Mom and I decided to treat ourselves today to a mani-pedi downstairs before I headed off to work this morning. (Summer months require brighter hues than spring pastels, and my nails were in desperate need of some professional attention...) As I sat comfortably in one of the two side-by-side massage chairs, flipping through the already wrinkled May 12th issue of Star Magazine, the cute Asian woman exfoliating my feet casually asked me if I was still in high school. I suspected she was just trying to make conversation, and, being that I was with mi madre, her guess was as good as any. Smiling sweetly, I told her that I had finished my last semester of college in December. Then I braced myself for the inevitable reaction.

Her initial expression was one I've seen plenty of times before: both unbelieving and excited, not unlike that of a giddy gossip who's just learned a juicy secret. Coming to my rescue—or simply making an effort to join in the "gossip"—Mom proceeded to tell her, all matter-of-factly, how old I am.

Sidenote: I usually try to avoid revealing personal details about myself, including my age, to anyone I meet randomly... especially older women in the beauty business, as the ones I've met are not the most tactful in everyday conversation. Fun, yes. Likable? Of course. But sometimes inappropriately frank, to the point that it makes me feel uncomfortable. Like the time a few months back when my hairstylist attempted to set me up with her 20-something-year-old son—who, by the way, has (or at least had) a girlfriend—after I answered her personal questions regarding my religious/spiritual background. (HELLO, I am in no way giving you my phone number so you can pass it along to whatever you said his name is. Yes, it's wonderful that we're both Catholic and I'm sure he's a great guy, but COME ON.) And if they're not candidly sharing their opinions about you with you, they may very well be enlightening someone else: one minute, your manicurist is pointing out in a less-than-inviting tone how much your eyebrows could benefit from a wax, and the next she's rattling on and on about something suspicious to her nearby coworker in hushed tones. Perhaps I'm just being paranoid.

By now, however, I'm certainly aware that if it comes up, my pedicurist will most certainly always (without considering my feelings) express her utter surprise at my unexpectedly "old" age: "Twenty-two?! Oh no, I thought you were seventeen... How funny! You should be in high school!" (Cue wide-eyed sideways glance and giddy conversation with Pedicurist #2.) I can't tell you how many times over the years my own friends, family members, and even complete strangers have felt the need to amusingly point out my youthful appearance like it's some sort of joke... And it used to drive me up the wall. (Can you imagine being told at sixteen while in the throes of budding womanhood that you could easily pass for a 12-year-old? Some people have no compassion.) I know that I look years younger than I actually am, okay? I know. I'm not sure if it's my round face or petite frame that betrays me, but the older I get, the younger I seem to appear. For some reason though, it's always the nail salon ladies who delight in it the most, as if they've made some fascinating discovery.

Which is why (cue sigh), I've started taking it as a compliment. Surely, nobody means to insult me... So it seems a bit silly that I've assigned a negative connotation to the ever-so-frequent observation of my youthfulness. Do I think that possessing childish features is a sign of beauty? Not particularly. Would I prefer to resemble a grown woman who demands to be taken seriously? Duh. But you know, there must be something to be said about looking seventeen when you're really twenty-two. Perhaps when I'm thirty-five, I'll look twenty-nine or thirty. (Fingers crossed.) As long as I don't come off as a girly teenager by manner of behaving, what does it matter? I truly believe it's all in the way a woman carries herself, ideally with something resembling professionalism and poise. After all, if I'm going to focus my energy on something, it might as well be something I can control... Heavy eyeliner and high heels probably won't do the trick, but an authentic maturity and unbreakable inner confidence might. (You know, qualities that tend to shine through.) And seeing comments like these in a new, more positive light? Well, that's gotta be a step in the right direction.

Photo of seventeen-year-old me in the summer of '09.