A few months ago at a college reunion I told a woman I barely knew that she was beautiful. I had been so struck by her stunning calm, her sweet smile, her kindness to other people that day. Her face fell when she heard my words. She narrowed her eyes, checked sideways to see if her husband was listening, glared at me and hissed in a whisper,
“Don’t say that!”
And quickly walked away like I was toxic.
I tell my daughters and son they are beautiful always and forever because they are and always will be. They are my works of art, marvels of DNA and history and memories.
But we woman don’t say beautiful to each other. Well, women have said to me “you look great!” which I instantly translate to “you didn’t look so good the last time I saw you.” Then there’s “you’ve lost weight!” and I cringe because what I weigh is none of their business nor is their assessment of my body type sought after at any time.
We tell each other that we are dressed well, or our hairstyle looks good, or our shoes are glamorous. Exterior compliments. Men or the fashion industry or the magazines rate, weigh and place cultural values on our looks. But for a woman to call another beautiful, in a completely a-sexual manner –the kind of beautiful that is a state of being; not of hair, or clothes, or skin? Highly unusual.
Why don’t we — as women — acknowledge when another woman glows, or looks happy, or truly radiates beautiful? Why do we let others be better judges?
Her fearful glare had warned me “back off you are embarrassing me, my husband won’t like that,” and indicated to me that no one had told her enough or, sadly, at all, that she was beautiful. After the reunion incident I decided more notice was necessary, not less.
Strangers hug me after I say it. Girls smile. Men (yes, I am not exclusive) kiss me on the cheek. Let me tell you something: you will feel as good as they do when you say “you are beautiful.”
A random stranger brought this home today. I was headed to an early ferry, my hair a mess, my jacket rumpled and not quite awake. The morning was so sweet, the coffee so perfect, my car smelled so like heaven packed with dahlias, sweet peas and apples that I had jumped into the car not caring at all about my appearance. I may even have been still wearing my sheepskin slippers.
The ticket lady handed back my change and said, “you are so beautiful, and so early in the morning.” I looked up at her and said “thank you” and cried all the way down the ferry dock.
It was nice to be noticed for the right reasons. It was even better to have a woman tell me.
Notice the beauty. Pass it on.
“Carnation”, oil on canvas, Emma Dane Garfield 2015