1. Cassandra

      Bonus points: in advance, figure out your age in binary. “I’m a hundred and one thousand, one hundred years old… in binary.”

      Reply
  48. whichsister

    “Why? DO I get a discount?” My father, in his 70’s, getting carded when buying wine and beer.

    I too have always looked young for my age. I transferred up to a new site 8 years ago. 2 years later, the purchasing agent apologized to me. Evidently he had heard I had three kids, before he saw me touring the site. He asked around to see what kind of teenaged harlot did they hire into this role and who was I sleeping with. FYI I had my oldest child when I was 25, and I was 35 (and still married at the time) when I took the position.

    Now when people ask I just tell them I will 29 again on my next birthday

    Reply
  49. Nerdling

    I’ve gotten that a lot over the years, although not quite as much since I hit 30. My current go-to if it’s an inappropriate situation like yours is “Old enough to appreciate still getting carded” with a big smile. I think it works because it’s true – I now appreciate the possibility that someone thought I might be a decade younger/acknowledged that I don’t yet look like I’m a decade older.

    Reply
  50. Ms. Meow

    When I was in grad school (27 at the time) I once answered an inquiry about my age from an older male professor with “I’m old enough to understand that is an inappropriate question.”

    I had a long day, and was tired of everyone’s crap. My research adviser didn’t appreciate my response, but admitted that it was clever and shut the guy up in a heartbeat.

    Reply
  51. Rainforest Queen

    I’m so sorry this happened to you. Although I can’t relate in my professional life (I have generally great coworkers who respect my abilities despite being young), I can totally relate in my personal life.

    About a year ago (at 23), I got ID’ed while at an 18+ casino for a friend’s bachelorette party. It wasn’t the standard “check everyone’s ID at the front door” kind of thing. Instead, I was in middle of a game when the man made point of coming over, tapping me on the shoulder, and saying, “ma’am, I’m going to need to see some valid ID before you continue.” None of my girlfriends who were around my age were ID’ed.

    Then, just a week ago, I struck up a conversation with a young woman who I assume was around my age at the dog park. She asked what year in school I was. Assuming she meant college, I told her I had graduated a few years ago, and wasn’t too terribly offended. Her response? “oh, I’m a teacher at such-and-such high school around the corner, I was thinking you were probably a student there!” I didn’t bother clarifying that I had actually graduated high school 7 years prior.

    I was always told growing up that those who were always mistaken for being younger were short in statue, and that’s why people thought they looked young. At ‘5’9, I can say it affects us tall girls, too!

    Reply
    1. ZVA

      Ha, almost the exact same thing happened to me recently! My dad hired a photographer to come take pictures of my family as a Christmas gift for my mom… Making small talk before she got started, the photographer asked me “So, did you just graduate, or…” “Oh no, I graduated about 3 years ago,” I said—meaning college. “Oh,” she said, “so you’re in college now?” She had thought I was in high school!

      And I’m 6’1″ so I can definitely say… it does happen to tall women to!

      Reply
    2. Fire

      Oh man, I was at a show once when I still lived in Boston, where they do the straight edge “X” on your hands if you’re underage and a wristband if you were over 21. I had a wristband, but was not drinking because at the time I didn’t know I was just allergic to wine and beer instead of alcohol in general. There were people who roamed the floor to make sure no one was Underage Drinking (Boston is suuuuuper weird about alcohol, but that’s another story for another thread). I got carded by one while standing around without a drink, not even water or soda.

      Reply
  52. jv

    I am 35 and I feel ancient in digital media and marketing. 30 is pretty seasoned in the industry – young enough to be open-minded and tech savvy… old enough to be fiscally responsible! They are just jealous they weren’t like you when they were your age.

    Keep up the good work!

    Reply
  53. Jane Eyre

    Great column and great advice for conquering this problem. As some have said, I cannot believe anyone would actually interrupt a presentation by asking such a question!
    However, I do love the recommendation to “devastate the room with your competence.” I may try that myself soon!

    Reply
  54. Emlen

    I’m a big fan of an amused-to-wry “Who raised you?” in response to this question, but admittedly would stifle this response in the OP’s situation, give a bit of eyebrow, and move on without answering.

    The NCO face I developed as a very young-looking woman in the military has turned out to be one of my most transferable skills.

    Reply
  55. synchrojo

    Anyone have a good response for when someone says “you probably weren’t even born when X happened!” in a professional context? It happens to me constantly and drives me up the wall, but I generally just ignore it. I wish I had a great quippy comeback that I could at least think to myself, if not say aloud…

    Reply
    1. Candi

      One time I got that, I thumped* the pile of (unrelated) books I was holding on the table and said, “That’s why we have books.”

      Guy looked at the books, looked at me, and left.

      *They were heavy!

      Reply
  56. Hmmmmmm

    I turned 29 yesterday and REFUSE to give my age when asked in a work situation. I lead my own department and lead it WELL, and I have directly seen some people dismiss me and my opinions when they known/learn my age. Usually I joke about an obviously wrong answer (I tease about being 21 for another 10 years), and so most of my coworkers lump me in with the 35~ age group.

    Reply
  57. Iain Cllllarke

    “Which slide was that in relation to?”

    Oh, for the super power to think up good retorts in the moment, instead of daya later.

    Reply
  58. FormerLW

    The big boss at my government client, when I was a contractor to the federal government, once interrupted me while I was speaking in a very small meeting to ask me my age. I simply and matter-of-factly replied, “28” and kept speaking. I was bothered by it, but from my limited interactions (more observations, really) with him I chalked it up to pure curiosity and yes, arrogance that he deserved to have his pure curiosity satisfied. The funny thing about it is, six years later with more life and work experience, I still have NO idea whether he asked because he thought I seemed younger or older than expected. I should have asked him, later, before he left. I want to know how I came across!

    Reply
  59. Writelhd

    I have a presentation once at a sales event for my company, as an employee and subject matter expert, and one of the participants came up after and said she just loved my presentation, what high school do I go to? Like…Really? I work for this company as an expert and I’m still in high school?

    Reply
  60. Young Graduate

    I’m one of the youngest managers at my company, but most assume I’m older than I am. When folks discover I attended a college local to the area, they often ask in what year I graduated, because I may have come across a mutual acquaintance. They are then shocked when they hear the year and do the math of what my age must be.

    Is there a way to politely sidestep this question, especially since it’s not even meant initially to ascertain my age?

    Reply

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