Wednesday, May 28, 2014

You Don't Have to Say I'm Pretty

This is my experience, something I struggle with or think about. It may not be your experience and it may not express your views. Please try to hear what I'm saying as an expression of my experience, not as an attack or discounting of your experience.

The past weekend was spent at a conference with my favorite people in the world. Now I’m home on facebook scrolling along and seeing the stream of pictures being posted from our time together.  In my feed are selfies of beautiful women, women I think the world of, women who have great hair, beautiful eyes, and who take the most dazzling selfies. And that’s cool! In a world that sometimes responds negatively to selfies, I think it’s great that women feel confident and beautiful, that women and girls alike can capture how they see themselves or present themselves as they wish the world could see them. I love seeing the faces of people I care about, my own girls included, on instagram or facebook, looking up at their phone as they capture a look, an outfit, a moment in time with friends…

Underneath these pictures, in the comments, are expressions of how beautiful these women are, how Hot, how lovely, how gorgeous. In one thread there are comments about making a Hot Mom Calendar and my friends are mentioned as women who should be included. But I don’t comment. It’s not that I don’t think these women are beautiful, they are, it’s that I don’t want to draw attention to myself in that setting because I wouldn’t be included in that calendar. I very rarely post selfies. I’ll even avoid being in pictures that others are taking when there is a small group involved because I don’t want to ruin their picture. Being remarkably unphotogenic, chances are that everyone will look beautiful and I’ll look, well, not beautiful.

This is not some ploy to get people to tell me I’m beautiful. In fact, it’s a plea for the opposite. When I post a picture of myself on facebook and people post underneath that I’m pretty or beautiful it makes me uncomfortable. Some people will say that I need to get over that and learn to see myself as pretty or beautiful, but, what I want is for people to be more honest and creative in the words they use when they comment on pictures.

Recently a facebook friend posted a picture of her daughter and the comments were all about how pretty she was, how “she gets more beautiful every day.” And I cringed. It wasn’t a particularly flattering picture of the girl, so why did people feel the need to say she looked pretty? But beyond that, couldn’t they come up with something better to say?

When I post a picture of myself, after a dozen selfies of which I deleted all but the one I can tolerate the most - which probably doesn’t even really look like me - I wonder if people feel obligated to tell me I look pretty. Are they just trying to boost my self esteem? Do they think telling me I look pretty will help me feel better about myself?  

Because really, I’m feel fine about myself. Well, most of the time. There are even times when I look in the mirror and feel pretty. And there are plenty of times when I am not looking at a mirror or a picture of myself when I feel pretty. But when I post a picture of myself please don’t feel like you need to say I am pretty.

The next time a friend posts a selfie, or a picture of their daughter, think about responding with greater honesty and creativity:

I love your/her smile!
She has your mother’s eyes.
This is such a striking picture.
This reminds me of….
That’s a great outfit!
You have a fantastic sense of style.
It’s fun to see you enjoying….

Say something about what’s going on in the picture.
Ask a question that relates to the picture to start a conversation that goes beyond “Pretty.”

Sure, some people put up selfies because they are fishing for compliments. And some people in some pictures are truly breathtaking. So say that!

The other side of this is when people comment along the lines of: “Stop looking so pretty!”  “I hate you because you’re beautiful!” or “Why do you have to be so cute?”  These responses may feel like backhanded compliments, or maybe someone expressing their insecurities or fishing for compliments. These comments may leave the person in the picture feeling awkward or discounted. Even people we think are beautiful have their doubts and insecurities. For some of them it takes courage to post pictures of themselves, to embrace their looks or to draw attention to themselves. We don’t need to dull anyone’s sparkle in an effort to make ourselves feel better. 

My intent is not to discourage anyone from telling someone that they are beautiful!

If you really think I look pretty in a picture I would love to know. But don’t feel like you have to say I’m pretty. Because I know I’m not, or at least I’m often not pretty in pictures.. And don’t feel like you have to tell people their children are pretty, because they are probably aware that their kid is in that awkward stage that often happens some where between toddler and twenty, or that some pictures are more flattering than others.

When you comment on pictures let people know you see them, their passion, their joy, or their grief.  Let them know you see who they are, because as much as we want to feel pretty, we also want to know that we are loved and accepted for who we are.

I may not be photogenic, I may not always feel pretty, but that’s o.k. because I know that I’m much more than “just another pretty face.” And so are you. <3


  1. This reminds me of the how to talk to little girls thing, which is also good.

  2. I really like the clarity of your writing here. It's thought inducing. In reflecting on why I love my current profile picture on fb so much, I realized that part of it is that the comments, from my friends and my grown children, all express the way I felt when the photo was taken - that I look happy and like I'm having Fun. Which I was!

  3. I hear you and I feel what you're saying, but I disagree. You have an inner, radiant glow of happiness that shines through in photos and in real life. THAT is beautiful, it's not about specific features. I think sometimes people call little girls beautiful because they don't know other ways to offer praise and that really is a problem. I'd much rather see my kids photos recognized for something other than beauty, but the word really does encompass more than just appearances and sometimes it's hard to remember that.