“You look about twelve.”

This week we have another guest blogger, the wonderful Holly. Enjoy! 

If you haven’t gathered from the title, I am 24, I look young for my age and I HATE it.

Before I explain anything further I would like to rip off the metaphorical plaster, and address the fact that this will probably come across as nothing more than a long rant about something that is of no real relevance. And I also know that this insecurity of mine is no worse to live with than anyone else’s. We all have something we don’t like about ourselves, or a particular ‘feature’ that attracts comments from strangers or acquaintances. For some it’s comments about resting bitch face; for others it’s their uncovered tattoos or height. For me, it is how young I look. (I can hear you quietly sobbing already, before you ask, no there isn’t a crowdfunder you can donate to help my cause). For the most part, I do appreciate it is a good thing, and as countless cashiers, bus drivers and bouncers like to remind me, it is something I will probably be grateful for when I am older. But as a teen, the attention that came with looking younger than others my age was unbearable, and now as a twenty something year old, it’s just fucking annoying.

You may wonder why I am writing / complaining about my appearance on a women’s health blog with a backlog of interesting and well thought out posts about real health issues. And I have thought about that myself pretty much constantly through the drafting process. But I have stuck this out to the bitter end because, no matter how superficial an issue it may seem, how I look and how I perceive others to see me, has had a long lasting impact on my mental health and body image.

To give you an idea of what we’re dealing with here, I am 24 years old, 100 pounds and five foot and half an inch to be exact. I have brown, kind of blonde hair, pale skin and all of this hasn’t really changed since I was about 15 years old.

When I was younger my appearance never really bothered me. I’m lucky enough to have lived through a childhood where I didn’t worry about my looks, probably too busy playing with action men and sporting a bowl cut to care. But then again this was the only time in my life looking young wasn’t an issue, mainly because we all looked young and the vast majority of us had bowl cuts.

It wasn’t until puberty that I began to realise I looked a little different. Mostly because people didn’t mind telling me. From 15 onwards I have been told I look ‘like a baby’, I look ‘about 3’, ‘like 12’, ‘about 14’ (basically everything but in utero).  At school one well meaning friend genuinely turned to me in class and said, ’so…are all of your family like you?’ For the most part I take inconsiderate comments about my appearance as word vomit from people who mean no harm.

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But sometimes I find it hard to imagine how comments like these couldn’t be unkind. I have always gone by the rule of ‘if it’s not a compliment don’t say it’. Probably because I know myself that breaking past that invisible barrier can be dangerous.

At the age of 16, I began to really internalise all this, and dealt with it in the best way I knew how. I began to control my diet and restricting my calorie intake, by 17 I was in the full, not so glorious, throes of bulimia. I starved myself, I relied on coffee to function and when that didn’t work I binged and threw it all back up. I remember standing in mirrors for hours trying to make sense of what I saw. All I wanted was to disappear. Looking back now, it’s obvious that a huge part of all this was caused by comments like the ones I mentioned above. And while I maintain healthier eating habits now, I still find it hard to look at myself in the mirror and know  what I am looking at. It sounds so strange, but all of the times I have been told how I look  mean I can no longer really see what I actually look like – which can be a really scary at times.

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I have grown to accept myself overall. When I look in the mirror, I see myself at least, the 24 year old, cat enthusiast, red wine loving, Ru Paul super fan, Holly. The adult who cohabits with her boyfriend, pays bills and suffers from lower back pain and chronic anxiety (another time, for another post if I can muster the courage).

I feel like a 24 year old..because I am one. And while most of the time I live my life confident in my abilities, and perfectly happy with my life, all this can be shattered with an offhand comment. It’s then that I realise that everything I see in myself, is pretty much invisible to those people who aren’t aware of my age. Being an adult is fucking hard. And it can feel a lot harder when you are reminded that no one quite believes you are one.

And while this post got a little darker than I thought it would (sorry about that), counselling has helped me try and see some of the positives to my situation. Who knows, maybe I will appreciate it when I’m older.

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