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am i pretty?

“A theory: ‘Pretty’ has gone out of favor because we are greedy, and want the merely pretty to be fully beautiful, and so we go around calling things beautiful that are pretty.”

(Elisa Gabbert, The Word Pretty)


There was this boy at a bar once who I was flirting with and he was flirting back. He got progressively vulnerable with his compliments, and he worked his way to this one:

“You’re one of those girls who you don’t notice is hot from far away, but once you get

closer, you realize you’re, like, really pretty.”

Or something like that. I hadn’t understood a back-handed compliment until now, and the worst part is it worked. We went home together, and again, and then he got back together with his ex-girlfriend on Valentine’s Day. His name was ____, and he was one.

Am I pretty? According to ____, in proximity. According to my boyfriend, I am beautiful, but that’s a biased one. Might they all be biased, though? Hot, cute, attractive, sexy, stunning, gorgeous. Some boys don’t say anything, which usually means a word less than “cute,” and you are left to fill in the blank. All the above I have heard from other “men”—or better, boys—all people who want something from me. It seems that the only ones to trust are the women, without ulterior motives, and even then—according to whom? What is the scale, and does it differ per person? In my mind, the words would fall in such an order (from least to greatest):

[ ]









Beautiful may be the only one that goes deeper than the shape of my skin. Beautiful describes the things unseen, the unknown before mystery is confessed. Along these lines, someone becomes beautiful through familiarity. I’ve never heard of a beautiful b*tch. There are plenty of hot or sexy ones, but no beautiful b*tches. It would be oxymoronic.

Pinning myself down seems a waste of time, a waste of energy that may diminish any lingering beauty, under or over my skin.


other Gabbert quotes I jotted down:

  • "There’s something self-flattering about it—describing a thing as beautiful makes the speaker appear more sensitive to beauty."

  • "So, there’s something endearing about a man calling an object—a bit of music, a tennis shot—pretty; it’s a moment of vulnerability. I also love a straight man in a pink shirt."

  • "Beautiful suggests depth, even profundity. But not pretty—prettiness entails lightness; it’s fleeting, flimsy. Calling someone pretty—or worse, cute—can be diminishing."

  • "Cuteness is a way of aestheticizing powerlessness." (!!!)

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