I Got 99 Problems… Being a Baby-Faced Adult is One

First Person

I Got 99 Problems… Being a Baby-Faced Adult is One

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

Short girls struggle. Short, skinny girls struggle more. But those who struggle the most are short, skinny girls with baby faces.

As luck would have it, I am all three: A 21-year-old, five-foot-nothing, with the face of a 14-year-old. I’ve been called everything from “tiny” and “chutku” to “chota recharge” and “aw baby” for the better part of my life. Maybe this could help me in the future when all my friends get wrinkly and I look 30 when I’m 60. But as of now, there are very few silver linings.

My feet never touch the ground irrespective of whether I sit on a high chair or a low one. I don’t just get asked for an ID proof while (unsuccessfully) trying to enter bars, but also while entering movie theatres and hookah parlours. Random strangers take one look at me and nobly suggest that I should consider modelling for kiddie brands before inquiring about which school I go to, even though I’m a working woman. And my mother is resigned to constantly facing that one dreaded question: “Isse Horlicks nahi pilate ho kya?”

My height has had an effect on almost every part of my life. When most kids my age were learning how to swim, I was trying my best not to die when my tiny feet refused to touch the bottom of the shallow pool and my coach kept pushing me to the deep end. Years later, my face guarantees that I’m rarely taken seriously at work or in college, because people seem to be constantly worried about whether I’ll fly away in the Mumbai wind (even though the friendship between Mumbai and the wind has been cancelled long back). And my last date deemed it fit to communicate with me in baby talk, only because he was taller than me. By that logic, I should start learning gibberish because everyone is taller than me.

I wish putting on makeup helped, but it only succeeds in making me look about 15.

My friends also think it’s hilarious to keep making jokes about me shopping from the “baby section”. Even after they’ve accompanied me to malls and witnessed the truth: me shopping from the kids section. But no matter where I shop, my first request to every salesperson is inevitably “Isme sabse choti size dena”. Because you see, small can also sometimes be too big for me.

Over the years, I’ve managed to find some temporary fixes to these skinny, short girl problems — I stick to wearing chappals instead of losing my sanity trying to find shoes for my tiny feet and make do with oversized clothes sourced from the adults section.

But the worst hindrance is still my baby face; I’ve been unable to find any hack that can shatter the assumption of teenage fragility that it seems to emanate. On one hand, I’ve been frequently asked if I want a happy meal from McDonalds more than even my face deserves. And on the other, a guy I crushed on, decided to politely inform me that he’d feel like a paedophile if he dated me. Unfortunately, it also makes people believe they can get me to do all their work, because apparently, this face is an open invitation for people to walk all over me.

Hotel check-ins have ended with the receptionist asking me the whereabouts of my parents before checking my ID and air hostesses believing that it’s their duty to take care of me when I travel solo. I wish putting on makeup helped, but it only succeeds in making me look about 15. In fact, one time a pharmacist believed my 21-year-old friend when she pointed at me and told him “Bhaiya ek galti ho gayi, ek aur nahi chahiye,” while buying a pregnancy test kit.

My face is also the reason I’ve never been able to follow through on career options like modelling or being an air-hostess. I mean, if I were a model, the only thing I could convincingly sell was Cerelac and which irritated passenger would take flight instructions from someone who looks like a lost child? It’s exactly why being short, skinny, and having a baby face feels like withstanding a tsunami, volcanic eruption and an earthquake simultaneously. It ensures that even though I’m an adult, I can never feel like one.

At this point, the only advantage of having a baby face is that I can safely dodge the trap of marriage. While my friends are constantly arguing about their singledom with their parents, I don’t even remember a time when I’ve been asked about my plans of getting married. It’s probably because for everyone, I’m still 15 – but you know what, I’ll take it.