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Younger Than They Look
aka: Younger Than She Looks

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"If a woman says she's 20, and looks 16, she's 12."
Chris Rock, "No Sex (in the Champagne Room)"
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Some characters are Older Than They Look (much older, even). Some, meanwhile, are younger. Maybe they're robots, clones, some other kind of artificial construct, or just unhealthy. Maybe there's a supernatural reason, such as a curse. Or maybe they are under such constant stress and work that they are aged prematurely by it. Or they're just overdeveloped. One way or another, this character may look like an adult(/teenager/older child), and even act and talk like one, but chronologically speaking, they aren't.

Other times there may be a young adult with the appearance of a middle aged or even older man/woman. Gray hair, a prematurely receding hairline, generally cause someone to look older. Certain types of facial hair also can make a younger man seem older.

Subtropes include Older Alter Ego, a magical ability for younger kids to temporarily turn into adults and back, and Plot-Relevant Age-Up, the same permanently.

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Similar, but not to be confused with Artistic Age, where this is due to art rather than in-story causes. If, in live-action, their age is surprising to the viewer but not anyone in story, it's a bad side-effect of Dawson Casting.

Many people will contest that this is Truth in Television.

Super-Trope to Born as an Adult, Really Was Born Yesterday. Compare Compulsory School Age, Mistaken Age, Age-Inappropriate Dress. Contrast Animation Anatomy Aging. Compare and contrast Really 17 Years Old (where someone is younger than they claim to be).


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    Comic Books 
  • Snowbird of Alpha Flight was a fully grown woman at the age of six.
  • Played for drama with the Astro City superhero Atomicus. While physically he looked like a fully-grown adult in his mid-thirties, emotionally he was a child, less than a year old. This causes problems when a Plucky Girl Intrepid Reporter misinterpreted his shyness as a challenge to discover his secret identity.
  • Jenny Quantum of The Authority looks about 14 or 15 in the 2000s. Actually, she was born at the turn of the century — she was just really sick of being treated like the little kid she was, and had the reality-warping power to change that.
  • Played for Laughs with Reptil in Avengers Academy, who temporarily ended up trapped in the body of his 30-year-old self from the future. Komodo from the Avengers Initiative flirted with him on the assumption that he was an adult, and was absolutely horrified to discover she had been macking on a teenage boy. She immediately stormed out after claiming that he couldn't prove anything in court.
  • Like Billy and Mary, there's Colin Wilkes from Streets of Gotham. With the Venom in his sytem activated, he's as brawny as Bane and looks completely like an adult thug. He's a hero and around the same age as Damian Wayne, who he (sort-of) befriends.
  • Black Moon Chronicles: Goum is just 7-years-old, just like his twin sister, but was cursed to be fully grown so he could fight in the arena.
  • Played for Drama with M.M.'s Bratty Teenage Daughter in The Boys. She has the looks and mentality of a young adult, but near the end of the series it's revealed that she's chronologically twelve but aged at an accelerated rate due to the Compound V in her system. By the end of the series she's quietly living on her own with no issues. Regardless of her physical age it still hits like a truck finding out a 12-year-old did mother-daughter porn.
  • Bart Allen (aka Impulse, then Kid Flash, then The Flash) in The DCU aged unusually quickly for the first few years of his life due to an exceptionally fast metabolism. The reverse is true for his Evil Twin Inertia, who took over 50 years to develop to the physical age of 15.
    • As indeed is Superboy (as in the Superman clone introduced in Return of Superman), who's presumably even now well under ten comic years old, but looks at least fifteen. He was supposed to look even older, as his growth was being accelerated to the point where he could replace the original Superman, but he was broken out before he was ready.
  • When Helen goes on her first date with Atomic Robo in The Deadly Art of Science, she does not react well to the discovery that Robo is only 7-years-old.
    Robo: Intellectually I'm twenty to twenty-five. It's not that bad.
    Helen: I need... I think what I need is a drink. And what'd going to the movies have to do with solving this case anyway?
    Robo: Well, sometimes it helps to step away from a problem.
    Helen: And sometimes you realize your boyfriend is 8-years-old.
    Robo: Seven. But, hey! Now "robot" isn't the weirdest part of our relationship.
  • The children of Mother of Champions, of the DC Comics Chinese superhero team The Great Ten, age 10 years every day. Between this, the fact they all have Super Strength, and the fact Mother can produce a new batch every three days, they are considered cannon fodder of the finest kind.
  • Sometimes superhero costumes can make people look older than they are. One issue had Green Arrow meeting a teenaged Batgirl for the first time. He mistook her for an adult until she mentioned he smelled like her dad due to his cologne.
  • Skaar, The Hulk's son. Looks like an adult in Hulk form, a teenager when in 'human' form, but in actual fact is only a couple of years old, thanks in part to his mother being an alien with an accelerated aging rate. His twin, Hiro-Kala, looks like a young teen.
  • In Preacher, Starr meets Eisenstein, a key figure in the Grail in the 1970s, the man showing a horribly wrinkled face, hunched body and leaning on a cane. Almost 30 years later, Starr is shocked to meet with Eisenstein again, openly hissing "how can he be alive, he looked like a hundred when we met!" As if he's heard him, Eisenstein states that "I have looked like this since I was 12-years-old."
  • Marvel Comics hero Rage was about 14 when he started his superhero career, but looked like he was at least 30 due to his gargantuan size and muscles. Prior to getting his powers he looked like a regular kid. In any case, this gives him the distinction of being the youngest Avenger ever — so young that when the team discovered his true age they sent him to the New Warriors and told him to come back when he was 18.
  • In The Ravagers, Ridge is actually the youngest member of the team, but his monstrous form makes him look older.
  • Victor Mancha of Runaways. He's a cyborg implanted with false memories. He was built as a teenager, so he's approximately 15 years younger than he looks. Molly even comments that she forgot that he's younger than her.
  • Both Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel, thanks to Older Alter Ego. Lampshaded in Formerly Known as the Justice League. At one point Captain Marvel had to break up with the teenaged superhero Stargirl because even though they were the same age, it just looked really creepy. It used to be even more extreme; Billy and Mary had the exact same superhero forms when they were pre-teens. Though Comic-Book Time makes this a very slow process, they're narrowing the age gap with their alter-egos. Given Black Adam's example, eventually they'll be Older Than They Look, as their Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel forms don't age at all.
  • In Star Wars: Republic, there was a point in the Clone Wars where some Separatists were cloning Nikto, presumably to supplement the droids. The facility was discovered and went under siege, and the cloners decided to respond by bumping up the growth rate to get as many new adults as possible. This didn't work out too well in the end.
  • Superman: Depending on the Artist, Clark was this as a teenager. His Kryptonian genetics caused him to be naturally taller and more muscular than the other kids at his school.
  • The final arc of Tales of the Jedi, "Redemption," takes place a decade after the Great Sith Wars. By that time Ulic Qel-Droma would be in his late thirties at most, but he looks like a 50-year-old man (albeit a buff one). Given the grief and guilt he's been carrying as an exile looking for somewhere to die, it's not surprising.
  • Master Splinter, the aged mentor of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, is younger than you'd think. Rats generally live less than three years (five is exceptional, and seven is the record). When the series begins (about fifteen years after his mutation) he'd still be less than 20-years-old. Taken even farther in the IDW comics, where the story begins only 18 months after their mutation, making them all less than 5- to 7-years-old at the most. Justified in that Splinter, and the Turtles to a lesser extent, have some memories of a past life.
  • Representative Joshua Freeh, of Transmetropolitan, is the product of a "Bastard Farm" given a wetware upgrade so he has full higher brain functions, created so the Big Bad would have a running mate with a clean-slate past.
    Spider Jerusalem: Josh Freeh was the perfect running mate. He had no skeletons in his closet. Hell, he's only 2-years-old!
  • Prime of Ultraforce is really a 13-year-old boy who takes on an adult appearance when powered up. Makes for some raised eyebrows when he proudly announces that the 13-year-old girl he has a crush on is his girlfriend.
  • The Ultimates: The Colonel is a teenager, but as a super soldier he looks like he's in his mid-thirties.
  • In Watchmen Laurie aka Silk Spectre II was only 16 in the Flash Back of the gathering of Crimebusters, however, Dave Gibbons draws her looking the same as she is in the main story where she's in her 20s. Dr. Manhatten's girlfriend Janey even points out that Laurie was most certainly a minor at the time when she learns Manatten has cheated on her.
  • X-Men:
    • Magneto is old enough to have lived through the Holocaust, but has been de-aged and re-aged back into his 20s/30s. You'd never expect he and Xavier are the same age.
    • The Stepford Cuckoos are clones of Emma Frost who had been aged up from birth to their teens in order to infiltrate the X-Men. They're only a few years old chronologically.
    • Magik of New Mutants fame spent half her life in a realm of Limbo outside the normal timestream. As a result, she was a teenager despite technically being born 6 years prior to her abduction, much to the X-Men's shock, since seconds passed on Earth for them.
    • Madeline Pryor, former wife of Scott Summers (Cyclops) and the mother of his son, is a clone of Jean Grey (Phoenix). The villain Mister Sinister created her while Jean was dead to lure Scott into a relationship with her, the goal being the creation of a child with the mixed genetics of those two powerful mutants that would be vastly more powerful still. She had false memories implanted, resulting in her being physically and mentally an adult woman while actually being in the low single digits chronologically.
  • Cassie Lang/Stature/Stinger from the Young Avengers. She was 14 when she joined the team, but most artists draw her as looking much older. This led to a minor controversy when she joined the cast of Astonishing Ant-Man. The artist began drawing her closer to how an actual 14-year-old would look, which caused some fans to claim that Cassie was being "infantilized."
  • Badrock from Youngblood is a 12 foot tall rock monster. At the start of the original series he's in his very early teens.

    Fan Works 
Disney Animated Canon
  • Wicked Wiles: Grumpy looks like an old man, but he's actually young by dwarf standards.

Crossover

Fusion Fic

Godzilla

Harry Potter

  • Harry in For Love of Magic spends a few years looking older than he actually is due to using runes to age himself faster, only to have to use more to stop it because by 13, he was six feet tall and had to shave daily.

Higurashi: When They Cry

  • Cicada Psalms: Due to age and stress, Miyo looks a bit older than she actually is. She has more wrinkles and lines than most women her age.

Marvel Universe

Miraculous Ladybug

  • In Scarlet Lady, it turns out this applies to Theo, who is actually the same age as the main cast and attends the same school. It's implied that he deliberately invokes this effect with his goatee; when one of the adults yells at him about how he should shave it off, he protests that it's the only reason his clients respect him.

My Little Pony

Pokémon

Sgt. Frog

Super Mario Bros.

  • Koopa don't age like humans in My Pain, My Thrill. Bowser Jr. was only one during Super Mario Sunshine and three during New Super Mario Bros Wii, but he seemed several years older. It's implied that koopa age quickly early on but slow down over time.

Unsorted/Dormant/Dead

  • Legacy of ch'Rihan: Morgan t'Thavrau is 49, which is barely middle-aged for the Vulcan-descended Romulans, but she looks a lot older from having spent 21 years working in field and vineyard.
  • Professor Crescendo from The Dear Sweetie Belle Continuity is in his mid-thirties but has a gray mane due to a misfired spell and glasses from corrective surgery that keep Sweetie from realizing at first that he is her father.
  • We have this in Kill la Kill AU, with Shinseiji, who was "born" a toddler. However, she is, as her name suggests, a newborn. Justified in that she is an Artificial Human created by Nui to be her little sister from her parents' DNA.
  • Shinobi of the High Seas: Byron suspects that based on her immature attitude and how hard she fought against the effects of the truth serum when asked how old she was, that Jewelry Bonney is really a young girl using her devil fruit powers to look older.
  • In What About Witch Queen?, OC baron Hakan Madsen is said to look like elderly statesman, while being active army general, largely because he grayed early. In contrast, his son Kai is a case of Older Than They Look.
  • Due to the series' Dawson Casting, this comes up in Smoke and Mirrors where Harry Potter is baffled that every teen in Smallville looks to be at least college age. This especially comes up when Harry wonders how the six foot and 200+ pounds of muscle Clark is bullied and when he tries to pick up Chloe at first only to realize she's fifteen.
  • Shmi Skywalker in The Havoc Side of the Force is noted as being prematurely aged due to her life as a slave on Tatooine. Once she gets access to a doctor and a real shower (instead of a sonic one), she looks a decade younger.
  • Subverted in Overlady. Guiche and Montmorency assume the taller, bustier Kirche is 15 like them but she's actually 20. When they're surprised by it, she points out that not only has she been enrolled (and expelled) in multiple academies, but she's taller and bustier than all of their classmates.
  • Exploited in The Secret Return of Alex Mack; Terawatt's costume is deliberately crafted to look older than Alex (taller, more "developed", deeper voice). Most people assume she's around 25.
  • In the Harvest Moon 64 fic Karen's Story, stress has aged Karen's mother Sasha prematurely.

  • Taylor/Renée in Gambit is about the same age as she was at the start of Worm canon, being 15-years-old, but she physically looks more like a 20-year-old college student.
  • Izuku in A Green Dragon's Hoard spends some time looking considerably older than he is. As a year old toddler, he looks 6-years-old and when he's seven, Manami Aiba mistakes him for a young teen around her age. Though it's only a couple years later when Izuku grows so large that it's impossible to mistake him as merely being older. By 9-years-old, Izuku's just shy of nine feet tall.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Animal House: "I'm only thirteen!" Hilariously, this was semi-unintentional on the part of the creators. They originally wanted her to be 16, but thought the censors would not allow (off-screen) sex between a minor and a college student. They decided to make her 13, expecting just such an objection so that they could propose a revised age of 16 as a reasonable compromise. To their surprise, the censors didn't complain at all.
  • Barbarella: The Big Bad, Durand Durand, is stated to be around 25-years-old when the president describes him while briefing Barbarella, but looks middle-aged because living close to the Mathmos for about a year has aged him up considerably.
  • Tom Hanks' character in Big is a child in the body of an adult, thanks to a magic wishing machine.
  • J F Sebastian in Blade Runner is in his twenties, but he looks around fifty due to an aging disease (most likely Werner's syndrome, but named in the film as "Methuselah Syndrome"). The Replicants are created as young adults and have a four year lifespan.
  • In the famous 1951 film adaptation of The Browning Version, the main character, Andrew Crocker-Harris, looks like an old man despite being only 43. This is Justified in that Crocker-Harris has a chronic heart condition and has aged prematurely due to his unhappy life. Actor Michael Redgrave, who was also only 43 when he was cast, had to bleach his hair white and shave the back of his head to create a bald patch in order to look the part of Crocker-Harris.
  • In Catch Me If You Can, 16-year-old Frank Abagnale is played by 28-year-old Leonardo DiCaprio. This is justified by the fact that the real-life Abagnale also looked much older than he was, and in fact, his deceptive looks were a key part of how he was able to pull off his scams. After Agent Hanratty encounters him for the first time, he profiles Frank as someone being in his mid-to-late twenties.
  • Due to the maturity of the role in The Company of Wolves — about a girl discovering her sexual awakening — many fans assumed that the actress playing Rosaline was older than the character's age of twelve-thirteen. But Sarah Patterson actually was twelve.
  • The titular character of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, who starts life looking as an old man and dies as a baby, so as a child looks like a small 80-year-old. He even says to another character early in the movie, "Seven. But I look a lot olda."
  • In Elf, while Buddy is working as a mail sorter, he and a fellow employee share a flask the latter has smuggled in, and the latter drunkenly laments the state of his life now that he's "26-years-old." In fact, the actor was in his mid-forties, and it shows. According to Favreau, this was meant to get a laugh.
  • In The First Wives Club, movie star Elsie confronts her ex-husband, Bill, who's sleeping with his latest star Phoebe (Elizabeth Berkley). Bill is smug talking of Elise obviously jealous of him with Phoebe as Elsie asks her age. When Bill says she's 21, Elsie smirks "In five years." She then produces a high school yearbook revealing Phoebe is actually only sixteen, a dropout using her more mature looks to get ahead in Hollywood. Bill is rocked to realize he's been sleeping with a minor, which Elsie uses to get him to help the Wives out.
  • Martin Brundle in The Fly II grows to physical adulthood by age 5 due to the fly DNA he inherited from his late father Seth Brundle. Then his condition takes a turn for the much, much worse.
  • In Frankenstein 1970, Victor von Frankenstein has been aged considerably by his treatment at the hands of the Nazis. He is the same age as his friend Gottfried, but looks decades older.
  • Ghost in the Shell: The Major and Kuze are both a bit younger than their 30-something cyborg bodies, as they're actually teenage runaways who were kidnapped by Hanka Robotics and converted against their will.
  • Peter Selleck (Rob Riggle) from The Goods, who is stated to be 10, despite looking like he's in his forties.
  • The Heat: Played for Laughs with Captain Woods, Mullins' superior, who points out the amount of stress Mullins causes him:
    Woods: This job is destroying me. [to Ashburn] Do you know how old I am?
    Ashburn: Uh, 58?
    Woods: I'm 43-years-old! I have a 5-year-old son who calls me Grandpa!
  • The Island has clones that appear to be various ages, from thirties up to their sixties. It turns out that oldest ones are no more than 4-years-old.
  • The concept to Jack starring Robin Williams was about a boy that ages four times faster than normal, with him having the body of a 40-year-old with the mental age of 10.
  • In Morgan, Morgan is an Artificial Human who ages faster than normal. She looks to be in her mid- to late teens but is only 5.
  • A deleted scene in Napoleon Dynamite has the mustachioed transfer student Pedro exploit this to buy a lottery ticket. Peluca, the short film on which Napoleon Dynamite is based, has this scene as part of its central plot. The lottery scratcher gives the characters just enough money to buy a wig for another character who had shaved his head.
  • James Norrington in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is introduced at age 19, but as he's already played by then 29-year-old Jack Davenport, he comes off much older than Will and Elizabeth, who are only supposed to be about six years younger than he is but are played by child actors in the prologue. It's further complicated by the white wig he wears through the entire rest of Curse of the Black Pearl as part of his formal naval uniform. Averted in the sequel, Dead Man's Chest, where he has fallen from grace and his real (brown) hair has outgrown the wig, making him look his actual age. By the third film, At World's End, he's back in the white wig, but the effect is different, as he's much less comfortable in his EITC uniform and the wig is made to look even more artificial and unsuitable.
  • Seeing Double had clones of S Club and various other celebrities that were artificially aged so they could take their places, but kept in a childlike state.
  • In Star Wars:
    • The clones are altered to grow twice as fast in order to be battle-ready sooner. The Star Wars Expanded Universe features a Jedi being confused because she senses a child in the Force, but sees a grown man. Even taking their biological ages into account, the oldest clones are 26 by the end of the Clone Wars, but look like they are in their early 30s (whereas Temuera Morrison was in his early 40s at the time of filming).
    • In Return of the Jedi, Anakin Skywalker is portrayed by Sebastian Shaw in his late 70s. Even before the armor comes off, his imposing height, voice (modulated by the suit to sound deeper), and overall demeanor would give you the impression that he is middle aged at youngest. In truth, Anakin was only 45 at this point; a combination of heavy Dark Side corruption, getting burned alive and mutilated on Mustafar, and just generally living a very harsh and stressful lifestyle left him looking several decades older than he really was.
    • During Episode III, the soon-to-be-Emperor Palpatine is 63, but ends up horribly deformed after getting his own Force Lightning redirected into his face by Mace Windu, leaving him looking like he's in his hundreds. Disturbingly enough, it is implied that this was his actual, natural appearance thanks to decades of immersion in the Dark Side, with the normal-looking visage he had before being a Glamour that broke down during his fight with Windu.
    • Padmé in The Phantom Menace is a 14-year-old queen who wears a lot of ceremonial makeup and elaborate costumes, apparently to disguise the fact that she's so young. Even still, she's actually the elected leader, so the people must be well aware of her age. It doesn't help that Natalie Portman was around 17 during the filming of The Phantom Menace.
  • Trainspotting: Mark Renton meets Diane in a club, then goes to her house where they have sex. Immediately after the act she kicks him out of her room and he sleeps on a sofa. In the morning, he's shocked to discover her wearing in a school uniform and realizes that the house he's in is her parents'. She's quite underage, but she threatens to report him for sex with a minor if he doesn't see her again. She's played by a 19-year-old Kelly Macdonald.
  • One horror example exists in Warlock, in which the title character curses the female protagonist to age 10 or 20 years for each night that passes. She remarks to Redfern, "This is worse than death", to which he replies, "That's what he had in mind."

    Jokes 
  • A German joke, sometimes attributed to Heinz Rudolf Kunze: "A few minutes later he straightened with agonizing effort again and lurched to the sink in the corner. He stared at a hideous goblin with spotty face and strands of hair stuck in dried vomit; his emaciated bones stood out of the skin hanging down in flabby flaps; his stomach was bloated, his legs were crooked and arthritic, the face of one beaten poor devil at the end of a long and lonely ride... Waitaminnit! He looked at a poster of Iggy Pop."
  • A young woman walked up to a man who was sitting in a rocking chair on his porch.
    The Woman: You look so happy. What do you consider the secret to a long and happy life?
    The Man: Well, you see, every day I smoke six packs of cigarettes, drink nothing but whisky until I pass out every night, eat nothing but candy and desserts, and I never ever exercise.
    The Woman: That's amazing! If you don't mind me asking, how old are you?
    The Man: Twenty-three.

    Literature 
  • In the works of Stephen King:
    • In The Green Mile, a supposedly elderly couple turned out to watch John Coffey's execution. They turn out to be the 30-something parents of the two dead girls that drove the story.
    • In The Stand, Nadine has prematurely grey hair which later turns completely white. She's in her mid-30s.
  • The Alice Network: When Eve points out that Cameron's cover as her uncle is less than plausible given that he isn't that much older than her, he tells her that he looks 10 years older than he is (and that she looks 5 years younger than she is). Eve conjectures that this is due to stress.
  • Laura Danker in Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. is eleven but she hit puberty around fourth grade. As a result she's quite physically mature for her age. She's also a Huge Schoolgirl who is taller than the boys and is almost as tall as many of the adults.
  • Book of the New Sun: With most characters treating him as an adult (you gotta grow up fast when you’re living After the End) and his constant boasting about his maturity, it’s easy to forget that Severian’s only about eighteen at most during the events of the story. Definitely adds another layer to his constant unreliable narration.
  • In Brave New World this is mentioned as an attempt to create lower-caste proletarian workers who efficiently skip all those useless developmental years, but the 6-year-old men and women are too mentally under-developed, and the program fails.
  • Somewhat subverted in The Catcher in the Rye. Holden Caulfield's hair is starting to grey on one side as a teenager, and he claims several times that it makes him look more mature than he is, but hardly anyone is fooled when he tries to pass for older.
  • Chalion: Lupe dy Cazaril from The Curse of Chalion is only in his mid thirties, but not only is his beard mostly grey but by the time he mostly recovers from the debilitating aftereffects of his time in a Slave Galley he comes down with miracle-induced terminal cancer.
  • The Dancing Girl of Izu is actually a 14-year-old little girl despite looking like a young woman. Luckily the protagonist does not continue crushing on her after finding this out.
  • Derek from Darkest Powers is only sixteen but looks several years older. When Chloe's dad says that Chloe has been kidnapped, people who recognize Chloe believe Derek kidnapped her.
  • Alfie, a Scottish Deerhound, from Dear Hound is only a puppy but due to his huge size he is mistaken for an adult.
  • The "old man" in "A Descent Into the Maelstrom" by Edgar Allan Poe is this as well as Locked into Strangeness.
  • Wilbur Whateley of H. P. Lovecraft's The Dunwich Horror grew unnaturally quickly — he could speak like an adult and read books by the age of one year and seven months, and was adult-sized by the age of ten. Though that's hardly the most inhuman thing about him...
  • While it's unclear how old The Giver actually is, it's (very briefly) mentioned that the stress of keeping all the memories is part of the reason he looks so old.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Although it's not emphasized as much in the books (and is dispelled somewhat by the later novels), the popular image of Severus Snape falls into this trope. Partly due to Adaptation Displacement by the much older Alan Rickman's brilliant performance as Snape in the movies, partly due to his being a peer to much older characters like Dumbledore and McGonagall, and partly due simply to Snape's own scowling personality, it's very easy to forget that he was barely in his thirties when the series began.
    • This is averted by Lupin in the books. Although he is described as ill-looking and prematurely greying (implied to be a side effect of his lycanthropy), he still looks his age:
      Though quite young, his light brown hair was flecked with grey.
    • Also Peter Pettigrew, described as a balding, unkempt-looking man, despite being only in his early thirties when exposed by Sirius and Lupin. Explainable by the fact that he's spent nearly thirteen years on the run, and in the guise of a rat.
  • One character in Chuck Palahniuk's Haunted has progeria (which makes him look like an old withered man), and lives in a nursing home. He tells his nurses that he's 18 and wants to experience sex just once before he dies. After they fall for his con, he tells them the truth: he's 13, and he'll report them to the authorities if they don't give him all of their money.
  • In Homecoming (Drizzt), Yvonnel Baenre II looks like a beautiful young woman despite being an infant chronologically. This is because she was infused with the memories of her namesake (the most powerful Drow Matron Mother of all) while in the womb. She was thus born self-aware with the magical knowledge of her predecessor. Deciding that being an infant was boring, she purposefully used an older version of the Haste spell that had Rapid Aging as a side-effect to become a young adult.
  • In Howl's Moving Castle, Sophie is a teenager who ends up trapped in the body of an old woman because of a curse.
  • In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Archdeacon Claude Frollo is only 36-years-old yet he is nearly bald. The story takes place in medieval France. 40 was considered pretty old, so to be bald at 36 is not unreasonable. (And even today, many men go bald in their mid-twenties.) There's also the medieval Catholic custom of "taking the tonsure," which meant that members of the clergy shaved a circle on top of their head that coincidentally resembled male-pattern baldness. This is why Friar Tuck is always portrayed as bald, by the by.
  • Phereniq Kala and Augon Hunnamek in Infanta are supposed to be of an age. However, Phereniq's work to further Augon's ambitions has aged her before her time.
  • In The Infernal Devices, Charlotte's small size is countered by the air of competence she exudes, and Tessa says she had assumed her to be much older than twenty-three.
  • Cured humans in Janitors of the Postapocalypse are born as animalistic "ferals" and selected in adulthood to be uplifted. They remember almost nothing of their lives before that point and count their ages from rebirth on. The protagonist Mops, the oldest human serving on the EMC Pufferfish, a veteran who's attained the highest rank available to humans and who has gray in her hair and lines on her face, counts herself as twelve. Her subordinate Wolf claims herself as twenty-six because she's only been a person for eighteen months, and other humans scoff at her over it.
  • The Kingkiller Chronicle: After first meeting Kvothe, Chronicler has to amend his impression of the man's age several times, first realizing that he's younger than 30, then deciding that he's not a day over 25. Kvothe has seen and done quite a lot in his short life.
  • In Mary Renault's The King Must Die, Theseus says he is 19 because he worries that people will think 16 is too young for a king.
  • In Lord of Light, a teenaged Yama caused an explosion which mortally wounded him, and necessitated his transfer into the only available body — that of a 60-year-old man.
  • Maximum Ride:
    • Nudge. Angel even wonders if a boy looking at her in Fang that's around sixteen knows that Nudge is only twelve.
    • Dylan appears to be around Max's and Fang's age, but really nine months old.
    • Ari. His appearance is that of an adult man, but really is only around 7-years-old.
    • In the manga, Max looks like she's in her late twenties.
  • Constance from The Mysterious Benedict Society looks and acts like an elementary aged Bratty Half-Pint who is probably younger than eight. She is two.
  • At the start of No Longer Human, we are shown three pictures of the main character Yozo at different points in his life: one as a child, one as a college student, and one in old age. By the end of the book, it is revealed that Yozo's life was so horrendously stressful that the photo of him in old age (described as looking around 40) is actually him at age 27.
  • Played with in the Old Kingdom books. In order to get Sam to leave her alone, Lirael lies and tells him she's a very young-looking 35. She's 19. He believes her.
  • Nancy from Oliver Twist says she is "younger than you would think, to look at me", having been prematurely aged by a hard life of poverty and prostitution.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • Eddard Stark looked older than 35 because of the streaks of white on his beard and the way he carried himself in general.
    • The youthful Asha Greyjoy sees an unfamiliar old man who calls her by name. It takes her a moment to realize that he's her younger brother Theon, who has been broken by torture.
  • In Star Trek: New Frontier, Xy, the son of Burgoyne and Selar, is the chief science officer of the Excalibur... at 5-years-old. He's cursed to rapidly age and die very young thanks to the intermingling of Hermat and Vulcan DNA until his mother gives her life to find him a life-extending drug.
  • In another Star Trek Expanded Universe novel, "Immortal Coil", Rhea McAdams becomes the new security officer of the Enterprise...despite being a barely two-week old android.
  • In Teacher Trouble by Alexander McCall Smith, the 12-year-old heroine looks so mature for her age that on her first day of high school she is mistaken for a teacher and left in charge of a class.
  • Of all places, Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles gives a passing mention to how Tess, at 15, possesses a "fullness" (Is That What They're Calling It Now?) that suggests that she appears much more mature, physically and emotionally, than she really is.
  • In Those Who Survive, Thomas Hind looks and behaves like an elderly man. He's really barely forty. Justified, since the book's a Wilderness Survival Plot that takes place on an extremely unfriendly planet.
  • In Twilight Edward and Bella's daughter Renesmee will look like she's 17 at the age of seven due to her being a hybrid.
  • Victor Dashkov from Vampire Academy is in his forties. The disease which is slowly killing him, also prematurely ages him so that he looks twice his actual age.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: Miles Vorkosigan tends to straddle this trope and its inverse. His short height, slight build, and high pitched voice cause people to subconsciously register him as a child; however the facial lines caused by constant pain for most of his life means that only a slight adjustment of tone, expression, and body language is needed to convince people he is at least a decade older than he actually is.
  • Warhammer 40,000: In the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Salvation's Reach, Meritous Felyx Chass is actually 11, but juvenat and other bio-treatments were used to age him up to 17 effective.
  • Warrior Cats: Bluestar was only 6 1/2-years-old when she died. For cats, this is middle-aged at most. Despite this, prior to her death, she is repeatedly mentioned as seeming elderly and old. This is due to the mental strain caused by her Sanity Slippage combined with the rough life of a feral cat (nevermind being The Leader of a large clan). Word of God is that she also suffered from dementia.
  • Aeduen from The Witchlands is very close to Iseult's age, but she initially assumes he's much older because of the serious, reserved way he speaks and carries himself.

    Music 
  • Jackson Browne's song "Cocaine" has a line that goes "Son, it says here you're 27, but that's impossible. You look like you could be 45," due to the protagonist's cocaine use.
  • Implied in Tanya Tucker's "I Believe The South Is Gonna Rise Again" with the line about her sharecropper father who "died a tired old man at 44."
  • Jim Carroll's signature single "People Who Died" had the lyrics saying, "Bobby had leukemia - 14 years old. He looked like 65 when he died, he was a friend of mine!"
  • DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and their 1988 rap hit "Parents Just Don't Understand." The entire second verse deals with a situation where the 16-year-old protagonist, while driving around in his father's Porsche that he had taken without permission, picks up what he thinks is a hot, hot, hot, HHHHHHHHOOOOOOOTTTTT!!!!! (wolf-whistle) girl about his age to go out for a ride and maybe start a relationship. At one point, the girl begins to unbutton her blouse and begins acting suggestive toward the teen-aged boy. However, he is caught speeding by the police ... and then learns the girl is not 16 BUT A 12-YEAR-OLD RUNAWAY!!!!! (Needless to say, as implied by the protagonist's lament at the end, his parents were not happy; in the very least, he's jailed for grand theft auto, harboring a runaway, driving without a license and various traffic charges and had the cops not pulled him might have done something with the girl constituting a sex crime, leading to him being on the offender registry. Face it, wanting to be cool may cost him decades in prison.)

    Mythology & Religion 
  • Classical Mythology:
    • Older Than Feudalism: The Greco-Roman goddess Athena/Minerva was born fully grown (most images depict her as being about in her mid-twenties at the time of her birth). It's very telling that this is one of the less incredible aspects of her birth story. She doesn't age, so it quickly turned into a case of Older Than They Look.
    • When Artemis was born, her mother Leto gave her some nectar and ambrosia (the food of the gods), which caused her to grow up within a day. As such she was able to serve as midwife for the birth of her twin brother, Apollo.
  • The Cattle Raid of Cooley of Celtic Mythology suggests that Cu Chulainn matured quite a bit earlier than most people do — he apparently wooed Emer and took up training with Scáthach at age six.
  • In The Talmud, Rabbi Elazar is temporarily appointed to lead the Sages at the age of eighteen. His wife comments that it's inappropriate for someone without any white hairs to lead his elders, so a miracle occurs and gives Elazar Mystical White Hair.
    • Taanit 5b states that the prophet Samuel looked much older than 52 when he died. God wanted people to think that he was older, lest they assume that his relatively short life was some kind of divine punishment.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • WWE Diva Molly Holly. In 2002, Molly dyed her hair brown (she's a natural brunette, but years of bleaching her hair blond had fried it) and adopted a prude persona, wearing very matronly-looking outfits. Fans said she looked like "a middle-aged soccer mom" and Jerry Lawler frequently made jokes about her being old and ugly, even though she was only in her mid-20s and was among the youngest women in the company. Ten years on from her retirement, she got comments that she looked younger than when she was first in the company.
  • Liv Morgan and Aliyah did a live Q&A with fans once where they invited people to guess their age (they are both the same age at the time) and burst out laughing when the first guess was 'thirty' (another guess said forty-five, but that was probably just trolling). They were twenty-one at the time, which to be fair was another guess, showing that this trope is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.
  • Tyler Bate debuted for Over the Top wrestling in Ireland when he was only nineteen. Due to his muscular physique and mustache, he looked about mid-twenties. He was the same age when he became the inaugural WWE UK Champion; he eventually grew a full beard and gained even more muscle mass and definition, and could easily pass for a man of at least thirty, if not older. He's twenty-two in that photo.
  • Irish wrestler Jordan Devlin began his career at the age of twelve and once he put on muscle, looked considerably older than he actually was. Now his looks match his actual age.

    Radio 
  • Adventures in Odyssey had an episode where two boys get stuck inside a computer and meet a boy named Gregory who despite looking like an old man of 70 was in fact 12 due to having his life sucked away by playing computer games. The adventure (along with Gregory) was just a virtual reality simulation.

    Roleplay 
  • Robert "Bobby" Jacks, Adam Dodd, and Nicole Husher from Survival of the Fittest are all teenagers, yet they look like young adults. Bobby is a large, muscular, professional boxer who has spent almost his entire life devoted to the sport, causing him to look much older; Dodd had always looked a bit older than he actually was, but the horrors of the first game added a great deal to that; Nicole, meanwhile, developed very quickly due to an early onset of puberty, causing her to appear to be a few years older than she actually is, with predictable results when she reached middle school-age.
  • In Darwin's Soldiers, most Pelvanida experiments are much younger than they look. This is justified because they were grown with accelerated growth chambers.
    • Neku looks and acts like a 17-year-old but is 6.
    • Snow looks and acts like a 20-year-old but is the same age as Neku.
    • Chase looks and acts like a 12-year-old. He is 2-years-old.
    • John "Johnny" Smith is an extreme case. He looks and acts like a 34-year-old. He is seven.
    • Sabre 9 looks and acts like a 31-year-old. He is eight.
    • Ice looks and acts like a 32-year-old. He is the same age as Sabre 9.
    • Walter "Wally" O'Pierce looks and acts like a 34-year-old. He is ten.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Every Ganymedian in the Tethus range on Rocket Age's Venus is younger than they look. After the Soviet ship they were on board crash landed, the plant-like Ganymedians found that the soil and plant-life of Venus caused them to grow much faster and with more fertility. This means that all the Ganymedian children on the range and grassland have the minds of infants and that the adults are aging at an incredible rate.

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Since Phoenix was 24 and Apollo 22 when becoming a lawyer, many people believed Athena Cykes would be in her early 20s, but she is actually 18. No player would have suggested she is only 18 because it should be impossible for her to finish high school with such age and work as a lawyer so fast. Not helping that Pearl Fey (who is a year behind her) appears in the same games she does and looks like in her early teens at best.
    • Simon Blackquill, with a height of 6' 2', shadows under his eyes and partly white hair looks older than Phoenix, but he is just 28. This becomes rather unsettling when you realize his 37-year-old sister looks much younger than him. Though this may be to show that being in prison took that much of a toll on him.
    • Professor Aristotle Means looks like he'd be an old man with his grey beard and fatherly demeanor, but he's only 45.
    • Franziska von Karma looks like she's in her twenties, but in her debut game, Justice For All, she revealed to actually be the same age as Maya (18!).
    • Bonnie Young from Investigations 2 is 60-years-old, but looks like she's pushing 600. She's all shrivelled and hunched over, hobbles around with a cane, and her voice is so weak she has to speak directly into her granddaughter's ear and have her relay what she says to everyone. She's still the best damn coroner in the business, though. Compare Blaise Debeste, who is 68-years-old and looks like he's in his 50s. Even without his wig and fake beard, he still doesn't look that much older.
  • Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair has Nekomaru Nidai, who looks like a huge muscular man with Hot Blooded Sideburns but is implied to be only 17, and Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony has Gonta Gokuhara, a 6'6" Gentle Giant who Word of God states is the youngest of the high-school aged cast.
  • Fate/stay nightToken Mini-Moe Ilya's maids and apparent caretakers appear to be around twenty and are a bit... strange, and have about five minutes total screentime. They're actually 2-year-olds. They're also fairly lethal combat homunculi, whom Ilya made.
    • Ilya's mother Irisviel in Fate/Zero is a grown woman who's only nine; indeed, it's a pattern that von Einzbern homunculi are created with the bodies of twenty-somethings and stay that way. Only Ilya herself was born normally, and is very much the opposite of the rest.
  • The Sonozaki twins in Higurashi: When They Cry look to be in their older teens, but they're only 14, still in middle school.
  • Kurugaya from Little Busters! looks (and acts) as though she could be in her twenties, but in reality she's exactly the same age as the rest of the cast bar Kyousuke. It's particularly notable when she's interacting with Kud, who looks as though she could be in middle school.
  • Super Danganronpa Another 2: Syobai Hashimoto's unkempt appearance, Exhausted Eyebags and scraggly beard makes him appear to be in his 30s while he's still a teenager like everyone else. Eventually subverted: turns out that he is as old as he looks.
  • Tsukihime: While the 800-year-old Arcueid only looks like she's in her late teens to early twenties she may well be much younger than that, mentally, as she was put into sleep mode when she wasn't killing Fallen True Ancestors, and after the True Ancestors died out, whenever Roa's incarnations were inactive.
  • Sigma from Virtue's Last Reward. The other characters comment on it quite a few times.
    Phi: You must have done a lot of drugs to look like that at 22.
    • Actually a subversion — Sigma's mind is 22, but thanks to Mental Time Travel he is in his 67-year-old body, and spends about 99% of the game completely unaware of this. The game also keeps the player in the dark by never showing full-body shots of Sigma after the beginning cutscene where he gets kidnapped (when he's actually in his 22-year-old body), up until The Reveal near the end. This also obscures the fact that the actual 67-year-old Sigma is Zero.

    Web Animation 
  • Object Terror did this with Trowel, as he stated he is actually 2-years-old in "Killoto the Minoto," even though he looks much older.
  • In one of the user-submitted stories on Planet Dolan in the episode OUR HORRIBLE FIRST DATES, a teenaged boy asked a cute girl out on a date and her mother stayed with them for the entire date. He was confused by this until the mother explained to him that her daughter was actually a 9-year-old with the body of a 15- to 16-year-old.

    Webcomics 
  • The Adventures of Dr. McNinja: Gordito looks older than his actual age of twelve due to his extreme mustache.
  • Beloved begins when Wei Wei hooks up with a younger woman she met at a bar. The "woman" turns out to be a 16-year-old girl.
  • Cult Following: Rick, the main antagonist, is 19, but you wouldn't guess it from his beard and moustache. Despite being several years younger than the protagonist, he still calls him "kid".
  • The Cyantian Chronicles: All of Exotica Genoworks' creations suffer from this since they are designed to mature to something like 12 to 15 in only 4 or 5 years.
  • Dragon Sanctuary: Half-elves. Nima is twenty and looks at least a hundred by elven standards, since they age so slowly, but by human standards she looks her age.
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • Ellen is a magical clone of Elliot who was 17-years-old and female at the time. This becomes a plot point, as a magic-user from another dimension has a religious belief that if the soul is younger than the body, it will cause problems. So she gives Ellen dreams of a second life to age up her soul to match, with the side benefit that it gives her own duplicate a friend in that second life.
    • Subverted with Grace and her brothers. The scientists who made them tried to come up with a way to age them faster in order to accelerate their development and get them combat-ready faster. "It was a hypothesis based on another hypothesis based on a theory based on several episodes of Star Trek. It was worthless." We never find out exactly what the scientists did, but it actually slowed down the aging process a little bit; at the time Grace finds this out, she looks about sixteen, but she's actually eighteen.
  • Feywinds: Kit is a fox turned girl and, as fox age doesn't equal human age, she looks early twenties but is actually not anywhere near that. She acts accordingly, though, with a childish but quirky personality, and can be very naïve. She looks like an adult, age wise is a child but has the mentality of a girl in her mid to late teens, albeit a clueless one. Though the author of the comic has said she likes us to not think about how old the character actually is.
  • Hooky:
    • Alex really thought Mark was old enough to drink.
    • Aisha has been mistaken multiple times as being younger than the rest of the cast due to her short height, much to her chagrin.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!: Molly the Peanut Butter Monster has yet to celebrate her first birthday. Her recently generated sister Galatea is even younger.
  • Maggot Boy: Lazaro is a twentysomething in the body of a decrepit old man, complete with Disease Bleach, an Incurable Cough of Death, and permanent eye bags, thanks to pouring most of his life force into an astounding city-wide feat of Necromancy.
  • MAG-ISA: Kyle looks old for a 23-year-old. Must be all those damn steroids...
  • Nectar of the Gods: Bacchus' father, Apollo, is MUCH younger than he looks, he has the goatee, the Benjamin Franklin hairdo, the old man glasses, the wrinkles and near white hair to make it almost obvious he's in his mid 70s.... he's actually 46.
  • Outsider: Loroi mature much faster than humans, and reach adulthood at around eight years of age. Two of the Loroi in the main cast, the systems analyst Beryl and the pilot Talon, are 14 and 13 respectively but look to be the same age as the lone human character who is in his early twenties.
  • PvP: Cole Richards looks like he's in his mid-40s, but he states in an early strip that he's about to turn 30. Moreover, he was college roommates with Brent, Robbie and Jase, who look about right for being in their late 20s.
  • Questionable Content:
    • Played straight with Steve's relationship with Ellen, mildly averted in that Ellen was only a few weeks short of her birthday. Steve (who tends to be the Only Sane Man )was quite relaxed about this, discussed it with Marten and just held back. Ellen was written out of the comic after breaking up with Steve, departing on a marine biology field trip
    • Played with in the case of the various AI characters. May looks and acts as though she were mid- to late-twenties, but Momo (who sometimes remarks on her chronological age of about two-and-a-half years) actually looks like a Pre-teen and can be quite naive, although this isn’t consistent and at times she is quite mature. Bubbles is clearly older, although quite how old she actually is, and how much is due to her PTSD-like symptoms from her trauma in service, isn’t clear. Winslow is quite child-like and maintains this in his new chassis. Pintsize is a smart-Alec of indeterminate age, but has clearly been around for quite some time.
  • Spinnerette, there was a lot of surprise when "Evil Spinnerette" turned out to be just 16-years-old, she looks like she should be in her late twenties at least. This acts as a point of contrast with "good" Spinny, a grad student who gets mistaken for a teenager.
  • String Theory (2009): Dr. Schtein is apparently only 34 despite the lines on his face and his completely white hair. The workaholic attitude, poor self-care, and rampant drug use might have something to do with that.
  • TwoKinds: Keidrans age much faster than humans — Flora, one of the main characters, looks and acts as if she is in her early twenties but is only eleven years old — but also only live into their early twenties. Late twenties at best.

    Web Original 
  • Chakona Space: Shadowcrest is only 12 or 13 when she is critically wounded. After being "processed", she is once again intact but she looks like she's 20.
    • Leanna and most other artificially-grown slaves wind up suffering this trope for a while.
  • Eve of Dragomirs Diary was born a baby, but within months grew to the size of a teenager. This may have something to do with the story being set in a video game — or it could be something far more sinister.
  • The creepypasta Jeff the Killer? He's only thirteen!
  • Killerbunnies: This is unclear in the case of Test Subject 001892300012 or "Lucy", as she claims to be three, although, that could have something more or less to do with the fact that, being an escaped test subject, three might highest number she might be able to count to or, alternatively, if she is an artificial lifeform, then she might actually be three, as in having existed for about three years.
  • The protagonists of Stone Burners discover that Olivia is much younger than expected while dealing with John Doe.
  • In Super Stories, Veldron's robot duplicates are always built to look older and less attractive than him. This is because, when given the opportunity to make a false image, most people would assume the opposite.
  • The Whateley Universe does this:
    • Many, many newly emergent Exemplars look much older than they really are, due to the wish-fulfillment aspect of the Exemplar power. Fey, along with most of the other Venus, Inc., models, are frequently described as having bodies that look very mature for a teen. Similarly, Crimson Comet!!! is thirteen when she first arrives, but is described as having the body of a 20-year-old and the face of a 17-year-old. Sadly, she doesn't seem to have the mental part of the Exemplar powerset, and in fact seems to have the maturity of an exceptionally dim 11-year-old.
    • One of the school psychiatrists at the Whateley Academy is in his mid-thirties (or so, based on author descriptions) but looks like Dr. Bellows from "I Dream of Jeannie", so he appears to be 55 or 60. One protagonist has even researched the psychiatrist, and has lampshaded this.
    • 15-year-old Chou Lee (Bladedancer) apparently looks like Zhang Ziyi.
    • Belphoebe is a clone of Jobe's ideal girlfriend with the memories of Belphegor. Phoebe is then legally entered as Jobe and Belphegor's daughter, with Jobe the mother (as he accidentally used the Drow transformation serum on himself and is turning into the aforementioned ideal girlfriend). Phoebe therefore Really Was Born Yesterday.

    Web Videos 
  • In earlier videos where he shows his face, The Mysterious Mr. Enter appeared to be in his late twenties or early thirties, even though he was actually in his early twenties. This isn't the case now, where he looks almost the same as before, but actually is in his late twenties.
  • Now much Older Than They Look, The Nostalgia Critic looked about fifteen years older than he actually was when he first started his reviews, thanks to shitty lighting and baggy clothes.
  • From the same website, The Rap Critic was born in 1992 and is the youngest of the That Guy with the Glasses crew, making him 26 as of 2018, despite appearing to be in his early 30s. He was only 18-years-old in his earliest videos (the ones where he has no facial hair). See it and you won't believe it.
  • Due to the fact that he's one of Rooster Teeth's first employees, close friendship with Geoff that created Achievement Hunter, and his thick beard, it's a Running Gag in videos that Jack Pattillo is quite old. In fact, Fiona Nova legitimately thought he was 45 like Geoff when she was first hired, much to his dismay. She's even commented that Jack acts more like her middle-aged father than her actual father and it's frequently joked about that their dynamic is more like a father-daughter relationship. In reality, Jack is 40 and the oldest member of the group after Geoff.Note 
    • After Fiona's departure, new member Ky Cooke's dynamic with Jack is also joked about like a father-daughter relationship, especially after he was very dismayed after she didn't understand a joke he made and because she and Fiona are the same age.
  • Spectrum Pulse: Mark was born in 1990 (31 as of 2021), but due to his intelligence and receding hairline, he's often been mistaken for being in his 30s ever since he was in his early twenties.
  • Vsauce: Michael is in his mid-thirties, but due to his beard, intelligence and the fact that he has already lost most of his hair, you'd think he was closer to his mid-forties.

Alternative Title(s): Younger Than He Looks, Younger Than She Looks

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