“You’re so exotic looking.”
“I love brown girls.”
“You’re hot for an Indian girl.”
Thanks? I think?
I know the people who said these things to me meant it as a compliment, but it’s never felt like one. Exotic is not a synonym for beautiful; however people are referring to my appearance when they call me “exotic.” Common compliments to describe someone’s appearance include pretty, beautiful, and attractive. Common compliments come to the mind first, and are the easiest to use. Therefore, when someone calls me exotic, I know they don’t mean “pretty” they mean “different.” Exotic emphasizes my differences from the people around me which can be very alienating. I’ve typically grown up in predominantly white dominated areas and I already felt I stood out from all my friends with my tan skin, curly black hair, and brown almond shaped eyes. I remember at my prom, everyone was telling my friends how beautiful they looked while I was labeled “exotic.” It just makes me feel more like an outsider. Merriam Webster defines exotic as “introduced from another country: not native to the place where found” with examples being “exotic birds” or “tropical fruit.” Therefore, describing someone as “exotic” ultimately objectifies and dehumanizes them. Additionally, sometimes when people call me exotic, they assume I’m from a different country while, in reality, I was born in Texas and grew up in California.
On another note, “exotic” also emphasizes and is exclusively used for people of color which insinuates they don’t belong while white people do belong despite the fact that white people in America are just as much as foreign immigrants as people of color. It makes it seem that white people belong here whereas I must be from somewhere else which, in America especially, is just not true. Furthermore, women of color are called exotic because they don’t fit into the “normal” European standard of beauty, which is almost exclusively white. I’m “exotic” implies a normal standard of beauty and because I don’t fit into the mold of straight hair, light eyes, and thin figure it’s a reminder that I don’t fit in.
So, next time you think about calling someone “exotic” maybe reach for a different word such as “beautiful” or “pretty.” It’s about the impact your words have on a person, not the intentions, even if they are from a place of positivity. And, it’s not hard to take a minute and think about the impact calling someone “exotic” will have on them and picking a better word for a compliment.