Help me out here; confirm I’m not crazy. If someone walked up and said, “Why, So-and-So, you’re looking fat today,” So-and-So would feel pretty offended. Or, if someone looked straight into the face of a middle-ager and declared, “Wow, you look old,” said middle-ager might be tempted to haul off and slap the person. Don’t you agree?
These are examples of things called brazen faux pas. If you’re a bit rusty on the French, let me sum it up: There are certain things you just don’t say to people.
What if the person launched into an even more detailed insult by explaining his position? What if he tried to excuse himself by declaring his affronts to be veiled compliments? The addressee would be angry, right? He’d want to walk away, or deliver some choice words of his own, right? Please, tell me I’m not alone in this!
I ask because it makes no sense to me why it’s not okay to comment on weight, old age, ugliness, and the like, but it’s completely fine to comment on how young a person looks. At 4’11″, with a petite frame, I am a prime target for these gross offenders. Apparently, I practically scream, “Make an annoying comment about how you can’t believe I’m twenty,” because I get those comments all the time. I think it’s about time somebody takes a stand for the baby-faces.
I doubt that the people who say, wide-eyed, “But…you look THIRTEEN!” even think before they speak. As a general rule, thinking is a good first step to conducting yourself well in public, and with strangers. First, if you know what you’re saying could be potentially insulting, why on earth would you trumpet it in public? Second, if you’ve just met the person and have spent zero time with him or her, why do you think you have the right to speak so freely?
There have been countless incidences, some easier to brush off than others. Particularly frustrating was the lunch a few years back where I received the kids’ menu at a local restaurant. Other abuses include patronizing croons of all varieties of “sweetie” and “honey” (I’m pretty sure the first person to call me “ma’am” very nearly stole my heart). The worst is — and I forgive you if you’ve said this yourself, as long as you promise never to do it again — the unoriginal and very ineffective rebuttal: “You’ll appreciate it when you’re forty.”
Clearly, I’m not forty, so please wait to make your comment until a later date. Clearly, you think I look more like fourteen. And I really don’t like being both seen and treated as a pubescent emotional time-bomb with a pretty face — there’s a reason we only have to go through middle school once.
This is important, and infuriating to me, because your perception of a person inevitably bleeds over into your communication with them. Comments on a person’s age can communicate either respect or condescension, and can determine how that person interacts with you from the first meeting on. There are people who I know love me dearly who convey nothing but coddling when they are with me, and that keeps me from getting to know them better, because I’m immediately turned off from having an adult conversation with them.
So, reader, if you ever see my baby face, remember that I wrote this article without the help of my parents, that I am an adult, and that if you treat me and the other baby-faces of the world with respect, we just might tell you that you look young when you’re forty.