A few weeks ago, one of the girls in my youth group wrapped me in a hug and fervently declared,
"You're so pretty you, like, make me hate myself."
"Oh no!" I blurted out awkwardly. She looked confused, then awkward herself, then full-on embarrassed. I tried hastily to recover.
"I mean, thank you so much, but that's — you shouldn't..." I trailed off, aware and irked that I wasn't going to make my point. "Thanks, but you're pretty, too."
It felt like a weak return on what was intended to be a sincere compliment (and a high one in teenage girl terms); like something I'd said just because that's what I was supposed to say.
But I didn't just say it because it's what I was supposed to say, dangit, I said it because it was true.
And it frustrates me that she, or just about any other girl (major preaching-to-the-choir alert, hi, yes, me too), wouldn't believe that.
"You're pretty, I hate you," and "you're pretty, I hate me," are common themes in the comments section of any given high school girl's Instagram. (Indeed, in the lives of women of any age. The language and packaging just gets subtler.)
"You're pretty, I hate you," and "you're pretty, I hate me" are two sides of the same coin; the lie of scarcity. That there is not enough of the things we want — and, in the case of pretty and our culture's obsession with it, the things we need — and more for you means less for me.
"You're pretty, I hate you," and "you're pretty, I hate me," and do you see how we both lose here?
It turns friends into enemies before they're even made — competitors for a limited source, automatic threats and offenses to one another's supply. Another's gain is my automatic loss, whether or not we're even out to play the game.
Forget for a second the larger issues pretty brings up; the baggage pretty carries with it. Forget the obsession, the mess, the distortion; and forget your stance on whether or not we should care about pretty at all.
Pretty is a tangled knot of a thousand threads. We may never get it all sorted back out, and definitely not all in one go — pulling on different ends from every direction.
For now, can we just straighten this one string? Can we undo just one tiny part of the tangle?
What if you're pretty, and I'm pretty, and there's enough to go around?