Instances where “pretty” isn’t really a compliment.
There are a few times in my life when being called pretty has made me do a huge eyebrow raise, especially when people assume they’re paying me a compliment. Particularly, in these situations:
When I tell someone I’m disabled/severely chronically ill/unable to get out of bed or get food for myself some days. “What? But you’re so pretty!” “Awh, but you’re still so pretty!” “That can’t be true — you’re so pretty!”
What they’re really saying is: disabled people can’t be attractive/sexual and are “ugly” and unwanted. If you’re perceived by someone as attractive/sexual, you must not actually be disabled. There is something so wrong with this assumption. Check out Pity’s Got Nothing to do With It and Sex & Disability.
When I tell someone I’m a lesbian: “But you’re so pretty! You must be going through a phase!” “But you wear make-up and you’re cute, I don’t believe you!” (or, from other lesbians, “Why do you try to look straight/appeal to men?”)
What they’re really saying is: Lesbians aren’t “pretty” (in my particular case, they’re usually meaning more stereotypically “feminine”) and if you happen to be a lesbian and feel most comfortable and true to yourself presenting in a “feminine” fashion* - you don’t exist/aren’t a real lesbian/are pretending to be a lesbian to appeal to men (because society continues to tell us that men HAVE to think lesbians are sexy), etc etc. THIS, AGAIN, IS SO WRONG. Sexual orientation and the way someone presents themselves are completely different things, people of all sexual orientations present in all different ways, there is no single “right” or “real” way to dress and present.
*regarding femme!lesbians, theinvisiblefemme is a lovely little tumblr.
and, finally, when I tell someone I’ve been followed while out by someone creepy/have experienced unwanted sexual attention: “Take it as a compliment! You’re so pretty!” “You’re just so pretty.” “It wouldn’t happen if you dressed differently/weren’t so approachable.”
What they’re really saying —-no, seriously, for this one, just google rape culture.
[Note: this is a post commenting briefly on just a few of society’s perceptions and stereotypes (particularly in regards to disabled people being seen as ugly/unwanted beings, and rape culture claiming women that some people perceive as attractive as “asking for it”) (I’m sure there are people who can also elaborate quite eloquently on this general concept in relation to race and gender identity, as well — please have at it), NOT a post complaining about “how hard it is” to be percieved as attractive by people — though the role of attractiveness, and the rather narrow view of what’s seen as attractive in society, etc etc, is a whole ‘nother issue that deserves many discussions of its own.]