Because you think that is what I want to hear. I can’t blame you; we’re all taught the same thing. Women want to be pretty, they want to be princesses, they want to be loved by someone who admires them the way an art collector would his most prized painting. There is a lot tied up in our aesthetics, and when all else fails, it’s always a good time to remind her that you think she is lovely. You tell me I am pretty when I am crying, when something bad has happened, when I am feeling the dearth of a million other qualities I wish I possessed. And I am supposed to smile, and take your hand.
But I am not pretty. I mean, maybe I am. I am not a good judge of these things. “Pretty” means a lot of things and, if you never got to be a “pretty girl” growing up, you are almost guaranteed never to see yourself that way in the rest of your life. You will always be fighting up some invisible hill to construct other, more palatable character traits which make your presence in the room less of a drain on things. I have never looked at myself in photos or in the mirror and been immediately overcome with a bit of that pride that can only come from knowing your feathers are full, and lush, and brightly colored. When you tell me, I don’t believe you.
Even if I did, though, would it matter? Is that really the point of these conversations — to get me to stop being upset by reminding me that men still find me attractive, that I still have some kind of worth in this world, as judged by others? That can’t be it. I mean, if it were, there are so many other, more tangible things to tell me about myself. You could compliment something that I’ve worked on, something that I tried for, something that I had more of a hand in than the cards I was dealt in the genetic poker game. I appreciate the effort, but I find its motivations hollow.
Let’s be clear: I know what it means when, at my most vulnerable, you tell me that I am pretty. When you abstractly compliment me on how “lovely” I remain, even when everything is going wrong. You are looking to worm into the warm nook between my sadness and my desire to be alone. You want to weasel your way into those small wounds, telling me that I am so much better than my pains and my challenges in life, that I deserve so much more — your love. You want me to turn to you and, in a single instant, realize that you are the missing piece of whatever puzzle I have been incompetently trying to put together. You compliment in this way because you have an agenda, and not a particularly obscure one.
You think that I want you to find me pretty. You think that I want you to rescue me with your words, with your gestures, with your insistence that I am fuckable. But I do not want any of those things, and I don’t want my own beauty to be some kind of escape from the real problems of my life — the ones that beg real solutions and real work. I don’t need you to validate these things with my skin, or my hair, or my bone structure. I was doing just fine before that, even if I thought I was ugly.