What’s My Age Again? How Hollywood’s Age Problem Affects Us All

Caitlin Hall

Hollywood’s perception of age has always been skewed. Actors over 60 are almost non-existent and teenagers are played by people who probably have a mortgage. This has inevitably affected our self-perception, and some young adults, fresh out of their adolescent years, feel they must fulfil their life dreams before they reach the ‘dreaded’ age of 30. 

Hollywood’s high school graduation age is roughly the mid-30s, when you are too old to convincingly play an adolescent. Tobey Maguire played teenage Peter Parker until Spider-Man 3, when he was 32. Popular high school dramas Euphoria and Pretty Little Liars feature actors in their early to mid-20s. 18-year-old Rizzo in Grease was played by 33-year-old Stockard Channing. It isn’t just high school dramas, Netflix’s recent film, The Dig, has come under fire for casting Carey Mulligan, 35, as a 56-year-old woman, prompting criticism that women over 40 might as well be invisible in the Hollywood sphere. 

They have their reasons. Actual teenagers are obliged to complete school and cannot work the same hours as adults. In a bizarre twist, 14-year-old Mila Kunis lied about being 18 in That ‘70s Show to play a 15-year-old. Casting older leads in high school dramas attracts a larger demographic, as a show filled with actual teenagers is likely to draw in a younger audience. Hollywood could place their characters in higher education, warranting an older age-range, but at the expense of relatability. High school is a collective experience for most Americans, and offers a wide universal appeal, but only 51% of Americans see college as “important”. 

What happens when a 14-year-old girl watches Pretty Little Liars and compares her own appearance to the actors on the show? They play characters not much older, but in reality, are nearly ten years her senior. Teenagers may have much more inconsistent appearances, sometimes waking up with frizzy hair and spots. Comparing themselves to groomed and sophisticated adults is bound to have damaging long-term effects on their mental health.  

The media praises women for ‘growing old gracefully’. The same tweet goes viral nearly every month, shocked at how youthful and sprightly Anne Hathaway looks – “Unbelievable! Doesn’t she look amazing?!” At only 38, that’s how she’s supposed to look. The idea that a person has ‘aged gracefully’ is extremely harmful to our own self-perceptions. It’s the reason why young adults think that they need to be immediately successful, because they’re fed the narrative that they’re ‘past it’ once they’re out of their twenties. An actress does not look ‘good for her age’ at 40-years-old, that’s just a back-handed compliment. Actors over 50 should not be neglected by Hollywood, because our value in society does not end when we reach a certain age. 

Desperately yearning to be older or younger does nothing to change the course of time, but just makes us feel worse about ourselves. Our time on earth is so precious, why would we want to wish it away?