The Curse Of A Baby Face

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One summer, when I was eight years old, my mother took me to the local salon to purchase my first skincare kit. It was Aveda’s three-step botanical starter set packaged in miniature bottles, which in hindsight, probably meant it was a travel kit, not “extra special just for kids,” like I had believed. My mother ceremoniously handed me the terrycloth bag and told me that I should start cleanse-tone-moisturizing every night, without fail. It was very important to establish a routine early on, she said, because one day I would be grateful that my skin had aged so beautifully.

Aging poorly—or prematurely—is one of my greatest fears (thanks, Mom), so perhaps it is a little confusing for me to lament the following: I have always looked young for my age—and I hate it. “You’ll enjoy it when you get older,” is the most unhelpful thing you can say to a young girl who wants to become an elegant, beautiful Lauren Bacall-esque woman. It was mildly enjoyable for one year—when I turned 21. If in my late teens I had looked like a pre-teen, by my mid-twenties, I imagined I would have the spritely, fresh-faced beauty of an 18-year-old. Grizzled, old Margo Channing on the inside, spry, young Eve Harrington on the outside—the dream. “Why thank you,” I’d coo at the waitress who apologized for carding me at dinner. “No, no, I’m flattered,” I’d smile at the polite stranger who believed I’d just graduated from high school, not college.

Still, there are lines that must be drawn—lines which made themselves disastrously apparent all over the beaches of Hawaii on a recent vacation. First, there was the surf shack rental employee, who refused to rent me a board without parental consent, since I appeared to be under 16, with no ID tucked into my bathing suit to prove otherwise. Then, there was the helicopter pilot who exclaimed loudly, “Twenty-five!? I thought you were 12,” Twelve?! And at last, there was the kindly hostess at the hotel restaurant, who offered me a children’s menu on three separate occasions.

When I actually was 12, I developed an irrational fear of ponytails, because I realized that every time I wore one, I was offered the kid’s menu. To this day, I still do not wear ponytails in public. After this trip to Hawaii, I realized that I was beginning to feel the same way about makeup, which I did not wear on vacation. Without it, I evidently regress at least 13 years in appearance. My mother laughed and unhelpfully offered that it was probably because non-Asians can have trouble telling the age of Asians. Which may have been comforting, except for on a trip to Seoul last summer, I was told I looked like a middle schooler by at least a dozen strangers and relatives. “Which one’s older?” they asked, glancing between me and my 18-year-old sister.

Youth is beauty, you might say, and yes, our culture is indeed age-obsessed, but no one wants to look like a pre-tween Lolita for the rest of her life. Neither does she (by which I mean, me) want to age too quickly. Lately, I’ve been trying to find the right balance between the two. It’s a work in progress, but here’s what I’ve settled on so far.

Step one: No matter how frustrating it gets, or how many blows you must take to your self-esteem, never ever give up on your skincare routine. “Prevention is key,” I chant to myself every night, as I swab eye cream over my dark circles. Wrinkles may help you look your age—after a sleepless night, no one ever questions mine—but you get no take-backs.

My nighttime ritual is rather robust: First, I start with Shu Uemura Whitefficient Clear Brightening Gentle Cleansing Oil, followed by Chanel Le Blanc Fresh Brightening Foam Cleanser. The double-cleanse method is truly life-changing, as far as I'm concerned. Next, I pour four drops of SK-II Facial Treatment Essence in my left palm, briefly rub my hands together and gently pat all over my face. Then I sweep Chanel Le Blanc Brightening Moisture Lotion over that as my toner, followed by a good serum—lately, I’ve been loving the Laneige Water Bank Serum—and an eye cream. Lastly, I dab copious amounts of moisturizer on my face and neck: Cremorlab Smooth Pudding, if I want something light, or SK-II LXP Ultimate Revival Cream, if I need the heavy-duty stuff. If I’m feeling really proactive that day, I’ll throw 30 minutes of sheet mask action in there, once every week or two. Since I started following this routine, my skin has looked brighter, and more youthful than when I was a real teenager. It may contribute to the too-young problem, but it’s definitely still worth it.

Step two: If you are genetically baby-faced, going au naturel in the makeup department is asking for the kid's menu. But at the same time, loading on foundation and pencil can make you look like a high schooler who’s using makeup to look older (we’ve all been there). I regret not switching from heavy cream foundation to Nars Pure Radiant Tinted Moisturizer when I was younger. These days, I like to go even lighter with a few dots of BB cream, but dust Nars Light Reflecting Pressed Setting Powder to avoid looking too pubescently shiny. I don’t use blush or bronzer in the day, but at night, I do like to contour the cheekbones with both, which I imagine makes one look older and more glamorous. Having over-plucked my brows at 13, I reshape them with Innisfree Eco Design Eyebrow Pencil, and my addiction to MAC Fluidline in Blacktrack has been well documented.

On the hierarchical list of life problems to have, looking young does not rank very high. Or at all. Still, I'm curious: All my baby-faced friends out there, what are some of your most aggravating, age-related experiences, and how do you age-up while anti-aging? Lay your oxymorons on me. It's a safe space.

—Monica Kim

Photos via Vogue Paris .