What's Her Age Again? / August 2018

Last weekend, when the final stretch of improbable summer heatwave scorched the tops of my feet as I meandered along the high street of an affluent West London borough in worn sandals, I decided to take myself for a drink and wait for my other half to finish work. I love doing things by myself - perhaps this is built-in being an only child or perhaps it’s a habit fostered by living in a capital city where nobody gives a damn how others spend their time - whether it’s going to a movie alone or indeed, sitting in a pub with a good book for company. I peered over the bar, resting my elbows on some wayward beer mats to get a look at the bottles of gin on offer displayed on mirrored shelves. Before I could open my mouth to order, the barmaid winced and asked to see some I.D. There is nothing remarkable about this scenario. The ‘Think 25’ policy has been prevalent in the UK for years and it happens in a myriad of places to folk of all ages, every day. Although not unusual, being challenged on my age will always have the ability to make my heart rate quicken. To bring a visceral distress to the surface followed by a barrage of internal questioning - ‘was that because of what I’m wearing?’ and ‘did I project timid body language?’ and on it goes.  My secret weapon to combat this pavlovian reaction? The combination of the inner peace my thirties provide and arming myself with the awesome power of the muted pink driving license card.

My parents look youthful and I happen to come from a long line of petite women. I truly embrace this, as I wouldn’t prefer the alternative. What I haven’t embraced has been years of intense incredulity from strangers learning my age, taking it upon themselves to tell me how old I really look, perpetuating my increased anxiety that I must appear more freakish as time progresses. As if being female, growing up and figuring things out isn’t tough enough.

It baffled me as a young person to have my appearance talked about so freely. We all have a right to be taken seriously and it’s why being told I don’t look my age from all sorts of people I’ve come into contact with has never been a compliment. From feeling belittled at work when colleagues have overlooked my professional ability to the debilitating effect it’s had on my mental health in social situations like the time I was showing family members around my new University town, wearing a sweatshirt proudly displaying the school’s crest and then being interrogated attempting to buy a bottle of wine for my group. I felt embarrassed and in an unwanted spotlight which was only exacerbated by my Aunt exclaiming “but she goes to the University!” and gesticulating wildly at my jumper to any member of the restaurant staff that was looking.

I would never expect comments to be made about a person’s physical disability nor should it be acceptable to discuss body types that don’t meet societal beauty standards in a negative context (thankfully the conversation is slowly changing regarding the latter). So it has been perpetually confusing that the way I look has been up for discussion, especially when relating to all that being a grown up person encompasses.  As much as I understand fundamentally that this is our law - to require identification and I’ve had many arguments regarding that process itself - being viewed by the world as initially childlike has always equated to something being “wrong” with me that is impossible to change. Thus naturally concluding that my credibility as an adult isn’t as valid as my peers.

I’ve lost count of the number of times loved ones have bolstered me following one of these incidents.  My Mother soothing me, listing actors like Reese Witherspoon and Anna Kendrick who have surely suffered the same plight whilst I shower the curve of her shoulder in fat tears. These individuals give me strength when I’m unable to shrug off the hurt and recite the mantra ‘who cares what people think’, but my strongest armour and ultimate power does come from that square piece of plastic that resides in a fold of buttery Marc Jacobs leather. I wield my driving license like a lightsaber, I am protected behind its force and nowadays even have time to spout a sarcastic comment in the erstwhile excruciating time in which the maths is done. It’s something I can sit with, free from its control despite persistence. I often wonder what age I might be when it finally relents but then again it really doesn’t matter, I have the high ground.