(Photo: Redbook Mag)
In 2011, 42-year-old actress Huong Hoang sued IMDb for revealing her age (soz Huong, but everyone knows now anyway). She said it had caused damage to her working life. She lost the case, but it ignited the on-going debate of our perception of age, and if it really matters.
I'd like to believe that it doesn't. You know, age is just a number, and all that. But in some arenas, that couldn't be further from the truth.
Last year, when I was 23, I was asked to do some freelance work for a website. It was a really exciting opportunity, and I couldn't wait to take on a new challenge. A few days in, my boss emailed me. Nestled between the chitchat was a question about my age. As in, what is it? Happily, I told her. And that's when everything changed. Maybe I should've seen it coming. After all, her response was: 'You're so young!' But I didn't expect that to result in her then giving me work of an easier standard than she'd originally promised (along with sneaky, super-transparent fibs), nor did I expect her to give me less work. But expectations are a tricky thing, peeps. See, I could never have expected that I'd in any way betrayed her by not outright telling her my age before I took on the work.
There's not much sympathy to go around if you're young. Young can mean anything - you could feel 64-years-young - but most of us have the same understanding of what constitutes as 'young'. I don't want sympathy because I'm 24. That would be ludicrous. But as soon as you step into the workplace, 'young' turns into 'inexperienced', and that really sucks.
Over the years, I've often been the baby of the office and colleagues have cooed things like 'you're so young!', 'you're, what, 12?' and 'you probably weren't even alive then!' I always knew that they meant well, and for the most part it was never a dig at my ability, but the thing is, guys, it's a fact I already know. I know that I am, what we understand to be, young. You telling me doesn't make me aware of something I didn't know before, and you really shouldn't care enough to make it 'a thing'. Because when you do that, it feels like the way you see me or how you treat me - even with things you say - will, or by some warped understanding should, change. In the end, it mostly just makes me feel awkward and under-qualified, even though that usually isn't the case.
When somebody asks for your age, often they're hoping (even subconsciously)‚ to make an assessment. They believe that your age will help them make a judgment about you and your ability. They have set images or memories or knowledge of people, or themselves, at different ages and will connect this to you - even if you're nothing like their same-aged niece Charlie, who cites her favourite task at work as 'watching sexy runners from the window' and prefers 'nonchalant' clothes storage (i.e. a pile) to actual storage. It can be useful sometimes. If a male friend has a younger sister who's having a hard time, you can look back to when you were 14 and remember what you struggled with, what would've helped. But ability is such a unique, surprising, individual thing. So when it comes to careers, age is often irrelevant.
I cringed when I wrote my age up there. Like most people, I'm part insecure, part confident about my working abilities. But my age being a topic of conversation in every office I've ever been in makes me feel more like the former. From now on, just as Prince refuses to provide a last name, I refuse to provide an age.
(Ok, Prince's actual surname is Nelson, but how many of you knew that? Honestly?)