Dear Alice,

I have a problem. I am a 21 year old male with the face of a 15 year old. What I mean is that I am unable to grow facial hair. I was late starting puberty and it has left me underdeveloped. My baby face is affecting people's trust in me, especially at my job. I am constantly referred to as the kid and I feel that I am never really taken seriously. I am wondering if there are any types of drugs that can possibly aid in my facial hair growth problem and, if there are, what are the side effects? Please help me. I am sick of being a man trapped behind a child's face. Thank you in advance.

— Smooth

Dear Smooth,

Don't trash the shaving cream just yet — it's possible that you'll be able to sign off "Scruffy" in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, maybe there are some things you can do to lessen your understandable frustration.

First, a little physiology: some adolescents experience delayed puberty; that is, they reach the end of the age range in which puberty typically begins (about ages 7 to 13 for girls and 9 to 15 for boys) without having any of the physical changes that typically come at this time. In most cases, these teens take a little longer to mature (what people often call "late bloomers") and will catch up later. Most of delayed puberty is just a case of each body having its own sense of timing. However, medical issues can delay puberty, including:

  • Chronic medical conditions, such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, asthma
  • Malnourishment or eating disorders
  • Thyroid or pituitary gland or disorders
  • Hormone imbalances
  • Chromosomal disorders, such as Klinefelter's Syndrome or Turner Syndrome

The development and amount of facial hair is partly determined by genetics, endocrinology, and ethnicity — some folks have heavy beards, others have sparse facial hair; there are guys who start shaving in middle school, while others are razor-free into their thirties. Time may thicken the fuzz Mother Nature put on your peach, but there's little you can do to speed the process.

If you experienced some physical changes during puberty (e.g., a growth spurt, development of body and pubic hair, genital enlargement, deepening voice, etc.), it's unlikely that your lack of facial hair is caused by an underlying medical condition. If you explain your concerns to your health care provider, s/he will be able to rule out health problems that could be responsible.

Unfortunately, some people are unwilling to give proper credit and respect to someone who is younger (or older, or of a different race, gender, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, weight, physical ability, social or economic class, etc., etc.). Judging someone based on external factors rather than ability is discrimination, and when it happens in the workplace and/or affects hiring and promotion, it might be downright illegal. In your case (when people are judged on their actual or perceived age), it's ageism — either younger or older.

But let's face it, we have to be realistic — people are going to be ageist. So, is there anything you can do to make yourself look older — if you want to go this route? What about wearing glasses (ones that won't alter your vision if you don't need them)? Can you dress differently? Sometimes more formal clothes (suits, jackets, ties, etc.) automatically bring greater respect, and may make you look a little older at the same time.

Too often, people are judged by how they look, rather than by who they are. Perhaps the fastest way to getting taken more seriously would be focusing on building positive, professional relationships with your co-workers who are willing to do the same. If you do your job well, instead of demanding to be taken seriously, people will more likely come to respect and trust you. It's possible that your youthful countenance may even give you an edge, if it causes competitors to underestimate you, or surprises your supervisors with your level of skill and dedication.


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