Every time I meet someone new (usually someone older like a tita or a lola), there is always an awkward moment in which they comment on my age.
The conversations usually pan out in this manner:
Tita: “Ahh, 20 ka na, hija? Mukha ka kasing 14. Ang cute mo kasi”
Me: *nervous laugh* Opo, tita. I’m a college senior na po.
I never really understood whether they mean it to be a compliment or an insult, or if it’s just a statement that they make matter-of-factly without considering how I might feel about it. My go-to response in situations like these can be visually illustrated with the Arthur’s fist meme. Needless to say, I am never amused.
There’s no blaming them, though. At five feet, one inch, I guess I could really pass off as a high schooler.
I’ve always been the short one. Front of the flag ceremony line in grade school, first row in the class picture, and the one always picked to assume the role of the kid in bahay-bahayan.
My height never bothered me until I started high school. Thanks to puberty, all of my friends started growing out of their nene phases and shooting up and out of my general height range.
Eventually, I realized that not only am I short— I am also baby-faced. None of this would be a problem if the world wasn’t so age-ist.
Getting in line at a serious institution like a bank or a government office is difficult because people look at me as if I have no business being there. Sales people rarely take me seriously whenever I ask them to look for my size. Movie ticket sellers usually have to double check if I’m over 16 for R-rated movies. I have to deal with my family teasing me all the time by asking me if I can reach things that are up on high shelves. Most of the time, they say I look the same age as my 12-year-old cousins (who, by the way, are already taller than me)
Apparently if you look young, there’s a higher chance that people won’t regard you with the same respect that they reserve for mature-looking adults.
These daily experiences pale in comparison to the cringe-worthy experience I had when I was waiting in line to vote last May. A random lolo figure approached me and said that I shouldn’t be voting because I was “just 16”. After telling him that I was, in fact, 19, he went on to give the same blanket statement that crossed all levels of creepiness when he said it: “Cute ka kasi.”
It was that comment that really got me riled up. Talk about knowing what bunnies might feel (though I guess we saw a preview of that with Zootopia’s Judy Hopps).
I hate having to make an extra effort to look “mature” just so that people take me seriously, but there are also some upsides to being short and having a baby face. In my feature writing class last year, we talked about the real meaning of the word ‘cute’. After the class struggled to define a word that is usually used to define babies and bunnies, my prof caved in and said that it’s used to describe someone who is attractive in a non-conventional way.
There’s also the assurance that I’ll probably look younger than I really am when I’m 50, so I guess that counts for something.