I get asked that question as often as Beyoncé gets asked, “Can I get your autograph?”
When I tell them I am twenty-one years old, I usually get the same reactions akin to seeing Beyoncé walking down the street: shock and disbelief.
On a good day, I pass for sixteen. It does not help that I am five-two and a half (every half inch matters when you have so few), wear size three shoes, smile with dimples, speak with a high voice, and have the facial structure of a Gerber baby. On “Parents Weekend” during my sophomore year in college, an employee of the school asked me if I was lost and needed help finding my family, assuming I was visiting a sibling attending the school. To this day, I am still consistently asked to show I.D. when I try to view “R-rated” movies.
In addition to my little-kid appearance, I also have little-kid enthusiasm about anything and everything. This was especially apparent when I was young. As I got older, I felt like my ideas were being dismissed and not taken seriously because I still appeared young. When my efforts to appear older failed to garner the respect I wanted, I began to doubt myself.
I still had my age complex around the time I began photography nearly two years ago. It started off as just a hobby, but then someone saw my work and offered to pay me for my services. I was shocked. No way, someone was willing to pay me to do something that I love? Here are photos from my first paid gig:
As I published my work on social media, I began to garner more interest in my services. For the longest time, I charged miniscule rates because of my inexperience; but as I got more comfortable, I was anxious that people would not take me seriously or thought I was crazy to have the audacity to charge professional rates.
People so quickly equate youth with inexperience and unprofessionalism. In order to quell these biases, I needed to overcompensate for my age by stressing my capabilities, and in turn, foster business legitimacy. Perception plays a significant role in business success, but results can send an even more powerful message. Through trial and error, I have learned how to negotiate photography contracts with clients, create a social media and online presence, schedule interviews and appointments with vendors and creative collaborators, invest thousands of dollars into media equipment and software, and balance business financials, all while being a full time student. In addition to amassing these technical skills, I have gained something much more valuable: reassurance in myself and my capabilities.
Occasionally, I still get wedding attendees patting me on the back and giving me high-fives while I’m photographing, saying “I’m impressed!” or “You’re doing a great job!” While they have good intentions, I cannot help but wonder, would they treat me differently if they saw me as an equal, with the luxury of age as an indication of credibility? Then again, it’s oh so satisfying to hear their reactions later, when they see the results.