For The Girls Who Don’t Like To Be Called ‘Pretty’

I’m the kind of girl who doesn’t feel comfortable being told she’s pretty. Pretty sounds like something people tell you to make you feel better, like being told you’re talented when you’re still too inexperienced. Pretty sounds like an empty word I never thought I’d be capable of.

Girls like me, we don’t say we’re fat or ugly out loud. We hold those special insults to ourselves. When someone tells us we look good, we sheepishly say thank you and hope the moment will be over soon. We don’t believe it and it sounds like something only our mothers would say. We scarcely think you’d ever believe it too.

We might tell our closest friends, “I think I look bad in this picture,” or “Nothing looks quite right on me,” not to garner sympathy or extra compliments but because those are the only people we trust with our secret self-hatred.

When past boyfriends used to tell me I was beautiful, I would look the other way. One told me, “You’re so beautiful you can’t even see it,” and it made me laugh thinking of that One Direction song.

One occasion, a person that I had only met a few times told me that I was beautiful inside and out. Her directness caught me off-guard and I found myself suddenly crying and not knowing why. It was as if she had just insulted me, her blunt delivery and eye contact cutting through an exterior I had thought was well-preserved. She said, “You’re crying because you don’t believe me, but it’s true.”

When I watch movies of an average girl who finds love, I don’t find the character unbelievable. I see her in me, and I suspect these movies are so popular because there are so many girls like me. For every mean girl, there’s an invisible girl right out of shot.

Girls like us get by in life because we rely on our intellect or natural talent for something that distinguishes us far from beauty. We find other ways to feel good about ourselves rather than our bodies. From a young age, we see our mothers and grandmothers fuss over themselves in the mirror, and by the time we’re adults, we think that’s perfectly normal.

If you ever meet a girl like me, I hope you get to know her, tell her she’s talented for something she’s good at, and find ways to make her feel better without words like “pretty” or “beautiful.” And once you know her enough, I hope you tell her she’s beautiful and can count all the ways. Perhaps by then she’ll believe you.

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design + illustration (usually about cats / coffee / bad puns) Follow Gabrielle on Instagram or read more articles from Gabrielle on Thought Catalog.

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