Does my “petite woman” stature mean I’ll never be seen an adult?

Guest post by Britstix
By: PascalCC BY 2.0

I am a petite 27-year-old woman. My whole life I have looked younger than my age, and my size has always been a defining characteristic. I’ve always been “cute” or “tiny” and people took to calling me “Little Britstix.” In one of my first temp jobs, my boss called me Ant because I’m tiny but I can lift heavy things. I am strong and smart and capable, but somehow my age/size/gender continues to eclipse those other achievements.

I spent the first eight years of my career working in the theatre as a stage manager and I faced a lot of gender discrimination. Despite years of formal training, internships, and hard work, the men who ran the theatres (directors, technical directors, designers, master electricians, master carpenters) still did not believe I was capable of changing a lamp, climbing a ladder, moving furniture, or understanding the machinations of their designs. With every new show, I had to re-prove myself to my new colleagues as a competent theatre professional. It was exhausting. My decisions were constantly challenged as if I were some green intern.

For the past three years, I’ve worked at a biotech company that is overwhelmingly female-staffed. Over 60% of the upper level management is comprised of women and over half the company itself is female. Up until recently, I hadn’t experienced any condescending discrimination at all. I’ve been a valued member of the company and people have respected me for my knowledge base and my work ethic. I was so sure that this was directly related to the number of women in the company and I was so proud of my company for being a great place for women to advance their careers.

The other day I was in a meeting with some upper management. My boss introduced me to a new employee:

“This is Britstix, my project coordinator par excellence. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t know what day of the week it was or where I was going without her!”

Her boss (the Senior Director of our group) then jumped in, “She certainly doesn’t let us forget anything! Such a little person helps us do so much!”

I thanked them both for being so kind, finished introducing myself to the new employee, and waited for the meeting to begin.

But her comment burned in my brain. “Such a little person…” A little person? (Please note that I do not mean to offend anyone who identifies as a Little Person.) Does my stature have anything to do with my ability to work? Is the amount of work I do more astonishing because I am small? The worst part is that the comment had come from a woman. Shouldn’t she be supporting me instead of knocking me down?

I talked to my fiancé about it when I got home. Initially, he didn’t see the problem with the comment. “Oh, she was just complimenting you. It was actually a double compliment because you’re tiny and also good at your job. I’ve heard people say stuff like that to women all the time. It’s supposed to be a compliment. I’m sure she was only saying it nicely.”

I was stunned. How could he not see how condescending that was? So I asked him if he’d ever heard someone make a comment like that about a male co-worker of his.

“Nope. Never. They would never say something like that to a dude. That would be humiliating.”

So… how is it less humiliating for me? How is it less embarrassing for a woman to be told that she is somehow less than a whole person? I felt like an intern again. Like my experience and abilities were secondary to my appearance.

When do I get to just be a normal adult woman? When I’m married will people start treating me with respect? When I have kids will I no longer be just a little person who miraculously does a lot of things? When will I be given the respect that I feel I deserve as a woman closer to 30 than 20?

I felt completely legitimate and like a successful adult until those words came out of her mouth. Then suddenly I felt like an impostor. Like some little girl just playing pretend. Like no matter what I achieve, I’ll always be that cute tiny girl who also does things.

I know this might seem like a complete first world problem — why would anyone object to being called cute and tiny? But it just feels discriminatory somehow. As if my stature is being used against me as a modifier to my experience and skill level.

Has anyone else experienced this kind of condescension at work or in life? Does anyone know when “adulthood” starts?

Comments on Does my “petite woman” stature mean I’ll never be seen an adult?

  1. This.

    I suffer from a chronic case of “looking too young:” I’m consistently mistaken for being in high school, even though I’m 25. I feel like, in my working life, people are always seeing me as young or, in cases where I have authority, viewing me as being disrespectful to my elders by telling them what to do (even though it’s my job to do so).

    Being married doesn’t help, when people notice my rings they gasp in surprise, “you’re married?!! How old are you?” Like I’m a child bride or something. True, “you’ll love it when you’re older and you look 30 instead of 40,” but, for now, it sucks.

    • “you’re married?!! How old are you?” Like I’m a child bride or something.

      YES. I hate that. I’m 23 and I get that reaction all the time. Oh, I’m sorry I forgot to consult you before my wedding. And it’s usually strangers and older women! Why is this an appropriate comment to make?!

      • You know what really grinds my gears? When these things NEVER happen if my husband is with me. As if the magical presence of a male aura suddenly ages me and makes strangers realize what they’re about to say is probably inappropriate.

        • That’s odd, because my husband gets similar comments a lot – he’s 28, married with a kid and people often don’t believe him, or are really surprised. I joke that people will think I’m a cougar, since I never get comments like that. We’ll get to our sixties and he’ll look forty or something.
          It doesn’t seem to bother him much, but he works at a lower level of his industry atm, so looking younger hasn’t really affected him negatively. I hope that’s not going to be an issue in the future.

    • Yes! I’m married and nearly 25, but people think I’m my husband’s sister. Or, worse, his CHILD. His nieces and nephews (hey, they’re like 7-9, okay, I feel like that’s old enough to understand these things) literally thought I was his DAUGHTER. I’ve known these kids for years and they were like “Darren, why do you kiss your daughter on the lips? That’s weird.” I guess it doesn’t help that my voice is also very child-like, but I chalk that up to probably having female Aspergers. I also wear lots of things with unicorns and shit, so that doesn’t help my case much, BUT UNICORNS.

      Omfg. And don’t get me started on how many times, working at a university, I’m asked what year I’m in. That usually ends up being more of a “DAMN GURL YOU LOOK GOOD” than something insulting, though 😛

      • “” I guess it doesn’t help that my voice is also very child-like”

        I force myself to have a deeper voice sometimes…I’ve had people call and ask to speak to my parents…at age 25…

        • Lol ive had people knock on my door and ask can i speak to your mum or dad and im like, dude, in 31. I don’t think I have ever been taken seriously because i don’t look like a grown up woman. I get id’d alot, been told my id is fake and get shouted at as though i am some child off the MIL from hell! On the plus side, when i do get door to door sales men i just tell them my mum isn’t in lol

          • I just say my mommy isn’t here mister but I’m sure she’ll come back soon. She’s been gone for 5 years so I think she is due back soon mister.

      • I live in a place where strangers make friendly conversation all the time, and I work at a university. I always hear, “how was class?” or “how was school?” I’ve heard it enough times that I now unblinkingly reply, “well, I was teaching, but, yeah, it was fine . . .” It usually makes them pause for a moment as they realize their error. Oh, oops, you just semi-insulted a professor!

        • I get a lot of “How were exams?” and “Have a nice break!”
          I’m thinking, break? What break? I work over the semester break. I still have students to deal with.
          I guess it doesn’t help that I was hired during a 5-year hiring freeze at my institution, and so the faculty just assume any new blood is a student.

        • I feel you! I’m going to be 15 on January 25, but I have been described as having a transitional torso, NOT like a little kid, but like a young 13 year old, BECAUSE I was born premature!
          My doctor says I’m going to be 5’8″ when I’m 15 going on 16 [next year], because I have regular legs, BUT my torso will stay preteen/in transition.

      • Clothing is language. It does matter what you say. I am 5 ft even and have gotten “little” comments.
        I then worked for a judge in a court house located in the city jail. Wearing a traditional suit, pumps, and women’s make up kept me respected and “yes ma’am”ed by both coworkers and violent offenders. It does not have to be expensive, just appropriate to the image you want to send.

        Dressing a bit more formally than your older-looking co-workers can nudge attitudes toward more respect. People read the messages you send with your hair and clothing. Height and youth can be compensated by dressing like a grown up. Is that fair? Maybe not, but it’s true. Unicorns do suggest a little girl’s clothing. You can wear whatever you want (just as you can say whatever you want), but at a job where you need to be taken seriously, the right clothes can really help you out.

        • I don’t deny that you have a point about clothing, but I don’t think that is fair at all, and there are some aspects of that I will not participate in. I am a petite woman (5’3″) who often gets mistaken for younger than my actual age of 31. I often hear people say that in order to look “professional” I should:
          1. Wear makeup
          2. Wear heels
          3. Wear a skirt
          4. Cut my long hair to a chin length bob

          The only one of those things I will do occasionally is wear a skirt. If the occasion is right, I’ll wear one, but I don’t view it as something I would wear to work regularly if I had a more professional job. Pants are more comfortable and practical for me. I won’t wear heels because my ankles don’t deal well with them and I’m likely to fall or injury myself wearing them. (I have weak ankles from an injury in high school.) I don’t wear makeup because I don’t like it and it makes my skin feel uncomfortable and break out. I don’t like how I look in makeup and I don’t think I look like myself. I’m not going to cut my hair short because I like it long, and so does my husband. If anyone sees me as less professional because I refuse to adhere to these sexist standards applied to women, frankly that is their problem and not mine.

          • THIS! This so many times.

            Anyway, dressing like a grown up doesn’t help that much. Nothing will change the fact that I’m 5’2″ and look 19. Wearing mature clothing just makes me even cuter in many people’s eyes.

          • I have many of the same issues, but have found a decent middle ground:

            1. Some really low-heeled Mary Jane -ish shoes with non-slip soles

            2. Long, slightly flared dress pants instead of a skirt to hide the fact I’m not wearing heels

            3. Mascara and lip gloss, occasionally a little eyeshadow, no foundation or blush to irritate my face.

            4. A simple ponytail or bun. Pulling my hair back shows my high forehead, which makes people assume I’m smart

          • I totally agree. Why should we have to be uncomfortable and dress like someone we’re not just to get the same basic respect at work that everyone else gets. Why can’t other people get that commenting on someone’s age or appearance in a professional setting isn’t OK. They’re the ones with the problem not us. Sick of being told i have to change to fit in with society’s expectations of what a woman should look like.

            Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that most of these sorts of comments do come from other women. Not sure what that’s all about.

        • skirts and heels are overrated. Why does a women have to wear a skirt to be considered “more important” or respected? But if a man wears a button down shirt it’s like he’s going out somewhere fancy even if he’s also wearing jeans?

        • In my experience when I walk outside with my uniform (Navy) people have to assume I’m at least 18 because that’s the enlistment age but they still think I’m much younger and that I’ve just graduated high school (I’m 23). Even at my job I’ve gotten those comments asking if I somehow got the early enlistment at 16 or something…smh. I’m still trying to figure out how to dress more professional in my off time but it’s difficult when all I want to do is relax and wear skinny jeans, not a pantsuit.

    • At age 33, I’m still treated like a college student or high school student thanks to my youthful appearance. (I still have acne and thus-far have no wrinkles.) It’s annoying to still be treated as a child with all the negative stereotypes that come with that: immature, irresponsible, non-authoritative, unqualified to make big life decisions. People go bug-eyed when I tell them my age. I wish I knew what to do about it – other than point to the grey hairs on my head as proof.

      • I kind of LOVE when people go bug-eyed when I tell them my age. HA HA! You’ve had a 32-year-old in your midst this whole time and you had no idea!

        • What’s really amusing is when I reveal to new acquaintances that I was once married for ten years and being asked, “Were you a child bride???” Despite being a big lady and in my mid-30’s, I look fifteen years younger than I am.

          I can imagine it must be absolute hell for smaller women like the OP when their authority is called into question over perceived “inadequate life experience”.

      • I was at a bar/restaurant with a friend who looks like she’s maybe 17 if she dresses for work and puts on makeup – she’s 24 this past weekend – and we both got carded. The waitress looked at my friends ID like, okay she’s good, then she looks at mine and was like ‘really? seriously?’ I’m 11 years older than my friend. 😉 while not petite like her, i do have the “good” family genes – grandma was 89 when she passed, most people didn’t believe she was past her 70th birthday, my mom is 65 – few people believe she has two children in their mid/late 30s.

      • Are… are you me?
        Last year I had a 23-year old co-worker do a double take. She thought we were the same age.
        I mean, yay, but come on… 10 years?

        I started wearing blazers after that. A blazer makes a world of difference. Not the trendy close-fit stylishly cut type. The generic-looking business blazer (properly fitted though) seems to work best to ageify me into respectability.
        I wear the trendy blazers on casual fridays. Oh that’s the other thing… don’t go totally casual at work on casual days – jeans with regular business tops or that nice sweater I wear to visit the grandparents on sundays seems to help quite a bit with the age perception.

    • I’m 42 and people consistently think I’m about 10 years younger. Which, yay most of the time – but for some reason it annoys me when people see me with my 18 year old daughter and comment that I can’t possibly be old enough to be her mother.
      It feels a bit like being judged in retrospect for being a teen mother, or like I’m doing mothering wrong somehow because it hasn’t aged me enough. It feels even more awkward because it’s ‘supposed’ to be something I take as a compliment.

    • *True, “you’ll love it when you’re older and you look 30 instead of 40,” but, for now, it sucks.*

      I get this comment all the time (I’m 24 and look about 18) and I hate it. No, I would actually prefer to look my age, and to be treated my age.
      Currently, I can’t even look at a bar (whether I intend to go in or not) without the bouncer jumping down my throat demanding my ID.

      Plus, I’m certain that when I’m 40, I’ll want to look 40 because there is absolutely nothing wrong with being 40!

      • i’ve been told that i should dye the gray in my hair if i want to keep looking younger than my actual age of 35. Um. don’t care about gray, nature put it there, i’ve no need to change it — besides, it’s coming in more as a streak and its kind of cool 😉

      • Seriously, I get that comment ALL. THE. TIME.

        I felt I could have written this post! I’m almost 27 and last year I went on an electric boat with my family and the lady asked how old I was (in case I needed to wear a life vest)…I looked it up and you only have to be 13 not to have to wear one. SERIOUSLY. I want respect, and sometimes I don’t think I get it because of my small stature.

        People give me odd looks if I complain about it, because “it’s a compliment,” but it really isn’t.

      • 100% agree. Pretty sure I’ll want to be treated the same as other 40 year olds. Ageism sucks, 40 year old women are beautiful and have a wealth of life experience.

    • That’s really frustrating! In America, it’s pretty much universally unacceptable to ask a woman her age (with a slight exception if you are beginning to date someone)…. interestingly enough, in South Korea, the first questions you will typically be asked are how old are you and are you married?

    • I get that too! I’ll be 25 in October, and got married at the age of 21. People often mistake me for a 18-19 year old when they first meet me, then its all “Holy shit, you’re married?!” once they get to know me. I don’t so much have people viewing me as disrespectful to them, more than them being disrespectful of me. I often feel like people treat me like I am an 18 year old girl, rather than an adult, doubting my abilities and knowledge, passing me off as a “know it all teenager.”

      The marriage thing help a little bit, but I get the “you’re too young to be married!” My mother was 20 when I was born and my parents got married almost 3 years after I was born, so how does being married at 21, make me “too young”?

      I hear the “you’ll love it when your older,” all the fricken time…


    • It never ends. Our culture neotenizes females. No matter what you do you are viewed as cute or silly. They will always reference what you look like – “The cute surgeon”.

      “Oh, did you see the beautiful blonde hair on that dentist. She is so pretty.” A woman’s mind is of no purpose, you will always just be an object for someone else to use.

      You will be seen – by both men and women – as an object, an eternal child that “plays at being an adult.”

      You can be a theoretical physicist, but will be seen as a kid who is just so darn smart! And they will pat you on your little head. ‘cuz you are so small and cute.

    • I also suffer from this condition. My husband always tells me that to not take comments so personal and that I shouldn’t be insecure, but when you constantly are hearing these comments of “you look like a little kid, how old are you? 10? Are you finished with school? Oh look how strong you are for your little body, you’re adorable and small” it’s really irritating already that you can’t be taken seriously as an adult. It’s frustrating to me as a nurse when my patients don’t think I am capable to take care of them just because of how I look. It makes me feel so insecure and angry everytime a comment is made about my stature and looks but if you get angry you look like you are bitter and being dramatic. People don’t understand the constant frustration and feeling belittled and disrespected as an adult. I have had to hold my tongue all the time as I want no drama or problems at work but I’m so fed up with it. These comments are always going to bother me and make me feel insecure even to the point of when I go out to a bar or have to buy liquor, I have to add on extra makeup or wear heels to make myself look older and avoid being stared at like as if I’m a high schooler with a fake ID. These comments are actually body shaming and bullying. People need to be more aware of it.


    I’m in school to be a teacher and there are students taller and bigger than me. I often get mistaken for a high schooler even though I’m in grad school and married. My undergrad degree was in theatre. I completely understand your struggle.

    I don’t know when the rest of the world will start seeing us tiny people as grown ass women too.

    • It’s not just little ladies who get bossed around and treated like little kids- I am 5ft. 10, burly for a chic (muscular not fat), 34 years old, but am frequently estimated to be 24-26. Last week 2 older people on separate occasions asked me if I was my friend’s daughter who is 14. And THEN had the nerve to be like, “Oh no, you’re not Abby she’s much younger,” and, “Oh no, you’re not Abby, she’s much thinner.” WTF? Young women are so objectified. Men who I don’t know single me out and boss me around, condescend to me and talk to me like I’m stupid. Maybe it’s because I am often alone. Women and kids do it, too. I can’t take it anymore, and have reverted to teenage tactics of, “Uh, no, you don’t tell me what to do, I am an adult.” People tell me often that I look so youthful and that’s like nice, or whatever, but young people, especially young women, do not get much respect. And we are pressured to stay young looking forever so that we will be beautiful, and while I don’t want to look old, I (and all people) do deserve respect. And all I mean by that is common courtesy which is paid to all individuals. At my age when I encounter this disrespect, it is so much more insulting. I am right there with y’all and at this point in my life I keep having a fantasy of going to Asia, learning to fight, and become a warrior. It’s funny that people do this shit to me because when I want, I can start yelling and it sounds exactly like a man and I have been told (by guys) that it is intimidating. I want people to think that I am crazy and not fuck with me. At least I have this ability to counter the youthfulness that people see and wanna exploit. It’s so screwed up to me, because I never tell people what to do, except children and that is part of my job as a teacher. I have no desire and rarely pay attention to what others do. The double edged sword of youthful appearance is just a reflection of what it’s like to be a woman really- damned if you do damned if you don’t.

  3. First of all, you are absolutely right to feel put out. What your boss said was totally obnoxious.

    And, I truly think that this is something that is not going to go away, so the only thing to do is figure out how to best cope with it. Note please that I am NOT victim blaming here. If there is an opportunity to talk to your boss about how the comment was condescending and obnoxious, I would definitely take that up – she should be encouraged to not make that kind of comment again. And I think that we have the chance to either walk around life offended because people make boneheaded statements or we can learn how to not let it effect our own feelings of self worth.

    Sometimes I think that having a “go to” statement that shuts down someone (relatively nicely) helps. What about something like “I’m taller than I look?” Because I do think that you are equating “height” with “value” (because others are). Something like “I’m taller than I look” points out that fallacy pretty quickly. Around men, I would probably be tempted to say something like, “Good for you I’m small, because you definitely couldn’t handle any more of me.”

    Good luck.

    • Ha! Love your “go to” statement suggestions. Humor does help the medicine go down. If I get particularly pissed off I use a good ole’ fashioned “Bless your heart” statement, like “That was rather offensive and you didn’t even notice, bless your heart.” Always with a smile on my face and in my voice. Works best if you don’t give them time to react: just move the conversation along.

  4. I look young for my age and people barely 4 or 5 years older than me will say things like
    ” Well Dear when you have lived as long as I have…”
    When I tell them that I how old I am I can see this look of shock pass over their face, usually they will quickly try to say they have a lot more life experiences.
    It is happening less and less as I get older but even now that I am 41 I still get that reaction occasionally.
    I am short, not petite but short and I have had a couple of bosses joke about only hiring people over a certain height in the future, usually because I can’t reach something and I will have to get someone else to get it for me.
    I feel like there is no escape, people will always find what is different about you and comment on it. One of my best friends is 6’1″ and she has been treated badly because of her height, men and women are often intimidated by her and have made rude comments right to her face about her size, unfortunately it goes both ways if you are outside of the “norm”.

    • I’m 6’4″ and I have to go through so much sh*t for it. When I was a kid, I couldn’t get kid prices at the movies or order off the kids menu because how could I possibly be 10 years old if I’m already 5’8″?? People call me sir, treat me as less feminine… I have a lot of people assume I’m a lesbian, which isn’t offensive but it doesn’t make sense because how is height possibly related to sexual orientation? I am constantly harassed in public (everything from people yelling obscenities out their window to the janitor at Disneyland yelling for everyone to look at the girl who’s taller than the stall doors), not to mention shopping is a complete nightmare and it’s incredibly difficult to find women’s clothes that fit. Before the advent of the Internet, I had to wear men’s clothes/shoes… And you can imagine how well that goes over with peers in middle school. Thankfully, there is now one single website from which I can buy shoes that fit.

      Being an extremely tall woman is HORRIBLE. I’ve hated it my whole life. I don’t get bullied at school anymore because I’m an adult now, but people still think I’m some sort of monster.

      • Yep, I totally feel ya! I was 6’1 at 12…dating in middle school, high school was ROUGH!

        My parents had an ID card for me to show waitresses for the whole children’s menu thing.

      • My (just turned 2 year old) daughter is taller now than my 6’5″ husband was at her age. She’s quite friendly and her grasp and enunciation of the English language (and even a bit of Spanish) is on par with her age, but we’ve gotten “Is she a bit… slow?” from people. No, she’s a bit… tall.

  5. Your fiance’s comments concern me just as much as your work colleagues.

    For your work colleagues I would schedule a meeting with the Senior Director and tell her that her comments felt demeaning. You’re sure she didn’t mean them to come across that way and you are sure she values your hard work and commitment, and you’ve always felt so in the past. However by lumping X which has absolutely no correlation to Y in one sentence it came across like she felt surprised that you were capable of your job. That by emphasising an unrelated physical attribute above X, Y and Z qualifications, experience and skills it actually undermines those skills and experiences.

    I find it helpful to use real life examples using attributes most rational people would find patently ludicrous or offensive – eg. “That doctor sure is good for a black person!” “Gosh you’re a very good cook for an accountant!” etc. She may get defensive and pretend nothing is wrong and make you feel like you’re making a fuss over nothing. Or she may listen. But either way you are justified in explaining your feelings to her. If she’s worth her salt she won’t want her employees feeling undervalued.

    The fiance… Well. I’m not sure where I’d begin with him.

    • Once I pointed out to my fiance that if it was humiliating for a man, it was humiliating for a woman, he realized that he had been speaking from a place of privilege. I think it does take some adjusting to understand the world from a different point of view, whether that be a man trying to view it as a woman or any other “majority” trying to understand the worldview of any other “minority.”

      As for my boss’s boss (the woman who made the comment) – Your advice is great. I just honestly don’t know if I can approach her about it anymore since it happened months ago and I never made a move. I’m new to this department and I’m very hesitant to make waves before I feel I’ve “proven” myself.

      • If she’s never made another comment like that it’s probably fine not to mention it unless she does. She may have realized after she said it how stupid/offensive it was (speaking as a chronic sufferer of foot-in-mouth disease…)

      • Well, if it happens a second time (and people are prone to repeating these things), you’ll know what to do and you’ll be able to say “well, it’s not the first time this has happened and I feel I should tell you it makes me uncomfortable”, and so on. I think it would be perfectly justified.

        I’ve never had to deal with that type of comment, as I am short but overweight. My guy friends tease me a lot about my height, but that is entirely not the same thing. But I’ve had a friend who was asked for her ID at a concert. Age limit was 16 and she was 28 at the time. The doorman was more than a bit surprised when he realized she was actually older than him! I remember she used to dress very soberly and avoid “cutesy” accessories so that she would be taken more seriously in professional context. I don’t think you should have to do that, but it did seem to work for her.

        • I am relatively young for my position in my field, and I am a short woman. I always use the “dress boring” technique to look like I have more standing – though I have as much training as the rest of them.
          The worst is when clients feel like they can tease me for my gender/age/stature, whereas if I were a 50-year-old white man, they would only give accolades of respect. *sigh*

        • There’s a guy at Kroger who keeps insisting he will find the flaw in my fake ID one day. But I think he’s flirting. The first time he carded me though (for *cigarettes*!) I think he genuinely was shocked and studied it longer than necessary to make sure it was legit..

          • Once in college they almost didn’t let me into some freakin’ frat party because the dude (who was my age) thought my ID was “the fakest ID I have ever seen”. My boyfriend (who knew him) had to argue with him for awhile.

            Please don’t ask why I was going to a frat party, because I have NO idea. I think a friend’s band was playing.

  6. I have the same problems with being called “cute” and variations thereof. I’m 24 and am easily and regularly mistaken for a teenager or, worst case scenario, a child. It’s frustrating because I’ve noticed people not taking me seriously because they think I’m a kid and then, once I tell them my age and THEN they see me as an adult, even after I’ve established my experience and knowledge in whatever field I’m working in.

    There’s currently only one person who has permission to call me “cute”–my girlfriend. The difference between her doing it and everyone else doing it is that one, she asked permission and we talked about it; two, she calls my actions toward her cute and not my overall appearance and stature; and three, it’s never in a condescending manner.

    I just love it when people tell me, “Oh you’ll like it when you get older!” because I’ll be, say, 50 and mistaken for 40 or something. I’m at the point now where I think or say to them, “that’s nice. I don’t care. Please understand that doesn’t make your treatment of me right now any better.”

  7. Me, age 25, at the library desk signing up for the summer reading program.
    Librarian; “What grade are you in?”
    Me; “um…I’m in college, so adult.”

    I’d been working full time for 3 years as a social worker, paying my way through school, had bought and paid off a car, dressed responsibly (I was on my way home from work), there was no way I looked like I was in grade school (in my opinion).

    Your abilities as an adult should be focused on your behavior/capabilities; your physical appearance should be left out of all professional comments, and it should not define you. I’m sorry people are not looking at you like the adult that you are.

    • Side note: Your library offers summer reading programs for adults? That’s great! I have not seen a library with programs like that.

    • I’m so sorry that a librarian made that kind of assumption about your age! We are trained not to jump to conclusions about patrons.

      I happen to be a baby-faced 25-year-old librarian with my MLS. Despite my best efforts to dress and behave professionally, people regularly ask me if I’m a student on work-study or if it’s an after school job. The worst thing is when men try to hit on me based on my presumed naivety and then think it’s cute to “try” me with a question. They seem genuinely astonished when I am capable of delivering serious and thorough results.

      Obviously, the librarian who helped you had never been in my shoes, or else it was too long ago to remember. Unfortunately, I’ve encountered colleagues who are also surprised by my competence.

      As an aside, yes, adult summer reading programs exist! My system has one!

  8. As someone said above, being on any extreme tends to suck, and I would say especially so if you’re also female. I have the opposite problem (I am about 6’0″), and people comment on my height constantly. There was one time where some random dude in an airport walked up to me (while I was practically running to make a connecting flight) and gave me this gross up-down look and then exclaimed, “You’re so tall!” (I’d say he was probably on the shorter end of average height, like 5’8″). So I looked over, returned his up-down stare and replied, “You’re so short!” And kept walking. He stopped, then caught up to me and sputtered, “That was rude of me, wasn’t it? Can I make it up to you with a drink at the Admiral’s Club?” I was not even old enough to drink, and I’m guessing the guy was in his early 40’s. So no. Gross. I told him I was running to make my connecting flight. Blargh. People. It was not the first or the last time some dude has tried to use my height as a pick-up method. 😐

    • The height thing. ALL. THE. TIME.

      I too am six foot.

      My go to response now when people tell me I am tall is to look at them and go “Am I really? I’d never noticed!”

      • I’m tallish, 5’8.5″, but I’ve dated guys several inches shorter than me. I was at the beach, once, with a then-boyfriend and his friend. We were wading in the water and his friend was chilling on the beach when he said, “Dude, Fern is taller than you!!” (He was quite a bit taller than both of us, so maybe it took the change in perspective for him to see it? I don’t know.) Boyfriend said (very sarcastically), “What?! Oh, no! I never noticed that! I guess we have to break up, now!” I always though that was a pretty funny response.

        • I’m average at 5’6″, but i’m almost an inch taller than my husband. For years I would avoid wearing heels so i wouldn’t tower over him — that was, until he noticed and told me to just wear the heels because they made my legs look good. He did jokingly stand on his toes in one of our wedding photos, though 😉

      • *Tall woman fist bumps* solidarity, sisters. I tell people “Shhhh… don’t tell anybody- I’m really not this tall, I’m just pretending”. They always seem really puzzled by that.

        I’m finding it to be even harder now to be tall AND plus sized because how dare I take up more space than strictly necessary?” You mean you want to exist horizontally AS WELL as vertically? Isn’t being gigantic enough? You have to be FAT too??” (Not actual quotes, obvs) When I was tall and thin, I was admired and praised (though still put on an impossibly tiny pedestal of how a tall person must be “You are wasting your height if you don’t model/play basketball/volleyball/run track, etc” “Guys don’t want to date tall girls because they don’t feel manly enough with them” “those shorts you are wearing (that everybody in the school is wearing) are too short on you because your legs are longer” but now it’s even worse (as it is for plus sized people of all heights, I am sure). You can buy “tall” clothes (sometimes) and you can buy “big clothes” (though the selection can be abysmal) but the two almost never meet. So my pants can be long enough, but they rarely will fit over my hips.

        I am a big person. Everything about me is big. I deserve to exist in a world that doesn’t try to make me fit (literally) expectations completely unreasonable to my reality. I am not asking for anything other than the ability to dress for work without it being a huge ordeal.

    • Yes, I agree that it’s rough on either extreme, even if it’s for different reasons! Why is it something we need to keep pointing out? And the “At least you’re….” comments that we make to each other aren’t helpful, either.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one that has this issue. I’m 6’1″ and a girl too. My hubby is shorter and people will constantly make comments about my height. But not to him for being the shorter of the couple.

      I was complaining to a coworker about it and how annoying it was while we went to starbucks at break. He told me that he was shocked that people would make comments like that, and just then a guy walked up to me goes “wow, you are SO TALL. Do you only date basketball player?” I told him, my husband was against it. And my coworker just stood their slack jawed in shock over the whole ordeal.

    • YES to the extremes thing! I’m 6’1 barefoot (which is often my response when the ‘oooooh circus sideshow how tall are you!?’ questions happen), and am asked if I am a basketball player.

      I always reply “would you ask a short person if they’re a jockey?” but I guess the answer is that you petite delights get the other end of the same dumb stick.

      In high heels I’ve been called Sir, and had people say “that girl looks like a dude,” and things I find uncomfortable.

      If it happens again at work I would encourage you to say something. My mode is usually snarky responses (like “why assume basketball and not modeling? and do a little hair flip), but that works in my industry and don’t want you to put your job in danger…

  9. I’m younger than the majority of people in my job (I’m 25 and a researcher at a university), and I suppose I must look even younger – I’m often mistaken for a graduate student, or even an undergraduate student, or (more oddly) for a member of admin staff. When I point out people’s mistake, they can often get a little weird about it, and try to justify themselves – “Well, you look very young indeed!” “You look too young to have a Ph.D. already” – as though that would help.

    It sucks, and it does sometimes leave me wondering when I’ll be seen as a full member of this profession. I often feel that I wouldn’t be greeted with such surprise if I were a 25-year-old man.

    But I try to stay cheerful about it – I think having a “go-to” answer is a strategy I might try. Not something too snarky – just something like, “Actually I’ve been working here for nearly a year now. Have you worked here long?” Sometimes the people making the mistakes are new themselves, and at least this starts up a possible conversation! (While, you know, reminding them that I’ve worked here a while…)

    • As an older student(29, just finishing my B.S.) living in a college town with a really high percentage of students, I have a pretty wide age range in which I consider someone a potential student. I would wonder if all the people making these comments are actually making incorrect assumptions about your age.

      • Yes, absolutely – it’s completely normal to be 25 and a student, of course. It’s fine that people make this mistake sometimes.

        But, when corrected, I’d rather they just said, “Oh, my mistake!” or something – it’s odd when they try to come up with a list of reasons for why they were wrong, which normally ends up being quite personal remarks about my age or looks. Stop digging, guys!

    • Yeah … I would assume anyone who wasn’t middle aged who was doing research at a university was a grad student. If you told me you were 25 I would just assume that was your way of telling me I was right. If the average student finishes their BA at 22, does 2-3 years for a masters and then a 1-3 year program for their doctorate, that makes the youngest I would expect someone with a PhD to be 25. Since my personal experience has taught me that people tend to take time off, or do internships between schooling, I would actually expect anyone with a PhD to be pretty close to 30 at the youngest.

      So … you look young to have a PhD because, by many people’s expectations, you ARE. And it is DAMN impressive! So the next time someone says you look a little young to have a PhD just tell them, “Yeah, it’s because I’m awesome.”

      • Thanks!

        It’s partly contextual, too – most of the comments I was thinking of when I wrote the above post happened when I was in the staff lunch room. So… balance of probabilities is that I’m a member of staff. A female member of staff in her 20s – shock horror!

        I just sometimes wished I looked a little older, to avoid these awkward conversations. And, as I said, it feels very gendered – my 24-year-old partner’s presence is never questioned at his workplace. He’s just assumed to have been young when he got his PhD (which he was).

      • Actually, I’ve been thinking about these responses on my way to work, and I’m a little confused by them.

        We all make mistakes about people from time to time, that’s cool. But isn’t the best response, “Sorry, my mistake, I’ll try not to do that again” rather than “Actually, my assumption was reasonable because of x, y z.” Regardless of whether it was reasonable, it was incorrect.

        So I get that many people in their 20s at universities are grad students. But many are also younger faculty members. I think it would be more constructive for people to say, “Hey, I would’ve made that assumption about you myself – sorry! I’ll try not to do that to someone else in future.” Rather than to tell me all the reasons why that assumption makes sense.

        Because as innocuous as it might seem to the person saying it, comments that imply someone is too young, or looks too young, to do their job can be very undermining and hurtful. If this thread has shown anything, it’s that we could all be more careful about voicing our assumptions about people.

        • I get what you are saying, and I obviously was not present for any of the conversations you are remembering, but here are a couple of thoughts:

          First, many of us have foot in mouth disease, and many people are self absorbed. This combination can lead to a bit of disorientation when a conversation does not go the way that someone expects it to, which can lead to extremely idiotic comments. Again, I am not excusing anyone, just putting forward a possible explanation.

          Second, those of us who are older students (or, I suspect, were, though I am not there yet) may be slightly defensive about having taken longer to finish, and may be reacting from their own internal sense that by making such an assumption about you, they have outed themselves, and may be concerned about your judgement. the weird remarks could easily come from such a place.

          Again, I was not present for any of the conversations you were part of; when I have inquired about someone’s student status and been wrong, my response has been what you are asking for; and I have my own places that strangers push my buttons that are similar. I look my age, but not very healthy, and get “ma’m” at the grocery store consistently (and have since I was 22), unless I am wearing makeup, when I get “miss”; cause sex object status is obviously their business.. So, yes, I do get the whole women are judged strangely and inappropriately for any variety of reasons by strangers, and it sucks thing.

          • “First, many of us have foot in mouth disease, and many people are self absorbed. This combination can lead to a bit of disorientation when a conversation does not go the way that someone expects it to, which can lead to extremely idiotic comments.”

            You’re right, of course. It’s true of me too, more often than I’d like, but I’m working on that. 🙂

      • And in my field you need at least 1 2-3 year post doc after getting your PhD, if not 2 post docs, to get a faculty position! But they should believe you when you tell them.

  10. “Such a little person helps us do so much!” This is crap.
    I am 5′ nothing and weight about 110lbs on average- almost 30 years old with a two year old daughter and another one on the way- I get it. People call me “kid” or “sweetie” or ask how old I am all the time. Or when I am at work and they ask for “the manager” and realize they are talking to her, get decidely uncomfortable “Is there ANOTHER manager?” What, you mean one with a penis or one with five more inches in height? Or both?

    Almost every very job I have had has required schelping heavy things, being a person in charge who makes decisions and as an enforcer of security measures (including working security for marches and rallies). But at my last job, despite being the person in charge, running things etc- I was still introduced as a “student intern” from the director of the organization. Despite the fact that I was not a student and no longer an intern. When another position came up that I was qualified for, and I asked if I should apply- they said they needed someone with more “experience”. When I resent them the resume I had used to secure my original job, they were shocked to be reminded that I had the experience they needed. But as a group of 40+ year old women, they did not look at me as “adult” despite the work I did for them, and frequently made comments on how “young” I was. Or that I was the “baby” at work. (FYI- Fuck anyone who calls you the baby and then asks you to fix their computer or run yet another seminar for them because technology is just toooo complicated).

    I wish I could tell you it gets better, but right now, I am pregnant and get even MORE condescending comments, or outright rude regarding the size of my stomach or how its “so cute” that I am “waddling”. Add about a million other really frustrating things to that and that has been my life non stop for the past few months. Having said that- none of that bullshit comes from my co-workers or my boss. I have been promoted to the position I am in because I am awesome. And I work in an environment that supports me. But I can’t help but be frustrated sometimes by being treated as lesser or less competent because of my size. Even my parents do it (my whole life) with my siblings reminding them that their idea of me in their heads as “weaker” or “fragile” etc in no way reflects reality.

    I hate that my ex used to be hyper sensitive about what clothes I wore because I should try hard not to look “childish” or “like a street waif”(I did say “ex”). I hate that at work, if I want to be take seriously by outsiders, I have to be very careful how I physically present myself. But I will also say, in the right environment, those comments become non existent and people treat you with respect because clearly you are respected. When the other large male manager defers to me on a decision or backs me up when someone complains- he is teaching the people around him that I am too be respected. When emails that should have been sent to me are sent to someone else and those managers swiftly inform them who “the boss” is- they let others know that I am not to be “gotten around” or ignored. Respect in the workplace requires that any reference to stature or body size, shape, colour, ability be discarded unless you happen to be a professional athlete.

    I would mention to HR or the person above you who you are comfortable with that this comment basically threw you into a “child” like category and was disrespectful. Thats the adult thing to do 🙂

    • I, too, have had “young manager discrimination” tossed my way. 5’2″ and 24, sometimes it’s as if people are downright offended that I’m a manager.
      I love your response: “What, you mean one with a penis or one with five more inches in height? Or both?” I wish I could reply that way sometimes… sigh.

  11. While I’m short, petite, & look young for my age, I learned from my mom early on to deflect this. She has the exact same problem, & ppl often mistake us for sisters (ok, she did have me when she was pretty young, but good genes also mean she’s aged very gracefully). She has always overcompensated at work by dressing more seriously — suits, blazers, & “in charge” clothes from day one, no matter the office job, even when she was just starting out. Some of my earliest memories are of her kicking off her heels & throwing her suit jacket off when she came home from work.

    From my 1st job out of college, I dressed better than I had to. I’m in super-casual Silicon Valley, but I almost never come to work in jeans & Ts like a lot of ppl do. I dress business causal to project authority, esp. if I have meetings or I’m giving a training or will be interacting with anyone senior or who I need to impress. This really works! It doesn’t have to be expensive or complicated either — read up on some fashion blogs (I humbly submit my own; click my name above), buy simple tailored pieces, even vintage or thrift-store pieces that fit well.

    Give the impression that you’re a Serious Adult, that you’re in the big leagues, & the “cute” & “little” comments will eventually fall away. Humans are visual creatures, so the image matters.

    • My dad is 5′ 2″ and normally soft spoken but some of the first advice he recieved for his job in which he needs to project authority is dress more formally. I, also 5′ 2″ but a woman, have found this a very effective strategy.

    • I’m in Silicon Valley too, and usually wear (well-fitting) jeans, boots, a t-shirt and jacket/sweater. I’m gradually phasing in some nicer clothes, but after looking through your blog I have to say I’m very impressed with how you dress and present yourself. You look very grown-up and polished but still have your own fun style.

      • Thanks! I do work hard at it, & I have to start over at every new job, even as I get older. I have to prove myself with my work & my image, but after a few months, the new company gets it, & I can let loose if I want (then again, I’ve found I enjoy dressing up, it feels good to me in a lot of ways).

  12. I’m also a short, 27-year old woman with young looks. I’m an IT consultant and a volunteer tax preparer, and I get a lot of “when do you graduate?” and “are you old enough to be doing this?”. What’s helped me is:

    1) Try to dress in a very polished way; even though I don’t like it, heels, makeup, blow-dried hair, and a blazer make me look older and more serious.
    2) Good posture (a struggle, but I’m working on it), confident eye contact, and a firm handshake
    3) Working to lower my voice and avoid uptalk
    4) Addressing it first, in some situations – when I sit down with a tax client, I say something like “I know I look like I’m 18, but I’ve been doing this for five years and have advanced-level certification, so don’t be scared!” and we laugh it off. I try to defend myself by referencing my experience and not my age; I don’t want to contribute to the idea that younger people are automatically less capable.
    5) If they mention something, try not to take it personally; I just smile and say “yes, I’ve been married for 4 years” or “actually, I graduated from there several years ago – it set me up well for my career.”

    It isn’t fair, but it could be worse. Good luck, OP and fellow youthful-looking professionals!

    • 3) Working to lower my voice and avoid uptalk

      I was about to write this. There is probably very little you can do on your end to stop people from classifying you as young. But this is a piece of your presentation that is under your control. (Besides which, I would say this to any woman of any size or age who wants to be taken seriously.) No uptalk. Lower your pitch. Take lessons if you must, but these undermine the speaker.

      • I’m a linguist, and generally speaking uptalk is just a speech marker that you are a woman. Older women do not do this as much, as their cohort did not adapt this particular speech marker over time as it developed. (Though many middle-aged women will use this to sound younger.)
        So in my mind, by avoiding uptalk, you’re really sounding “not” woman – or in other words, sounding like a man. And unfortunately, men still garner more authority in business.

        • Dude, uptalk is like, so 90s. It’s all about the vocal fry now.

          But in all seriousness, it is shitty that higher-pitched and more feminine voices are considered less “professional.” For men or women both.

        • Of course, uptalk (raising the pitch at the end of the sentence) also makes you sound like you’re from Australia. Or Bristol.

          *linguist geek out time*

          • Admittedly, I’m talking from the perspective of an American. Linguistic variance can mean decidedly different things depending on region. *nod*

          • I believe it’s a female marker in Britain too, generally.

            But also just always makes me think of my Australian friend Tom. 🙂

  13. I’m 28, quite short and a lawyer.

    I also often get mistaken for being quite young. At least 3 times, I’ve had randoms collecting for charity or something similar show up at my house and ask if my parents are home. That, I can deal with and generally tell them I own the house and make them feel super awkward. I also don’t mind being carded (our drinking age is 18) almost constantly, again it is their job, and I know I look young.

    At work, we have a pretty laid back atmosphere and my boss has nicknames for everyone, mine is Travelocity (as in the gnome) because I’m short, again this, I don’t mind because it isn’t used in front of anyone who doesn’t work at the firm, and he has never meant it condescendingly.

    What is not acceptable is other lawyers treating me differently because I look young. I have the same education and qualifications as all of them.

    Once I was assisting my boss on a questioning (like a deposition) and the other lawyer walked in, my boss introduced me as his colleague (and I was in a full suit) and she asked me how old I was because she wanted to make sure I was old enough to be involved. My bosses’ response was that I was a lawyer and it didn’t matter how old I was, but by the way I was 12 with the sarcasm dripping from his voice. I piped up and said “actually I’m 13”, which shut the lawyer up on the other side pretty quickly.

    • I’m also a young female lawyer, and for some reason my problem is always with my clients. I think most of the legal profession understands training & professionalism, and so it’s not bad so long as I act competent. But I’ve heard some really rude comments about myself come from my clients.

      • I get the “are you sure you are a lawyer, you look too young to be doing this” at which point I explain when I graduated from school (4 years ago) and that I’ve had quite a bit of experience, and that I actually look a lot younger than I am.

        • That’s basically the response I get from court security guards. Most of them ask to see my Bar card. I happily give it over, since lawyers have the super power of entering courthouses without anything more stringent than going through the metal detector. I even get to keep my phone in Federal buildings. Win!

  14. I am almost 46 years old, still look younger than my age, have 2 kids (9 and 11), and I’m 5’0″ in my stocking feet. I am still ignored in stores and am frequently treated like a child. I’m taken seriously at work because I make a point of being aggressively competent. But I am aware that my lack of height is a defining characteristic. “Short” is one of the first words people use to describe me. It was always thus, and thus it shall ever be.

  15. Yes, I definitely agree – it does feel like discrimination. I’m 5’2” and 25, and though I don’t feel like I look that young, I am often assumed to be in high school.
    I hear the same comments at work – I heard that a woman at my job in a pretty high position referred to me as “that cute little girl”, while at the same time complimenting me on a good idea I had – but I’d rather be known for the good idea, not my tiny-ness 🙁
    Also, for the most part I’m fairly quiet but if I have an opinion I will speak it – and when I do it seems there is always someone surprised, and usually say something to the effect of “oh you’re feisty for such a little thing!” All for just speaking my mind! Usually I write it off like, “Well when you’re this small, you have to know how to fight back!” But the fact that I have to make an excuse for it is infuriating.

    Ugh. At least we know we’re not alone!

  16. I completely understand the suggestions about dressing in a way that is more polished or more professional than those colleagues who don’t suffer from looking-too-young (or being female). But on the other hand, I hate that the world is that way! I have male colleagues who can comfortably teach their classes in light-wash jeans and flip-flops without comprising the position they have in the classroom. If I dressed less professionally, everyone would immediately assume I was a student, which is really not what you want when you are teaching a class. At heart, I am a very casual person, but I feel like I have to dress more professionally than most of my colleagues. So, that means I’m never truly comfortable.

    • Agreed! My version can be a little more casual, at least, but there are still boundaries for what would look “acceptable.” I’m the only female engineer at a small company in Silicon Valley, and the men’s dress ranges from cargo pants and nerdy graphic tees, to short sleeve button-downs with jeans. I’m not too out of place, but in addition to being the only woman other than our office manager, I’m also the youngest by about 5 years. There’s no way I’d be able to wear the unisex graphic t-shirts or ripped jeans I wore in college, but in this area the men could without clients doubting their skills. Luckily I like looking a bit more polished, but I’d love to wear my hair in braids since it keeps it out of the way and untangled. Sadly I would absolutely not feel comfortable doing that, especially if I had to meet with clients, because pigtail braids just read as little girl. Blech.

      • Have you tried some of the amazing updo braids on YouTube? Crown braids & stuff? I don’t have long hair right now, but I love the heck out of those styles – very fantasy elf queen, imo, super cool! Would be practical yet polished when worn with a structured jacket & jeans.

        • Oh, those look lovely! I actually just booked a haircut a few minutes ago, but when my hair grows out again I’ll have to practice that for days I don’t need to wear a bike helmet.

      • Can you do one french braid in the back? I do that a lot and it works well. I think it looks polished and kind of architecturally dignified if it’s a sleek one and not a boho style loose one.

        Or you can do a french braid with the tail twisted up into an updo? Same kind of image only even more formal.

        • Definitely a possibility, although my grown-out bangs are too short to stay put (shoulder-length). I just booked a haircut so I can even everything out, and plan to be experimenting with grown-up braids when it’s long again. Good idea!

    • I agree – I don’t wear heels (they hurt my back/knees) and my office is “California business casual” so I wear darkwash jeans, plain gray van sneakers, a fitted (solid color) t-shirt, and a sweater to work most days. I don’t go crazy, but I do wear makeup (basics – mascara, concealer, a little eyeliner).
      I’ve been at my current job for 3.5 years and when I first started I did wear heels and nice slacks/shirts for about 6 months. It was painful for my feet and made me feel like an outsider because everyone else was dressed so much more casually. As I became more comfortable with the company, I started dressing down and being myself more often. If I started “dressing up” now, I would get questions left, right, and center about whether or not I was interviewing somewhere else!

      • As a fellow small person, I definitely agree with all the suggestions that dressing more formally can help, but in the Bay Area, formal looks a lot different than in other places! I’m working in Silicon Valley right now, so I’m familiar with the uniform. You definitely don’t want to go full-on power suit, but you could do flats instead of sneakers or a fitted blazer instead of a sweater. That way you could be comfortable but slightly more adult-y.

        Also, I don’t know if you wear glasses or contacts, but I needed glasses last year for the first time (when I was 29), and I think they are aging me. I get carded much less often at rated R movies now! (Small victories, right?)

        Anyway, you are not alone, and you are not wrong to feel that those types of comments are discriminatory or inappropriate. (Especially in the workplace! What is wrong with people?)

    • In the words of RuPaul – we’re born naked, the rest is drag. Think of it as your corporate work drag. It’s a costume for a role you play, Wants To Be Taken Seriously At Work You. That’s one of your many roles, just like, say, Hot Chick At the Club or Sloppy Gal On The Couch, for example.

      And make the role yours. Think of how many ppl have played Hamlet, but each one is different. Your Serious Adult Work Look can be Serious Adult without being boring or stuffy or uncomfortable. You’ll have to put some time & care into it, but if you’re tired of being called “cute little girl” the result will be worthwhile.

      I wear skull prints & bat jewelry to work with a sheath dress & comfy flats. I’m considered a Serious Adult. Make your own version 🙂

  17. As another short lady, 5′ 1.75″, I have gotten a lot of this too. But for me, the worst is people treating me like the nanny or like a irresponsible teen mother. When I infirm them that I am indeed their 26 year old mother they either tell me I am so lucky to look so young or don’t believe me. I had one woman tell me that I need Jesus for my sinful whoreful loins and lying tongue. I was speechless.

  18. I’m so sorry you had to deal with that crap. I’m on the petite size and occasionally get similar obnoxious comments and I have some colleagues who are shorter than I and get even more annoying comments.
    One of my favorite responses to inappropriate comments from strangers is from Miss Manners, “What an extraordinary thing to say! You must be embarrassed that slipped out.” Calls attention to the fact that they did something rude, but allows them the chance to save face. “Oh my goodness you’re right, I wasn’t thinking, so sorry, etc. etc.”
    In this particular case, it might be useful to present the issue to your boss as a team problem. In a past job, when other department managers would always insist on discussing schedules and other logistics with my tall, male co-supervisor and not me (and made a lot of “you’re so small and cute” comments), I brought it up to our director and presented it as an efficiency issue. She agreed and pushed the other managers to treat us like the equals we were and not treat the tall dude like he was the only supervisor. Lo and behold, I started getting copied on important emails and being able to do my job better! If you are being presented as weak and inefficient, that is a problem for your whole team. I assume your supervisor wants people to treat all of her team as competent professionals…and her comment, while probably not intentionally malicious, hurts her team. That could be a useful way to present it. Appealing to someone as an ally and feeding their ego a tiny bit often helps–again, allow them to save face and to feel that they are on the same team as you, which is ultimately what you want, generally.
    Other than that, I reiterate the advice of others. I wear a lot of blazers and generally try to look put together and in charge. It won’t deter those that are determined to treat you badly, but I do find that it helps mitigate a bit of that.

  19. I plan to fully utilize my youth: look like you’re still in college? Sit in on a lecture! Sometimes I look like I could still be in high school. But my boyfriend is a high school teacher, so I don’t get hassled when I go visit him after school at his clubs’ meetings! Sort of awesome.
    When I substitute teach, I make a game out of how many teachers & dean’s assistants eyeball me or ask where I’m supposed to be. It’s even funnier because I’m more well-dressed than any of the regular staff!

    • Definitely true. I can hang out in the campus coffee shop without people wondering what I’m doing there (profs at my school have occasional meetings there but few if any actually sit and do work there, which I enjoy doing).

      And as I noted in the post about being an “aging weirdo,” my boyfriend and I can stay in hostels without being the “weird guy” and “weird old lady” in the hostel because we look like everyone else staying there.

    • I’m in this camp too–at (almost!) 5’2″ I’ve always been the short girl in class, always sat in the front row for school concerts & photos, etc. While I used to HATE being called cute when I was growing up (I’m a big girl! gaaah!) it’s more and more of a compliment now. I’ve embraced my petite stature as just another characteristic that makes me unique–and I like that I’m not ever hidden in the back of group photos.

      I think I might have developed my ability to stand up for myself and assert my opinions as a result of not wanting to be mistaken for a diminutive doormat, so I don’t have to deal with much condescension. And those who don’t know me learn pretty quickly I’m stronger than I look (mentally & physically, in the sport I play). Plus, the older I get the more I appreciate always being mistaken for being so much younger than I am–I love seeing the surprise on people’s faces, from bouncers to cashiers to a new eye doctor who recently said “since you’re still so young–” and then he glanced at my chart and stumbled, “oh! well, you’re still relatively young…” When you still get carded at 35 years old, it’s a great day! We spend the first 21 years of our lives trying to look older, and the rest all trying to look younger, so the way I look at it we’re on the lucky end of the spectrum.

  20. I don’t really have any advice, but I sympathize :-/ Being on the smallish size I get a lot of comments assuming I’m feeble and delicate (and yeah, granted, I AM out of shape and kind of a weakling, but still.) A lot of times people don’t take my anger seriously, treating it more like I’m a grumpy kitten and therefore adorable. It hasn’t been a huge issue- I tend to say awkward and sometimes accidentally rude things so “not taking me seriously” has actually probably has benefitted me on occasion, and the people in my life who are important to me know when to snap out of it and listen to what I’m saying. But it is…weird. And a bit annoying.

    I have learned that black hair/black clothes/chronic bitchface shuts a lot of people up, though. But only if you can manage to cross the line from “goth-kawaii” to “kinda scary.” ;-P

  21. It happens to guys, too. My boyfriend is about 5 feet tall and looks every inch an adult with grey in his beard and stylish clothes. I’m 5’7″. More times than not, when the host(ess) at a restaurant greets us, he/she will talk to me, even though I’m standing behind my man. The best thing I can do is look away and break eye contact – it forces them to talk to him without me saying a word.

    It’s a passive trick I picked up on from reading OBBride – how to handle vendors who insist on talking to the bride only even though the groom is right there.

  22. Whether we like it or not, people’s views of us are affected by our appearances. This is just truth. You can rail against it and shake your fist at the glass ceiling, or you can accept that’s how it is and work within the realm of people’s expectations. You can push the limits a little at a time (like the article on OBH about dressing goth at work) and slowly get things to change, but you can only do that if you aren’t getting pissed off at people for not changing all at once.

    Can I also say that it’s kind of sad that instead of focusing on the FUCKING AWESOME things your bosses said about you, you’re focusing on the one not-even negative thing? Dude, she said you help them so much; why do you choose to focus on the “little person” part? If you can’t change your circumstances, change your attitude. Walk a few inches taller because you’re crazy valued at work.

    • You’re right – I deserved that one. I know how much my direct boss values me, and we have a great relationship. My boss’s boss is newer to the company and I’m a little unsure of her (for various reasons…some heard through the grapevine, some witnessed first hand) so I think I was perhaps a little unfairly or overly critical of what she said about me. I don’t work with her directly, so it seemed odd that she would jump in and say anything at all – I certainly wasn’t expecting that.
      It’s nice to know that my reputation is known to her. I guess I just wish that it wasn’t qualified in any way. What she said was a negative to me. I know it may seem like a total non-problem, but it’s something I’m working on.

      • Actually, the more I thought about my comment, the more I thought I was too harsh. So thanks for agreeing with me, but I’m sorry that I sounded like a bitch.

        What my opinion boils down to is, yes, it’s totally unfair that people would judge you based on your height (and I’m so saddened that theatre people would be some of the worst offenders). But people will always judge people based on their appearances. Unfortunately, you’re being judged for something you can’t change that you didn’t choose (as opposed to your hair or tattoos or implants). Working on your attitude is absolutely the best way to keep yourself from stressing out about it, and I agree with the previous commenters that if this happens again, you should tell your boss that what she said is demeaning. But I’m hoping it was one-time only event that she immediately regretted. If she’s anything like me, then she’s probably nervous and trying to prove herself too, and that likely resulted in her saying something she didn’t mean to say.

        • to piggyback on this–sometimes people’s comments about someone can sound judgemental or negative, but they may very well be purely descriptive. You stand out from the crowd because you’re short, that’s just a fact. So by describing you by your physical appearance it quickly establishes who they are talking about, no harm intended (also, assuming it is an insult is based on the idea that being short is a bad thing… which I think most average or tall people wouldn’t even realize it could be taken this way. Only us short folks are a bit over sensitive to it). Kind of like if there’s only one black guy in a room of white guys… instead of beating around the bush and saying “the guy with the… blue shirt on…” because you’re afraid of being perceived as racist, just say it was the black guy! That kind of conversational PC paralysis drives me bonkers.

          All I’m saying is I understand what it’s like to be sensitive about this, but take a step back & look at it from a bit further away and know that when someone describes you as short it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an insult.

          • Dude, YES. I was trying to describe a guy the other day who was short, brown (not black), and appeared gay. How the hell do I do that while being PC?

          • That is completely valid and I admit I’ve fallen into the “oh the guy…with the…khakis on?” trap before. But, in the scenario I described, it seemed unnecessary for her to point out my stature as I was clearly the person being referenced (I was actively shaking the guy’s hand when she was speaking).
            Maybe if I had left the room or something and they were trying to describe me, then yes, short and capable are utterly accurate descriptors!

  23. Also, a Shakespeare quote for you, “Though she be but little, she is fierce.” You can make this your motto (and get tons of awesome stuff with this quote from Etsy).

  24. Fellow shortie here as well.

    Once my brother said when my mom got angry about something our uncle did, it was like “a little kid sister throwing an tantrum because she didn’t get her way.” Which, way to insult both your mother and our little sister and women everywhere at the same time, dude. My brother makes me ragey. He doesn’t treat women poorly, per se, but he often mansplains things, speaks for his fiance when she could speak for herself, and has that general “I must take care of my women” attitude that is condescending as fuck. Sorry that got a little ranty and off topic…

  25. My mother had this problem. She’s petite and looked young, but she found that once her hair started turning silver people take her a LOT more seriously. Also she invested in voice coaching (she’s a minister) to help her learn to speak more authoritatively, and that helped a lot too.

    I have the opposite problem–I’m tall, I grew fast and I “developed early” which led to a lot of deeply uncomfortable moments when people (especially adult males) thought I was a LOT older than I actually was. When I actually dressed my age people didn’t take me seriously or look at me as an actual person because of that whole “girls with big boobs are obviously stupid and slutty” thing, and when I dressed in a way that minimized that, everyone thought I was Srs Adult and wouldn’t interact with me like I was a peer.

    No matter who you are and what you do, some people are gonna treat you weird, I think.

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