To give you some background, I have never considered myself to be incredibly attractive. With my father’s face and a short, childlike body, I usually classify myself into the “she a has a good personality” group. Through middle school and high school, I prayed for a growth spurt. The classmates who had told me that I looked like I was twelve, was flat-chested and had an unmemorable face would be proven wrong. That growth spurt never arrived and I was stuck looking like a perpetual eighth grader. I buried my insecurities under strategically applied makeup and I coped. I found solace in my “good personality”. It wasn’t until last fall that my dislike of my appearance was brought back to the forefront.
We were sitting in my dorm room with my roommates when the topic of the way we look came up. You told us that guys you knew classified girls into three categories: hot, pretty, and cute. You provided examples to make it clear what it took to be in a certain group. Lincoln Logs have more structural integrity than my self-esteem does, so I was not very keen on the idea of this classification system, but my roommates and I wanted to know where we would land. You told my first roommate that she was pretty, an answer she was satisfied with. The second was grouped somewhere in between pretty and hot. She let out an audible sigh of relief. When it was my turn to be grouped, you looked at me for a long time.
“I guess you’re cute,” you finally said.
To put it into perspective, you made it seem like the hot girls looked like Kate Upton, the pretty girls looked like Lily Collins, and the cute girls looked like Steve Buscemi in a wig and a dress.
“I’m just cute?” I asked, a bit hurt.
I probably am just sensitive, but what you said and the way you said it brought back all of the negative things I had ever been told about my appearance that I had learned to ignore. I was reminded of the eight-year-old at the Boy and Girls Club telling me that my face was funny. I heard the kid in high school telling me that my hair made me look like I had survived a plane crash. I remembered the girl in marching band informing me that I would never be beautiful like my sister.
I know that we live in a time where body positivity is becoming more prominent. People are teaching each other that while it is okay to care about the way you look, the kind of person you are should be the priority. However, a simple reminder that some people place less stock in these things sends the positivity into a backward spiral.
You labeled me as the cute friend and made me feel less than. Even if I work hard to be intelligent, have a good sense of humor, and do my best to be kind to the people around me, it does not feel like enough. You said it flippantly and did not realize the gravity of what you said. That is why I am writing this. Even the little things we say, the things that seem of little-to-no consequence to us, can have a far deeper impact than we care to see. I now am working hard to accept my flaws and appreciate my strengths, but I want to stress that we all need to pay attention to the how we address other people.