‘Gorgeous’ seems to be the most commonly expressed adjective in response to the curated self images we share on social media, but I’m beginning to wonder if this well-intentioned compliment might ultimately do more to undermine than uplift. Being called gorgeous can feel great and who among us doesn’t like to be ‘liked’, but something about it makes me squirm when it’s directed exclusively at appearance.
As a kid I had one of those musical jewellery boxes that opened to a tiny pink ballerina twirling in plastic perfection. When I hear verdicts of ‘gorgeous’ I’m reminded of this and see women and girls symbolically spinning for the approval of someone else’s gaze. I wonder if by making appraisals that focus on surface we elevate appearance as the foremost measure of worth?
Women have endured generations of objectification and patriarchal cultural conditioning that have shaped their relationships to the female body within a paradigm of approval or shame, so much so that maybe any commentary on the body, be it positive or negative, only reinforces this trap. Guys, when commenting on other male images generally see more broadly, referencing character traits and activities or objects within the frame. Whilst this may in part be driven by a homophobic fear that complimenting another man’s appearance could be perceived as gay, it’s still a useful of example of engaging with the whole person and context rather than merely judging the physical.
Women are generous in offering genuine compliments but in doing so through appearance, we risk maintaining the stereotypes that bind our self-worth to narrow standards of beauty that center on hair, makeup, clothing and identification with a vehicle that will always be imperfect. I wonder if we have a responsibility to rewrite our narratives of value (especially for young girls) and one place to begin might be forsaking those little words like ‘gorgeous’, ‘stunning’ or ‘beautiful’, for any words that associate who we are with what we look like will always be tricky.