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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Young-looking not what it's cracked up to be

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By Keiko Ohnuma
Advertiser Staff Writer

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It's a problem I guess most women would envy. And there are definitely advantages to not looking my age.

But there's an odd side to it, too.

Suppose I am 40 but look 30. Or even 28, after a really good night's sleep. It's a kick to hang with the kids. Especially the guys.

Never before have I been one of the guys. Old guys, young guys — I am comfortable enough with myself now to enjoy who they are without tripping about what they think of me.

But there's a subtle lie at the center of it, too, because I am not who they imagine.

The worst is when they actually ask the question.

"So, like, how old are you?"

There is no graceful way to exit this tunnel. I resort to cheap self-gratification.


They are bound to guess young, if they are gentlemen.

But do I want to tell them the truth?

No, I do not.

Until a few years ago, I had no problem with my age. I was still — or rather, back — in school, and surrounded by people at the same age I had always remained in my mind.

It was a kick to tell the kids I was 15 years older than they were. Like getting away with something and giggling.

Their reaction, however, was undeniably disappointing.

"Not!" (Look of horror.) "Wow, well, um, you still look great."

It became easier to be a bit vague about dates and experiences, details about where and when I graduated, whatever.

Lately I notice, though, that the people I like talking to most are middle-aged, like me. We remember the same dumb TV shows and scary packaged foods, the moon walk and the assassinations, the mood of the country at a time when phones rang and office windows opened.

We laugh at the same things.

It's fun to hang with the kids, but I'm really not one of them.

So it can feel sometimes like a mask I can't take off, to look young, especially when everything in the culture encourages and applauds the deception.

Middle-aged people often remark that they feel 28 inside. It's the body that betrays them.

It's this column that will betray me. Especially that kewpie-doll photo taken six years ago (above my current column photo), me wearing a look of stunned surprise to have landed a real job in Hawai'i.

The fact is, I looked older 10 years ago, a cynical reporter desperate to escape a trade I had grown to hate, the mirror marking the cost of telling official lies.

So why am I not now gratified when the checkstand girl asks for my ID?

"You're supposed to be flattered!" she said once. Why not? I'm getting away with it. No one cares how old I am anyway. Age is just a number, you're only as old as you feel, blah blah blah.

But one thing I vowed when I escaped my former career treadmill was never again to claim in print to speak for anyone but myself. And that means coming clean about who I am and where I'm coming from — the fate I escaped, and the fleetingly fresh look made possible by a fresh start.

Because I am grateful. So in case it does matter, I might as well tell it to the world.

I just turned 42 years old.