Young, but Not That Young!

by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

So today while on my first assignment I was mistaken for a high school student. I know I look relatively young, but I don’t look that young. I’m 23! The woman I was talking to felt bad when I told her I was a reporter because she said she had thought I was a high schooler. Her comment didn’t bother me, but it made me wonder how old I look to other people and how that affects the way people treat me while I’m on an assignment. Being a young and “cute” female reporter can work to your advantage because it can make you seem less intimidating, but it can also make it easier for people to manipulate you by mistaking your youth for naivete.

My friends don’t think I’m naive, but they do think I’m young. This isn’t the case with my friends from home or college, but most of my Floridian friends are older than I am, so I often get teased because I’m “so young” and might not be able to relate firsthand to every reference they make. I’m a prime target for teasing because I react to the jokes and always say, “I’m not that young!” It’s always more entertaining to joke with someone when you get a reaction from them, so I can see why people joke with me about my age.

For the most part, though, the age gap is not a problem. I hold my own, and I find I actually like spending time with people who are older than I am. Maybe it has something to do with me being an only child. As a kid, I was always surrounded by adults. My parents weren’t big on babysitters, so I usually went out with them. They let me watch shows that were placed on some of my friends’ “forbidden” lists — shows like “Melrose Place” and “Married with Children.” And they let me watch movies like “Die Hard 2,” even though I was only 5 years old when that movie came out. The hardships I experienced at a young age and all that my parents let me experience helped propel me into adult life faster, and so it makes sense that I feel comfortable with older people. But “older” is a vague term. Once you graduate college, age doesn’t matter as much. Your friends aren’t divided into freshmen, sophomore, junior and senior slots. They’re just “in their 20s” or “in their 30s.”

Hanging out with “older” people in their late 20s or early 30s has led some people to believe I’m older than I actually am. The joking about my age usually starts when I tell people I’m “only” 23. Some think I’m as old 27, while others like the woman I met today think I’m younger, dare I say still in high school. Senior citizens often think I’m younger than I am, but that’s only because anyone under 55 seems “young” to them. Ten years from now, I suppose, I’ll feel more grateful for my youthful spirit and looks. Until then, I plan to keep staying young at heart.