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Age Insecurity

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It's commonly accepted that no one wants to get old and that a woman getting old is pretty much the worst thing that can happen. For this reason, a lot of people don't want their age advertised past a certain birthday, and "never ask a lady her age" is a stock etiquette rule. Someone's reasons for lying about their age or keeping it a secret may vary, from being in a business (such as acting) where they risk being put out to pasture if they're seen as too old, to vanity or a delusional wish to cling to a young person's lifestyle, to simply feeling that it's private information. Usually it's The Not Secret, sometimes even an Open Secret, but at any rate, it's bound to become a talking point, and they won't be happy about it.

Twenty-nine is often the oldest "young" age someone will admit to, at least for as long as it's remotely plausible. Entering any new decade will be seen as a cause for heightened security.

Women who fall under the Old Maid trope are known to be insecure about their age due to societal pressures.

This character is likely to be a Birthday Hater, with jokes about them turning X for the Yth year in a row. Compare Older Than They Look, Age-Inappropriate Dress, Absurdly Youthful Mother. First Gray Hair and Ma'am Shock will hit this character hard.

The inverse, with a character pretending to be older than they are, usually to get around being underage, can be found at Totally 18.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Blue Exorcist: Shura Kirigakure introduces herself to the class claiming to be eighteen years old and constantly interrupts Yukio when he tries to tell everyone that she's actually twenty-seven. Played for Laughs at first, but it takes a dark turn when it turns out she's bound to die at the age of thirty due to a demonic pact her ancestress made with a powerful immortal demon.
  • Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba: In an early story arc, Tamayo implies that she's been around for over 2 centuries. When Tanjiro asks her age out of shock, Yushiro angrily calls him out on his rudeness.
  • Dragon Ball: Bulma is very insecure about her age, lying about how old she is at her birthday party in Dragon Ball Z: Battle of Gods, as well as making secret wishes to Shenron to make her slightly younger in Dragon Ball Super: Broly.
  • Kengan Ashura:
    • Nogi's (and later Kazuo's) Sexy Secretary Kaede has her age listed as "?", although an offhand remark by Nogi implies that she's Older Than She Looks, and she gets annoyed whenever her age is brought up. By the same token, her older sister Sakura has her age unknown.
    • Shion's profile states that she'll kill anyone who asks her age, although it is eventually revealed to be 35.
  • Mitsudomoe: When a food vendor offers to give food away to the town's children, Miku Sugisaki's middle-aged mother declares that she's 17. When the vendor questions her on it, she emphatically replies that she's 17. This doubles as an Actor Allusion; the character was voiced by Kikuko Inoue, who is legendary in Japanese voice acting for always referring to herself as "17 Years Old + XXXX Days".
  • Miss Hudson in Moriarty the Patriot insists she's eternally 17—despite clearly being old enough to be a landlady. Sherlock calls her out and says that she's somewhere in her 30s, but she cuts him off before he's able to reveal her entire age.
  • Sabagebu!: An Eye Catch in the fifth OVA depicts housewife Kazue Sonokawa and high school teacher Ena Sakura in school uniforms with the text "17 YEARS". This is an Actor Allusion; Kikuko Inoue, who voices Kazue, founded a quasi-cult of voice actresses who always identify themselves as being 17 years old, even though she herself is well beyond that. Yui Horie, who voices Ena, is one of her "disciples."

    Comic Books 
  • A rare male example was a running gag in The Dandy; Desperate Dan refused to divulge his age, which lead the editor of the local paper to spend a great deal of effort trying to get hold of it.
  • Another male example from the comic adaptation of TaleSpin:
    Don Karnage: I am after nothing today but a birthday - mine!
    Louie: Ya don't say! So just how many candles will you be puttin' on your cake this year, you ol' pirate you?
    Don Karnage: My... candles... are none of your cotton-plucking floor wax, you snoopsy simian!
    Dumptruck: But, captain - you said you vere tventy-nine years old dis morning! But come to tink ov it, you said dat last year, too! And da year before dat! And da year be—
    Don Karnage: Remind me to shoot you when we get home!
    Dumptruck: Err - sorry, captain!
    — "F'Reeze a Jolly Good Fellow"

    Comic Strips 
  • Scary Gary: When a barista asks Gary for his birthdate to see if he qualifies for a senior coffee, Gary states that he was born August 4th, 1307. When the barista marvels at how old that would make Gary, Gary irately cuts him off, claiming he’s too young for a senior coffee.

    Fan Works 
  • A running joke in Touhou Project fanworks (and commenters on fanworks) is to have someone claim Yukari Yakumo's (one of the oldest and most powerful of all Gensokyo's youkai) real age is 17,000 (see Real Life below) and immediately get teleported (or "*gapped*") to who-knows-where, or otherwise claiming that yes, Yukari is not a day over 17, absolutely.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Time: Played with. Characters will describe their age as being "25 for X" years, which is valid considering they stop aging at that point, alleviating many of the undesirable parts of getting older. But the social insecurities haven't exactly gone away, as evidenced by a prostitute who didn't like being called out for "pushing sixty".

  • Auntie Mame: It's a big deal when Auntie Mame begins to "admit" she's forty now and it's time to take on a more mature role, which doesn't happen until her fifties.
  • At the end of Citizen of the Galaxy, this is a culture shock for Thorby, when his cousin refuses to disclose her age and explains that on Earth it's impolite to ask about a woman's age, unlike the women in the culture where Thorby grew up, who would try to claim to be older than they really were because of the higher status of elders.
  • In the Elenium trilogy, Sparhawk is continually stymied in any attempt to learn the age of Sephrenia, the instructor of the Pandion Knights in magical studies. He knows that she taught his father and grandfather, and still looks like quite a young woman, but she refuses to give any sort of straight answer; a person's exact age, she explains, can be a deadly tool in the wrong hands. Eventually, the Child-Goddess Aphrael tells him that even she doesn't know the answer for sure, but Sephrenia (who is her high priestess) was the eldest child of the most recent couple to raise Aphrael in a human incarnation - and that was at least several hundred years ago.
  • The time traveler Mikuru in the Haruhi Suzumiya series poses as a student at the main characters' high school, but insists that her real age is "classified information"; that said, she says that about any direct questions asked about her or her mission.
  • In Heart of a Dog, one of Preobrazhensky's patients is a woman involved with a much younger man, and she desperately claims to be younger than she is. At first, when Preobrazhensky asks her about her age, she replies "Well, forty? five", then, at his further prompting, says "Fifty-one". Preobrazhensky's assistant Bormental estimates her real age as probably fifty-four or fifty-five.
  • My Youth Romantic Comedy Is Wrong, as I Expected Shizuka Hiratsuka is a 30-year-old teacher who refuses to admit her age. She gets upset whenever the subject is brought up.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 30 Rock:
    • This is a Running Gag with Jenna. At one point, she survives a rapid-fire interrogation from Jack by rattling off what are clearly memorized answers to questions such as what her high school prom theme was. In another episode, Jenna starts trying to pretend she's older than she actually is, because while middle-aged actresses rarely get work, there are great roles for older distinguished actresses like Judi Dench and Helen Mirren.
    • Also, in one episode Liz pretends to be in her twenties to justify a relationship with an allegedly twenty-five-year-old guy who turns out to be only twenty, and she agonizes over the fact that, for her usual feminist reasons, she's always promised herself she would never lie about her age.
    • Kenneth is implied to be immortal and anywhere from a few centuries to a few millennia old. He tends to avoid direct questions about his age, and at one point nervously asks if there will be any new rules for the page program, 'like age limits and age verification'.
  • Charmed (1998): In "Centennial Charmed", Cole rewrites reality to fix his life on his birthday. In the new timeline he's attending a massive party with a cake declaring it his 100th birthday. The decorator comments that he was under the impression that Cole was actually 117 (which he his). After a few seconds of awkward silence the decorator is consumed by flames and killed by The Seer.
    The Seer: I know how sensitive you are about your age. Happy birthday.
  • The Doctor in Doctor Who sometimes lies about their age. In "The Ribos Operation" the Fourth Doctor claims to be 756, which Romana corrects to 749. In "The Day of the Doctor" Eleventh says he's "1200 and something, unless I'm lying. I don't remember if I'm lying about my age, that's how old I am." This has, of course, provided a useful handwave for every time the Doctor claims their age to be a random three or four figure number that doesn't fit anything else.
  • Blanche Devereaux of The Golden Girls is so adamant about keeping her sex life alive that she had her age withheld by the governor.
  • I Love Lucy: In one episode, Lucy can't find her birth certificate to get her passport, so she tracks down her childhood babysitter to vouch for her age while getting some forms signed. The other woman's husband happens to be a notary, but as soon as he sees the age Lucy is, he refuses to sign the forms. It then becomes clear the woman has been lying about her age, as according to her husband, she's younger than Lucy and therefore could not have been her babysitter and he cannot sign off on a lie. Lucy is understandably upset when the woman continues to lie about her age.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): Lestat de Lioncourt is vain, so he doesn't like it when others bring up his age. In "...The Ruthless Pursuit of Blood with All a Child's Demanding", he's offended when Louis de Pointe du Lac points out that he's unable to relate to a teenager's mindset because he's too old (Louis' indirect phrasing while avoiding the dreaded o-word is "Tu as oublié ta jeunesse!" note ). Lestat also does the vampire equivalent of claiming that he's 39 years old when he's actually 40.
    Claudia: How old are you again, Uncle Les?
    Louis: 160—
    Lestat: 159.
  • Kaamelott: Merlin doesn't like to go around revealing his age, because it turns out he's Really 700 Years Old (to the point where he stood to receive his age in gold pieces from the queen and still didn't want to).
  • Joan on Mad Men seems to have lied about her age, as somebody in the office plays a prank on her by pinning a photocopy of her driver's license on the bulletin board with her date of birth circled.
  • The Nanny: Fran Fine's not wanting to accept that she's over 29 and refusal to admit her exact age (and attempts to keep it secret) are a running gag. In one episode, when Niles finds out how old Fran's friend Val is and says he can use that to figure out Fran's age, Fran comes up with a couple of methods (first by claiming she skipped a few grades, which Niles doesn't buy, then claiming Val was Held Back in School a few times, which he does find believable) as "proof" that she and Val aren't the same age. In another, even the FBI can't confirm how old she is. In the season 5 finale, she does finally admit it to someone, but in a whisper that the audience can't hear, and only so they'll help her get back home after being stranded on the outskirts of the city on the night before her wedding.
  • The Office (UK): David Brent is vague about his age. When anyone asks, he says "I'm thirties". In the second series, Trudy quips "Born in the thirties, you mean".
  • In Reba, Reba always refuses to reveal her age.
    • When she volunteers herself as the focus for Jake's homework about his favorite family member, she stops herself before telling him her age and says that it's not important to mention that part.
    • She gets defensive when a lawyer asks her about her year of birth.
      Lawyer: Nineteen...
      Reba: Nineteen-none-of-your-business. Move on.
  • Star Trek: Vulcans, despite having no problem with growing old, consider revealing one's age to be "intimate" and thus only share it with a select few people, such as their lovers.
  • Two and a Half Men:
    • Evelyn Harper is in the habit of doing this, even going so far as to try to get her uncooperative grandson Jake to lie about HIS age so she can maintain the charade. She gets very angry when one of Alan's girlfriends tries to throw a surprise party for him because revealing his age would prove her deception.
    • A rare male example is her son Charlie, who will constantly pretend to still be in his early thirties/late twenties. Amusingly this is such second nature to him, Charlie will even try it on Alan.
      Alan: Why do you do that? I'm your brother, I know how old you are.
  • In WarpZone Project: Eve Bones is immortal, but looks the late-twenties-to-early-thirties of the actress playing her. When she chooses the destination of a time travel and takes the cast to the 19th century (that she needs to remember to be able to do so), the protagonist, who doesn't know her that well, wonders about her age. Her only answer is to advise him to not ask a lady her age.
  • In Ziwe, when in character as her diva-esque Rich Bitch host-persona, the eponymous comedienne demonstrates clear insecurity about aging. Any insinuation that she's old, or even her actual age, for that matter, gets under her skin like little else.
    Ziwe: My show was declared by media outlets as "blatantly racist", "grossly racist", and "having a 29-year-old host". All of which are untrue. I am 19! Goo-goo-gah-gah.

  • Eminem, a little older than his peers, a star in the era of Teen Pop, and older than he looked, was extremely anxious about his age in his early career. He subtracted a couple of years from his age at first, going back on it when his mother leaked his age to the press (she claimed this was an accident — he claimed it was part of her harassment of him).
    • Numerous lyrics he wrote express his misery about the big 3-0.
      • In "When To Stand Up", which according to DJ Jazzy Jeff was written when Eminem was in fact 25:
        I may mingle but I plan to stay single,
        play bingo and drink, get old and watch my face wrinkle.
        Psyche! - I'm 24 Thursday; six more birthdays
        and I'm blowin' my brains out when I'm thirty
      • In "Without Me", Eminem accuses Moby of being a 36-year-old and a has-been. Moby was in fact 34, and Eminem, at 29, was not much younger. (Eminem would go on to release arguably his most commercially successful album at 38.)
      • "Soldier", written at 29, has this unfortunately Hilarious in Hindsight moment as Eminem's Encore, written in part when he was 30, was when the critical consensus turned on him:
        So ticky-tock, listen as the sound ticks on the clock,
        listen to the sound of Kim as she licks on a cock,
        listen to the sound of me spillin' my heart through this pen —
        motherfuckers know that I'll never be Marshall again!
        Full of controversy until I retire my jersey,
        'til the fire inside dies and expires at thirty
    • Eminem said in an interview in 2009 that he was OK with being "a 36-year-old rapper" because he'd felt the same way as a 26-year-old rapper, being older than Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. were when they died.
    • Eminem would later express insecurity about being in his 40s. In "Bad Guy", the Monster screams, "I'm your time that's almost up that you haven't acknowledged", mocking him for being a has-been and "the biggest laughing-stock of rap" who doesn't know when to "call it quits". In "Tone Deaf", he reflects back on his time as a media trainwreck with assault charges and admits, "Which is so odd, 'cause I'm forty-eight now. That 5-0's startin' to creep up on me like a patrol car — I'll be an old fart, but you don't want no part, so, bitch, don't start!"

  • The Jack Benny Program: The 1963 episode "Twilight Zone Sketch" was a The Twilight Zone (1959) spoof in which Jack Benny returns home to find that things are all upside down. Though he runs away, Serling says that he'll return; he was correct in saying he belongs here.
    Serling: Anyone who claims to be 29 as long as he has is a permanent resident of the Twilight Zone.
  • Anthony of Opie & Anthony once stated on his birthday that he is now "forty-flurf" years old.


    Video Games 
  • Asking the age of Adria of Diablo III is one of the few ways to make her lose her cool.
  • Manuela's age in Fire Emblem: Three Houses is officially listed as "Secret". Her actual age is 41, deduced by the 56-year-old Hanneman noting that he's only about 15 years her senior, making Manuela the oldest female playable character who is not Really 700 Years Old.
  • Golden Sun: The Lost Age: Piers is initially assumed to be in his late teens like most of the other heroes. However, when the party visits his homeland Lemuria, it's revealed that Lemurians age very slowly, with many of them having lived for centuries. This prompts Jenna and Sheba to start pestering Piers about his true age, which he refuses to reveal and seems embarrassed about.
  • A Running Gag in THE iDOLM@STER: Cinderella Girls is that Nana Abe is much older than she lets on. She will constantly mention she's the "eternal 17-year-old", and any mention of age or being older has her nervously proclaim it.
  • Pokémon Sword and Shield: Opal's gym battle requires challengers to answer a quiz while battling. If they answer correctly, their Pokemon's stats are boosted, but if it's wrong, the boost goes to Opal's team. However, correctly guessing Opal's age as 88 actually gives the boost to her team since she'd had preferred it if you were "a little more sensitive" about her age. Choosing the option that tells her she's 16 in the Dialogue Tree gets her to laugh and give you the boost instead.

    Web Animation 
  • In the Strong Bad Email "Looking Old", Strong Bad insists his age is "a closely guarded secret, protected by a sect of closely guarded monks high atop the Coches Mountains". The whole email is about him trying to pass off as younger.

  • Mandy Seley's weekly webcomic Curtailed has Mandy's Author Avatar be approached in a bar by a decent-looking Funny Animal in the 6 June 2012 strip. The fellow asks her age, to which Mandy coyly responds, "Hm, guess." This ploy backfires hilariously, as the artist states in the commentary that she was 25 at the time.
  • Parodied in El Goonish Shive where Pandora states that she's been claiming to be 299 years old for a few centuries now. Seeing as Immortals are expected to reset around the time they turn 200, claiming to be 299 doesn't actually hide much.
  • Evon: All members of the Cabal are listed as being centuries old, except Lanna, the sole female member, who refuses to disclose her age and is infuriated when Evee calls her an "old hag". Ironically she's dating Traveler, the oldest (over 800) member.

    Web Original 
  • "All Three Are Going to Lie to You" is a meme template consisting of "Never ask a woman her age; a man, his salarynote ; an X their Y", where X is a person or group and Y is a similarly awkward or shameful fact about them.

    Western Animation 
  • Implied in a Futurama episode — when the Planet Express spaceship is in danger, Leela says that she doesn't want to die at the age of 25. Bender, however, replies with "Unless we had a time warp, I wouldn't worry about that".

    Real Life 
  • Kikuko Inoue always describes herself in public as "17 Years Old + XXXX Days", and has been doing so for a few decades now. She was born in 1964, so that's a lot of days. This quirk of hers became so memetic among Japanese voice actresses that it's something of a religion, with fellow converts who will remain 17 forever.


Video Example(s):


Marina Sugisaki (17 years old)

Miku's mother, Marina Sugisaki ask the food vendor to guess her age. The food vendor replies to Marina that she claims to be 17 years old. This is also a reference to her voice actor, Kikuko Inoue, who's referring to herself as "17 Years Old + XXXX Days old".

How well does it match the trope?

5 (5 votes)

Example of:

Main / YoungerThanTheyLook

Media sources: