An adjective is not a person is not an adjective. To define a human with a mere descriptor is to take away a little bit of their sparkling and necessary complexity, to dampen, a little, their wholeness.
As ‘women,’ we are told that we’re beautiful, smart, nurturing, pretty, brave, thin, sensual, artistic. But we know the truth. We know that we’re not beautiful. Over here a chin hair, over there a pimple, hither a fat roll, yon greasy hair. We’re not smart, either. We know who failed that math test, couldn’t remember the name of that thinker (or singer), you know, what’s-his-face? We know that Shakespeare or physics or navigating cars makes us break out in a cold sweat. Neither are we nurturing. We remember that time we bitch slapped that one bitch, all the times we’ve whined, or stolen the last cookie, or pushed people away, run to our rooms and slammed the door. Hard. Neither are we pretty, or thin, or any other adjective some think it’s acceptable to limit us by. We are so much more.
We are our pimples and fat rolls, and also our shapely noses, waxy oval fingernails and elegant ankles. We are our most secret failures, and also our most glimmering and jubilant successes.
If we ask ourselves, in the most hidden and secret chamber of our innermost soul, what we are, we know the answer. We are good. Our bodies are vessels for hope. Our eyes are shining spotlights of love. Our hands weave tapestries of care that send shimmers of warmth the world over. But to fail to see the selves we know we inhabit is to perpetuate a kind of violence. Though our bodies may be small, there is room for doubt and fear and pain and anger stitched through our eyes, hands and hearts, stitched into the fabric of our bodies. These parts of us are necessary. They hold necessary tension with all that we hope in our hearts to be.
So. We are no adjective, we ‘women,’ but we are agents, people with specific personal powers, self-propelled through this ridiculous world. But you, you throw up your hands and say “but you ARE beautiful! I love you and you are perfect in your imperfection and I want to squeeze your kind, passionate self tight.” And that is your thoughtfeeling. And it is true for you. And that is good. But don’t you dare call me beautiful.
If you want to tell someone they’re beautiful, please refrain. Instead, tell them that in their presence you feel a great joy. Tell them that when they smile your soul sighs peacefully. Or that the way they square their shoulders and face the world head-on gives you hope. Or tell them that what you really wanted was a hug, and would they mind if you gave them one?
If you want to tell someone they’re brave, stop yourself right there. Instead, tell them that the courage they displayed calling out that sexist remark inspires you. Tell them that their vulnerability has taught you how to lean even more deeply into your own relationships. Tell them you’ve got their back. Actually, just have their back.
If you want to tell someone they’re smart, wait. Instead, tell them you’re grateful for how hard they’re willing to work solving a problem. Or tell them that their compassionate way of thinking about the world gives you happiness. Or tell them something you learned from them. Or ask them an interesting question.
You can take this as a challenge or supplication, an order or a request. But either way, I ask you to re-imagine ‘beautiful.’ And I believe that in so doing, you’ll find the world and the people in it even more radiant than you’d ever imagined.