There are several 3 word combinations that a man can say to scare the hell out of you and send you running for the hills like “I’m very complex” or “My mom’s coming” or even “I love you” but the most terrifying words that make me intensely uncomfortable are the words “You are beautiful”. When a man says those words to me I immediately doubt his intentions, his candor, and his verity. I squint my eyes together to focus my view and I start to evaluate every thing he says as if he has just come out of the jungle and is in my scope. Those words cut across my skin in the most brutal way and leave an open wound and a stinging pain and immediately put me on guard. Despite what his intentions are in uttering, genuine or sinister, the bite in this simple, affectionate declaration is the deep down belief that we don’t see ourselves that way.
The first lips who lovingly perfumed the air with this phrase was undoubtedly a parent. We describe newborns as beautiful not because they are (I’ve always thought they looked a little alien-like- even my own children) but because of what they represent…new life, hope, purity, a composite of the love that created them. We call new babies beautiful even when they’re not because of the love we have for them. Through out our lives, our parents feed us with these words like a teddy bear being stuffed with fluff, insulating us from the blows that life will bestow on our self-esteem later. As a parent I know the look of pride in my daughter’s faces when their father tells them they look beautiful when they come bounding out of their rooms in a new outfit. “You are beautiful” is a proclamation that we use to weaponize children, to armor them for a world which won’t see them through the same loving eyes as we do.
But somewhere along the line, those words lose their innocence in two ways. First, somewhere in puberty or adolescence, someone will say those words and melt your defenses and subsequently break your heart. The perversion of those words were the key that lets the danger in. Second, at some point when you’re looking through old pictures with a parent and you see that you were not so beautiful in those memories and you hear your parents lament that you were- you start to doubt the whole validity of those words. You begin to realize that they are peppered with perspective and salted with a parent’s agape love. You begin to see that those words are not an absolute and as such can be open to interpretation and forever more you doubt “You are beautiful” whenever it escapes from someone’s lips.
I think about my revulsion of these words a lot as I’m trying to transform my two young girls into women who will be stronger and more powerful than I am. I think the key is in developing their perception that they are beautiful without saying those words. Both of my girls have several mirrors in their rooms. I want them to see themselves and find the beauty for themselves. I also try to speak those words with my eyes. When we’re cuddling, I’ll stroke their perfect little faces as if I’m touching a masterpiece. For myself, I’m fighting for those words to have meaning too. I’m trying to say them to myself when I look in the mirror and not like some bullshit sing-song affirmation from some self help guru…right now it’s more like the quiet whisper when you’re having a loud screaming match with someone and you finally speak the truth. I want to believe those words, and we should because there is BEAUTY in each of us but the power from those words can no longer come from having them be gifted to us, it has to be something we already possess inside.