Asians’ Youthful Looks: A Blessing or A Curse In Disguise?

A good number of Asians tend to look way younger beyond their years. Glance at an Asian person in their mid-twenties and chances are they look like a teen. Or at an Asian woman in her thirties and she’ll look like an early-twenty-something graduate.

Perhaps Asians have good genes and that’s why many of us look young. Or perhaps it’s because we eat rice/noodles so often, food that has yet-to-be-discovered anti-aging properties. You never know.

These Asians can pass off as teenagers. Asians often look young from behind. Perhaps it's because of their short stature and the way they dress? Photo: Mabel Kwong

These Asians can pass off as teenagers. Asians often look young from behind. Perhaps it’s because of their short stature and the way they dress? Photo: Mabel Kwong

These Asians can pass off as teenagers. Asians often look young from behind. Perhaps it’s because of their short stature and the way they dress? Photo: Mabel Kwong

I can relate. I’m one of those Asians who look young for my age. I’ve talked about this with my Asian friends who are in the same boat, and we agree there are pros and cons to this phenomenon. But the latter seems more outstanding.

One of the few pros of looking young for an Asian person who is say, twenty or thirty something, is, well, looking young. One doesn’t have wrinkly or saggy skin. Youthful, fair complexions are constantly sought after by many Asians through anti-aging beauty products, so looking naturally young would be a blessing for these people, maybe even equating towards more self confidence for them.

Another plus looking young is the opportunity to get meal discounts. I’ve dined at buffets in South East Asia and there have been occasions where the waiters charged me child price without question. An unethical way of saving money for the eternally penny-pinching Asian.

On the flipside, appearing younger than one’s actual age instigates repetitive, sometimes annoying questions that are distractions from daily plans. When I shop here in Melbourne, Caucasian salespeople exclaim, “You look so young! What do you eat?”. I always find it hard to respond because I eat three filling meals a day just like any other food-mad (Asian) person and I really want to get a T-shirt in my size.

Another downside for an Asian person who has an eternally youthful face includes exclusion at times from social activities. It is common for adult Asians who look young to get mistaken as very young teens by Caucasians; these Caucasians see the former as “kids” they’d rather not socialise with. When I meet Caucasian-Australians here in Melbourne, quite often I get the impression they have no intention of hanging out with me. I’ve been in situations where we meet for the first time, and they would look me up-down and struggle to say to something me. And I can see them thinking, “Oh, so Asianly cute. So innocent. Let’s leave her alone.” And then they amble off to do adult Aussie things such as getting a drink sans me. But maybe it’s a race thing?

Such discrimination also extends to the workforce. When an Asian person in their twenties who looks like they’ve barely finished high school goes for an interview, there is every chance middle-aged employers will reckon they are simply too young for the job.

Such is how an image-oriented society operates today. I’ve been to interviews and upon making eye contact for the first time with my potential employers, they stop for a second in their tracks – looking surprised at how “young” I am. Once, one of my Caucasian interviewees greeted me with, “Hi, are you still in school?” when I walked through the doors. This generates the idea that looking fresh-faced can possibly instill in some narrow-minded Anglo-Saxon employers the stereotype that Asians are all young – naïve and passive.

At the end of the day, there are so many more important things than fretting over looks: focusing on achieving personal goals in life. Giving a donation to a starving kid in Africa.

And that’s my stance on this whole Asians-looking-young-issue: physical looks are just one part of what makes us us.

Embrace youthful looks. And learn to accept it in the face of all of the cons to looking young for a person of Asian ethnicity.

As dancing violinist / YouTuber Lindsey Stirling who now performs to sold-out crowds after being told that what she does would not catch on said, When you do what you love, people are drawn to you”. Complaining about youthful looks won’t get us anywhere achievements-and-personal-development-wise. But focusing on improving and believing in our personal skills does.

What’s a young face without a hard-working character?

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41 thoughts on “Asians’ Youthful Looks: A Blessing or A Curse In Disguise?

      • Hi Mabel… stumbled on your blog by accident and hoo boy, i feel like I’ve found a kindred spirit! I can definitely relate to this post – being Malaysian with Chinese descent, employed in an ‘all white’ workplace in Melbourne, I am frequently viewed as the ‘baby’ of the company despite my age. Of course, now that my colleagues know me much better they know that my physical outlook does not reflect the level my maturity. Unfortunately for me, due to certain cultural differences – such as not using swear words/ not sharing the same love for after work bar-hopping and drinking sessions with my colleagues still positions me in the ‘sweet little innocent asian’ box….

        Oh well, but I have learnt to embrace my individuality and cash in on comments regarding my youthful experience. 😉

        Happy to have found your blog – I’ll be dropping by more often!

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        • Hello Amanda. It sounds like we’re very similar in many ways. And you’re living in Melbourne currently, I’m guessing. “‘sweet little innocent asian’ box” I never thought of labeling myself as that but you know what, I think I fit that description and I have no shame in being associated with it. It’s hard sometimes in the workforce, looking young. I remember when I first started a job earlier this year, I was introduced around to my team. One of my colleagues looked so stunned when he shook my hand…from the look on his face, it was obvious that he was thinking, “Wow, what a small young person.” But now my colleagues have got past this and have welcomed me as part of the team.

          Completely relate to your sentiments of not hanging out at bars and drinking after work. I’d rather spend my time at home writing or playing video games. A lot of the time you’ll hear (local) colleagues talking about relationship dramas too. As one of my Asian friends previously said along these lines, “We may be boring and don’t do much, but we don’t have all the drama they have.”

          Thanks for stopping by and commenting, Amanda. Glad we’ve connected and hope to see you around 🙂

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  1. I got to say that you’ve been in Australia too long. You are now seeing a mature look as potentially higher in status that the youthful one. When I was in China, I used to refer to myself as an old man. I even had a cane and cardigan to go with my old man persona. I identified with it because I think old men are cool. They are comfortable in themselves and in their slippers, but Chinese men who were older than me kept saying I was not old and couldn’t really understand why I liked the idea of being old.

    I always found the Asian obsession with youthfulness quite ironic when paired with the Confucian idea of respecting the elderly.

    Anyway, you are correct. Asians age very well and even when they are relatively old they look relatively young.

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    • Unfortunately, looking mature has always been equated with a higher status, just as looking young is linked to naivety. This is a general consensus among society (probably borne from the notion that the older you are, the more wisdom you acquire), which I don’t believe in at all. I think it’s a ridiculous idea.

      Yes, Asians are always thought to respect the elderly, so that would mean respecting mature looks and appearances. Perhaps they just don’t see mature looks as beautiful…in this shallow society.

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      • Personally I think we will have to disagree on our attitudes to the wisdom of the elderly. I think wisdom does come with age, well, it did with me anyway. I truly cringe when I think about how I was when I was younger. I think when I was younger, I was more arrogant and believed I knew everything, but with time I came to appreciate the Confucian idea that true wisdom is to know the extent of your ignorance. For example, when I was 16, I went on a date wearing a white tank top, stretch black jeans, no shoes and I had a mullet. I thought I looked cool but the relationship didn’t progress and with age, I now have the wisdom to appreciate why.

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  2. Interesting insight. I do agree that in the end, looks are just a small bit of the equation.

    How people carry themselves matter too. You may look young but if you speak and act beyond your years, people will soon change their opinion. But then now, we have come to the era where real young people – ie. teens are entering different important arenas such an invention, business and social entrepreneurship despite their age.

    In the past, corporations wouldn’t even engage young people seriously and seniority plays a major role in one’s importance. Times have changed.

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    • Thanks strawbelries. I agree with you there. To add on to your point: new technologies such as social media have provided a space for young people to put their ideas and opinions out there, furthering their ambitions to create businesses and be entrepreneurs. There is definitely the opportunity for young people to create a serious, professional images of themselves through these online spaces, as well as engage with the so many corporations who use these platforms too.

      And, I reckon young people have to believe in themselves that they can contribute to society and shine if they want the older demographics to take them seriously 🙂

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  3. Great post, Mabel. I’ve known that Asians tend to look younger, and have met quite a few myself. I know a girl in Taiwan who is my same age, but I would have sworn she was still in high school. Society does tend to be shallow, and youthfulness is always prized. I myself wouldn’t mind always being thought younger than I am… So, if people think you look younger than your age, impress them by engaging them in conversation and showing them who you are! And of course a good work ethic is always important. That goes without saying.

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    • Thanks Jessica. I look at other Asians on the street all the time (they’re everywhere here in Melbourne’s CBD) and the majority of them look no more than 21 or 22 years old. I guess we’re in the same boat – I love it when people think I am younger than I am.

      I tend to say the quirkiest things, leading to people to think that I am indeed a kid. But this always gives them something to remember about me 🙂

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  4. A Singaporean friend of mine who studies at Melbourne Uni was boarding a flight from Singapore to Melbourne earlier this year where the check in agent asked “How old are you? Do you need an escort to the plane?” Hahaha! I find this particularly silly as she would have had to show her passport to check in, and the check in agent could have just looked at her date of birth.

    I’m white but I look much younger than I am, and I have always found it to be much more of an annoyance than a benefit.

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    • Hahaha, your friend was caught in a funny situation there! It’s funny how so many people judge someone’s age just solely based on looks.

      I suppose you get a lot of people – Asians, Caucasians etc. – saying that you look young, and insist that you are young all the time. I get this a lot too, especially when I wear bright colourful T-shirts. I don’t usually find it annoying. More amusing. But of course I am no longer amused when people start speaking/treating me like a kid.

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  5. Pingback: Asians’ Youthful Looks: A Blessing or A Curse In Disguise? | Yeon Young flavors

  6. I think the conception of Asians looking young is due to we’re less curvy (Asian women in this case), hence, in the case of being in late 20s and early 30s still give the impression of being a teenager.
    I’m curvier compared to most Chinese Americans. Filling out in pencil skirts/dresses enable me to look more comparable in age to my Caucasian and Black counterparts. On the other hand, my fiancee who is a caucasian has already shown signs of aging (he’s only33)! I put lotion on him at night to “protect my investment”! He has smile lines just like his parents already!!!

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    • That’s a very good suggestion, I’ve never really thought of it that way. Being of thin build and Asian usually gives people the impression that we’re somewhat young, young like small kids. It’s quite true that a number of Caucasian males often look older beyond their years, like in your fiance’s case. Perhaps it’s because they tend to go out in the sun a lot or it’s the food that they eat. Or maybe it’s just genetic. Your guess is as good as mine’s.

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  7. I understand your point completely. Although I am not Asian, I look very young for my age and some of my friends too. I can easily pass for being ten years younger. It is what you make of it. I make of it a blessing. I have a joyful giggle inside everytime someone mistakes my outside appareance for my inside persona and I can see the surprise in their eyes when this strong and fierce woman (me 🙂 ) starts speaking. 😀
    And you completely had me with Lindsey Sterling I did a post with her music last week I think, reblogged post from my fourth post EVER. She is amazing and I love her music 🙂

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    • You actually look very young in your photo, Ivy. It’s great that you take this positively and I do too. It’s so amusing to cheerily tell someone you *this age* and see the look on their face. We’re catching them off-guard completely and if we’re talking to someone we’ve just met, this can be an ice-breaker. Sounds like you’ve been in many situations like this – always fun – and I’m sure you’ll have many more come your way too.

      I love Lindsey Stirling too! She inspires me so much. I got a new phone recently and have her as my lock screen photo 🙂 I saw your reblog, hope to check out more of your posts soon. Just been very busy with work these two weeks 😛

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      • I have actually once picked up a phone and it was a survey and I didn’t want to answer so in my best child-like voice I said that no one older is home 😄 So I guess I got into the role when it suits me lol… But yet I was so frustrated when boys my age didn’t notice me bc they thought I was too young 🙂

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        • Hahaha! I guess if we look young, sometimes we sound young too. That has happened to me too. There have been a number of occasions when I’ve picked up a phone and said, “Hello”, and then a telemarketer asked if my parents were at home. The last time this happened was last year 🙂 Oh yes, boys my age and older not noticing us. Oh well 😀

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          • Hahahaha yeah… Very well explained. Ahhhh, what can we do… 🙂 I was frustrated before, now I am happy because when I would be 30 no one will give me 30 😀

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  8. What I hate about looking young is I have to bring my ID just to have fun with my friends in bars
    and just earlier I wanted to get drunk and buy liquor but the sales lady asked for my ID >_< and people wouldn't take me seriously and always making fun of me.

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    • That’s not very nice to hear, babyface. But I’m sure they mean no harm. Usually it’s a swift process – hand over your ID, the salesperson glances over at it for two seconds and gives you your purchase or lets you in to the bar area. Better than getting rejected!

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  9. I haven’t figured out if I look a lot younger than my age… I blog-celebrated my 55th this yr. So maybe I’m as old as ….your mother, Mabel? 🙂 You can tell her, that lots of women her age cycle several times per week. Some of them cycle across Canada and that’s over 5,000 km. I think it’s my diet and lifestyle that makes me look abit younger/petite, not necessarily Asian genes.

    But have you noticed the skin quality of a lot Asian women….it doesn’t seem as papery…hence prone to wrinkles.

    Ah, I have some wrinkles….sun from cycling despite sun block and some family tragedies. But yes, I realize a lot of women envy me not for being young looking, but for looking healthy. That’s all. That’s more important –your health. Being healthy and looking healthy is most the significant and useful fashion statement you can make. Everything else falls into place –young at heart, etc.

    As for hiring, etc. : depends how one carries themselves in the workplace, their self expression, etc. So I don’t entirely agree with you –it’s not young /naïve looking but if they see you as contributing to their workplace culture in corporate cultural fit, etc.

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    • Yes, Jean. You look way younger than your age. I would never have guessed that (maybe a few years less or more), but I’m bad at guessing people’s age anyway. You are so right, you fit right into my parents’ generation 🙂 Maybe it IS all the cycling that makes you look young, the exercise, healthy diet, maybe even cycling clothes that make you look much younger beyond your years. I always thought cyclists tend to look older as they have dry wind blowing back in their faces all the time, dry wind that can dry out a face and give it wrinkles. Now, not so.

      Can’t agree more that health is the most important thing in life. Without health, you really can’t get around and do much. In terms of the workforce, most of the time if you’re the right cultural and social fit for the job, you tend to be a shoe in into the company, regardless of how young or old you look. I’ve landed jobs through recruiters, not having done interviews with my employers. So when I went to work on the first day and shook hands with my colleagues, they all looked shocked at how young I look. But then they got over it.

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      • Funny…I can imagine the employers’ response to meeting you for lst time. I definitely don’t get that type of response. I’m probably very serious in demeanour.

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  10. Yes, me too! I look especially young even compared with other HK-Chinese women. Sometimes, young western guys approach me but I feel rather embarrassed inside. They are too young for me yet they are so good-looking that I feel irresistible. Being a traditional Chinese and so affected by Confucian culture, I have to avoid any further relationship with these young men. So painful!

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    • You look young too? Maybe it’s an Asian thing. Sometimes I do get Western guys approach me and sadly…yeah, they are too young. But I’m sure they mean well and just don’t ask more than a date 😀 On the downside, looking young all the time can sometimes give us unwanted attention from older men, so we have to be wary about strangers approaching us.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Interesting readーit’s a perspective I’ve never thought about. Although I’m sometimes mistaken to be younger, it’s only by a couple of years, so it’s just the right amount of be flattering without being problematic.

    As much as many of the experiences you mentioned must be incredibly frustrating, I love how you ended on a positive note, with a shift in focus. It *is* our personal development and goals that need our attention, not our looks. 🙂

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    • That’s great you are mistaken as younger than your age 😀 While it’s nice to look young, yes, it’s also frustrating. Sometimes when meeting new people, they’ll assume I’m twelve or a teenager and treat me like one, and talk to me as if I can’t carry a conversation about hard-hitting stuff, like racism and the law.

      Still, the way we carry ourselves – and treat others – is the most important thing 🙂

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  12. Pingback: “Is he your foreign exchange student?” When you’re a white woman who looks older than her Asian husband | Speaking of China

  13. Ahh yes! youthfulness. I also see our (Asian) youthfulness as a blessing and curse. Blessing because you still look young (ageless), curse because they don’t take you seriously because you are young (ouch!).

    I was once asked for my age (I’m currently in my mid-30s), and I said I’m 27. No questions asked, they believed it. So now, when someone asks me for my age, I say “my age stopped at 27.”
    I was also asked “has the school started?”, they thought I was a student. I just smiled and said, “I’m not studying anymore, I’m working”.

    So for me, I’m just savoring the compliments. Keep them coming! 🙂

    Like

    • So true that when we look young others might not take us seriously. In fact, that may get in the way of meeting other people. Then again, I think most of us would rather be friends with those who appreciate our personality rather than our looks.

      Haha, love how you respond to those questions with great humour. Our age is actually a nosy question, though. Some people are quick to judge 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Pingback: When Asians Look Younger Than Their Age | Katie Kuo

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