The Social Faux Pas You Probably Never Thought About

It may come across as a surprise to most of you that one of the best feelings I ever had was when I walked into Momma Goldberg’s recently and the guy at the register asked me if I wanted a cold beer. Was it because I wanted a cold beer? No, because I don’t drink. Was it because he was cute? No, but he was kind of cute. Why was that such a good feeling? Because he recognized that I was at least 21, which happened to be exactly how old I was at the time. Points for that guy!

Sometimes people make statements or ask questions that are somehow meant to be friendly conversation makers or be remotely funny in some way, but they aren’t. And I think if people actually thought about what they were saying, a lot of things wouldn’t be said to me.

When you see someone who is overweight, do you tell them just how fat you think they are? Just so you all know, Microsoft Word does not even recognize the word “fat” as an acceptable word option for the way I just used it in the previous sentence. Do you go around asking people where they go and shop for their clothes because you can’t imagine where they could find clothes that massive? Do you tell them they need to buy a treadmill? Do you tell them they wouldn’t be able to have healthy children because of their size? Do you tell them they eat like a mammoth? Do you do all of this without even bothering to find out who they are in the first place? Do you even know whether they have brought this upon themselves or if they have an actual medical condition, take a medicine, or deal with life stresses that create their situation?

So if you said yes to that, do you also walk through the hall at a hospital where chemo patients are getting their treatments and point and yell at them, “Baldies, baldies!”?

Do you also openly tell people if you think they’re butt ugly and will never get married?

I hope not. But if you do any of those things, it doesn’t matter if you say you’re “kidding” or not…you’re a jerk for saying such things.

Many times, when I express my distaste for people’s inconsiderate remarks, people misunderstand my hurt feelings as sensitivity to being who/how I am. Not so at all. I don’t know any differently, so I’m perfectly fine with who I am and how tall I am. It gets on my nerves that it seems to be such a big deal to everyone else. My stature would absolutely NOT be an issue at all if other people didn’t make it a big deal…because it is not a big deal to me. So my frustration is not with myself. It’s that I have no idea how to handle such blatantly disrespectful comments from people I don’t even know at completely random times. It’s basically the same thing as this:

Sometimes friends will say, “Well, they’re just not thinking about what they’re saying.” Yeah, I know that. That’s what the problem is. They’re supposed to…they’re adults, for crying out loud!

So, Rule Number 1: Consider your words before you speak them. And, don’t preface what you think might be funny with, “No offense, but…”

If you think it could be offensive, you won’t say it. Lying about it just makes you twice the jerk.

Rule Number 2: If you’re going to ask a question, expect to get the real answer.

“Like a maniac who shoots fiery darts and deadly arrows—that’s what someone is like who lies to his neighbor and then says, ‘I was only joking, wasn’t I?’” Proverbs 26:18-19

Here are a few things I’ve been told in the past few years in connection with my small stature:

“And now you’re in sixth grade, so that’s four years, right?” (I was a college freshman at the time, calculating how many years I had played piano to someone who had overheard me playing, someone I didn’t even know)

“What grade are you in? You look like a kid!”

“What does Auburn University offer to little girls?”

“You’re so small, you don’t need but half an office space.”

The Reality…just a few little fun facts about me:

I am 22 years old.

I have played the piano for as long as eighth graders have been alive.

In case you’ve ever asked, yes…I hit puberty. A WHOLE DECADE ago. If I got raped, I could actually have a real baby. I am capable of bringing a human being into this world with my body (the body that belongs to me that apparently looks like a kid). R-e-s-p-e-c-t.

I have a Bachelor’s degree.

I graduated from Auburn (University) a year ago.

While I was in college, I walked almost everywhere I went, even if I didn’t have to, while carrying around a backpack that was often about half my own body weight. Can you do that?

I also walked as quickly as everyone else, which meant I walked twice or triply as much as everyone else.

I did well in college. A lot of people don’t, and most of the ones I knew who didn’t were older than me.

I searched for and found my purpose while in college. A lot of people don’t do that…ever.

Mentally and emotionally, I grew up while in college. A lot of people don’t do that either.

Through it all, I was a mistake maker, and still am. That’s one aspect of life no one is exempt from.

I live on my own now.

I’m old enough to get a hotel room.

I think about things like buying a house within the next few years, or saving for retirement.

I work 8-5 at a real job.

For my real job, I wear clothes that I pick out all by myself every morning—clothes that I bought when shopping all by myself in the petite section at a nice department store, usually in a mall. Obviously, I didn’t get lost, and if I did, well…looking like a minor isn’t enough to make me one.

If I went missing, it would take a full 24 hours for me to officially become a “missing person,” and even then, finding me would not be priority to finding someone five+ years younger than me… even if a perpetrator had thought I was a child and attempted to do the same things to me as he would have done to a younger person.

If I ever had to go to court for wrongdoing, I would be tried as an adult, no exception. Looks mean nothing in the courts, folks.

I pay for all but about two bills with the money that I make (money that is made by me), and I will soon be paying for those other two as well. That money (that I make) goes into a checking account that is in my name, and I can transfer that money into a savings account that is also in my name. I can also write checks! Yipee! I can swipe a debit card and credit card that have my name on them as well.

I drive. I drive myself to work every day. I probably drive more responsibly than many people my age. I can even drive halfway across the country by myself if I want to (and I am going to soon).

I know how to check the oil in my car and add more to it if I need to. I can also change the headlights in my car (and probably more easily than anyone else since my hands are so small)…yeah, be jealous.

I am old enough to have a boyfriend who is in his 30s.

Sometimes men in their 30s are more attracted to me than guys my own age because they, like me, have matured enough to create standards for themselves higher than getting wasted and getting some.

About half of my friends are married now…and have kids.

I cook, clean, do laundry, and own and care for a pet all by myself.

I can do a variety of home repairs on my own. Do you know how to change a door knob or put a door back on its hinges? I do! My next handywoman project is to create an outdoor wheelchair ramp for a friend so she can come into my house (the house that I live in by myself).

I’m scared of bees and wasps and other various creatures that can sting or bite, but I stay pretty sane otherwise. The other day, I wanted Mayfield’s Brown Cow ice cream really bad, so I went to Publix and got it because I could. And then I had it for supper because I could. I still squeal sometimes when I’m excited about things. Even after all these years, nothing gets me going like some good old slapstick comedy. I love animated kids’ films. And I still think it would be cool to be a mermaid. Or a dolphin.

Though I am in so many ways still a kid at heart, I am a woman—a 22-year-old woman—and I have to deal with woman things. I carry adult responsibilities, have adult problems, and make adult choices. And I appreciate when people recognize and encourage me during this time of my life—a time when I have to make hard decisions, face scary things on my own, and deal with the consequences that arise from all of it.

The last thing I need is for someone to belittle or completely disregard all of these facts about me simply because of my appearance. If you must say something about my appearance, I’d rather you simply say, “Wow, you’re pretty short,” and leave it at that, even though I’ve heard that a million and five times… and kind of figured it out myself before anyone ever said it the first time.

When I’m wearing my grown up clothes, grown up shoes, carrying my grown up purse that contains grown up things in it, it’s enough of an insult for someone to tell me I look like a sixth grader to them, even when I’ve just told them I’m an adult. But for them to continue talking to me in that way, as if I actually am a sixth grader…that’s pretty condescending. Have a little respect, people. Quit being jerks.

Short of Fun, Isn’t It?

So I have this issue where I’m really petite—not just short or skinny—but really a miniature adult. Yes, for those of you who know me, I just called myself an adult. Note: That’s because I am one.

Surprise! Happy birthday to me. This year I turned 21. :) Yay

I would say something like, “Okay, so back to my issue”… but that is my issue—people do not perceive me as an adult.

I will say that some of the blame can be attributed to my personality and the way I present myself. I mean, I guess I can’t really blame people for talking to me as if I were a kid when I’m clearly interested in fun kid kinds of things—like smiling and giggling, playing silly games, eating candy…

About a year ago, I was walking down the candy aisle at Target with my mom and stumbled upon some Cadbury eggs… that were extremely on sale. Bubbling over with joy, I exclaimed to my mom that we just HAD to get them. As I reached to grab some from the shelf, a lady passing by interrupted me with, “Don’t get those—they’ll stunt your growth!”

My thoughts in that moment:

Ummm, yeah. TOO LATE!

You would think I’d be used to people speaking down to me by now. I mean, it happens all the time. Well, unfortunately, I am not. This is because some people actually do regard me as an adult.

I know the freedom of adulthood and feel restricted (and therefore offended) when people perceive and talk to me as if I were still a child.

It’s equally complicated to figure out how to respond to people when they do such a thing. Though I usually just laugh it off, there are times that it really hurts my feelings. My primary reaction is to avoid these situations altogether. So how do I go about this?… Well,

Things that I think make me look my age:

  • Wearing makeup…The more, the older, right?
  • Wearing heels.
  • Wearing classy/expensive clothes.
  • Carrying classy/expensive accessories.
  • Carrying myself well: having confidence and good posture
  • Being assertive, outgoing, and conversational.
  • Doing all of the above at the same time.

To my despair, the most hurtful comments that have ever been made toward me were said as I was doing each of those.

You might think it complimentary for people to say things like, “Well, you look like a kid!” or, “You look like you could be 13 or 14 years old,” or, “Shouldn’t you have a parental figure with you or something? You look a little young to be walking around here by yourself.”

Sure, maybe for a day of your life you could get an ego boost out of appearing a bit more youthful. But think about what it would be like to experience, or at least expect, this type of interaction with people every day of your life.

It might be fun to be perceived as a child while you feel like a child and are carelessly doing childish things. But it is not fun to be perceived as a child while you are trying to be taken seriously. Let’s be more specific.

It does not feel good to be thought of as a child when you are:

  • a 21-year-old woman
  • a single 21-year-old woman interested in dating (single) 21-year-old-ish men
  • a 21-year-old woman communicating with potential employers and trying to land a “real” job
  • anyone working your life away trying to make something out of yourself from scratch

Imagine, or remember, being at this point in your life, worrying about your future, and maybe even shedding a few tears with your close friends and relatives, when someone carefully bends down to look you in the eye and say, “Now tell me: What does Auburn University offer to little girls?”

This is called a blow to the ego.

A person’s intentions are not relevant because saying such things is simply inappropriate and unnecessary. However, people will continue to speak very condescendingly, usually without realizing it. And, regardless of whether I know they are trying to be friendly or offensive, it will continue to hurt my feelings. It is what it is; and that is, in one word, insulting.