Monday, June 24, 2024

Stop Asking People How Old You Look on TikTok

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This week on TikTok crazes that’ll leave you feeling unhinged, “Guess My Age” videos where users post a clip of themselves asking strangers to predict their age has garnered over 100 million views. Sure, this may appear to be a fun experiment at first glance, but dig a little deeper (or just click on any number of these viral videos) and you’ll see the bevy of hurtful statements, unsolicited advice, and harsh criticisms sprinkled in the comments section.

But let’s back up. What’s the deal with people posting these videos in the first place? According to licensed counselor Alyssa Scolari, the fascination with asking strangers to guess one’s age often stems from a need for validation and reassurance for the person asking.

Experts Featured in This Article

Alyssa Scolari, LPC, ACS, is a licensed counselor and the owner of See You Through It Counseling.

“Age is a marker of identity, and how others perceive our age can significantly impact our self-esteem and self-image,” Scolari tells PS. “When someone asks strangers to guess their age, they may be looking for feedback that confirms their self-perception or boosts their self-esteem.” For example, if someone feels self-conscious about looking older than they really are, receiving guesses that place them at a younger age can be validating and reassuring.

The social interaction in these experiments can also be a form of validation. “Each guess and comment is a form of engagement that makes the asker feel noticed and acknowledged,” says Scolari. In the digital age we’re living in today, these interactions, even with strangers, can offer a sense of belonging and community.

As for the “answerers,” the shared social experiment can satisfy our innate curiosity about others. “Guessing someone’s age taps into our observational skills and cultural knowledge about aging and appearance,” says Scolari. “It’s also a way to connect with others and be part of a larger conversation.”

Here’s the problem, though. While the popular age-guessing experiment can temporarily boost self-esteem, it can also have a negative impact on emotional well-being if you’re the one doing the asking. One of the main risks? The potential for upsetting comments. For TikTok user Kate Winney, statements pointing to her appearance (“forehead wrinkles” and “eyebags”) as well as her clothing choices, voice, and demeanor fill the comment section. Essentially, you’re opening the door for strangers to reveal their inner thoughts about you, and because they’re behind a screen, this is often grounds for them to respond negatively. “These negative comments can amplify self-doubt and body image issues, making individuals overly critical of their natural features,” Scolari says. “Instead of seeing the guesses as harmless fun, people might internalize the negative feedback, leading to a distorted self-image and even anxiety or depression about their looks.”

Aside from triggering deeper insecurities, the experiment can highlight the pressures we face to meet societal beauty standards. For example, when advice centers around cosmetic changes — like “get Botox” — it reinforces that looking young is more important than other attributes, like intelligence, kindness, or creativity, says Scolari. “This skewed value system can erode self-worth and lead to unhealthy behaviors as individuals strive to conform to unrealistic beauty standards.”

Can’t we all just celebrate aging for what it truly is: a testament to our life experiences, growth, and resilience? Our society is already inundated with “antiaging” messages, from beauty products promising to turn back the time to media portrayals of older people being less vibrant or relevant. The age-guessing game does nothing more than tap into these cultural norms by making age a focal point of judgment and comparison, ultimately leading to anxiety about aging, says Scolari.

“If you find yourself drawn to these kinds of trends, it might be worth reflecting on why. Are you seeking validation or reassurance? Are there other, healthier ways to boost your self-esteem? Engaging in self-care practices, surrounding yourself with supportive people, and focusing on your strengths and accomplishments can all help build a more stable sense of self-worth.”

Michelle Rostamian is a Los Angeles-based beauty and wellness contributor with over 10 years of experience in the industry. She began her career as a publicist, content writer, and social media manager, representing beauty brands and industry professionals. Currently, she is a writer and editor on all things makeup, beauty, skin care, and lifestyle.





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