on being beautiful

It’s not that I don’t like being told I’m beautiful, but I am unnerved when the compliment comes too frequently. In too short a space of time. Particularly, from a single source.

There aren’t really guidelines for how frequently is too frequently. It’s just a feeling. And I’ve felt more unnerved more frequently.

I’ve been asking myself why. I am grateful to be beholden as beautiful by others – it is no trivial compliment – but why does hearing that they do unsettle me?


#selfportrait January 4, 2013

It’s not that I don’t believe that I am beautiful. In fact, during my ponderances, I discovered that I do see myself as beautiful. Not pretty or cute or attractive. I. Am. Beautiful.

“Do you know how beautiful you are?”

I recently dated a man who asked me this. I’d heard the question before, but this man asked me almost every time we saw each other. And we saw each other at least two or three times a week.

“Do you know how beautiful you are?”

Each time, “Thank you.” And in time, when the intensity of his gaze made it evident that it wasn’t a rhetorical question, that “thank you” was not a satisfactory answer, and that he really wanted to know if I really knew, “There are a lot of beautiful women in the world.”

That wasn’t really a satisfactory answer, either. And so I keep coming back to why. Why does being told I am beautiful too frequently – however frequently that is – unnerve me?

Like for many things, there is likely many reasons. But there is also this one…

Our physical appearance is the first thing that people see – in the most literal meaning of the word – when they see us. Yet it physical beauty is among the least unique of qualities that any one person can possess.

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  1. #1 by Dave on April 14, 2013 - 8:31 pm

    Repetition, even of a compliment, gets a bit tedious. Worse than that, people use repetition when they suspect that you haven’t properly understood them. When a compliment is repeated, I always suspect that the giver is hoping to get some kind of recognition for either their generosity or their perception. As adults, most of us get a pretty firm idea of who we are, good and bad. Comments that confirm this seem neither generous or perceptive.

    No matter how you slice it, a simple thank you is always the classiest way to respond to compliments, even the tedious ones.

  2. #2 by Ms. Herr on April 14, 2013 - 9:41 pm

    Dave, interesting points on repetition, and definitely contributors to my unease. Coincidently, as I tend to speak in circles, you’ve given me a lot to think about in an entirely different area of my life. 🙂

  3. #3 by Dave on August 10, 2015 - 6:49 am

    I see that I’m coming to this conversation late. Sorry.

    Have you ever owned fine work of art whose beauty continually blew you away? Something for which you felt a newfound appreciation of its beauty each time the light hit it differently?

    I ask because a long long time ago I dated a woman of breathtaking beauty. I was awestruck anew by her beauty each time light and shadow played upon her face from a different angle. Not only that, she had the most beautiful heart and soul of anyone I’d met. Sometimes I’m a very simple guy (think Conan the Barbarian without the physique) and so all I could manage to utter was “You are so beautiful”

    I realize that women who are beautiful get a bit jaded about hearing it, but perhaps the gentleman was feeling something profound but was unable to express it any other way.

  4. #4 by Ms. Herr on August 10, 2015 - 10:04 am

    Dave, thank you for this. I don’t know that I’ve ever owned a piece of art whose beauty continued to blow me away, but I have known people who have. Since writing this piece, and talking with others about it, my perspective is changing. I appreciate the viewpoints of others. As always, they help widen my sometimes narrow paths of thought.

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