There was a time in my life -- actually several "times", really -- as an insecure bespectacled child, as a teenager desperate for positive male attention, as a young woman no longer in the dating game and wondering about my continued appeal, that I would have given anything for anyone to call me cute.
That time has passed.
Babies are cute. Puppies are cute. Dresses and purses and shoes are cute. Teenage heartthrobs can rightfully be referred to as cute . . . that is, Ross Lynch from the Disney channel is cute while George Clooney, for example, requires another descriptor.
Middle-aged women are not cute. At least this one isn't. I'll gladly hear that I'm pretty, lovely, beautiful, stunning, gorgeous, attractive, nice-looking, "fetching" . . . but cute does not feel like a compliment I want anymore (except perhaps from my husband in certain circumstances which don't need elaboration here).
Several years ago, I did a monologue at a church service in New Jersey as a homeless person, talking to the audience about how I was invisible. I really made an effort to look the part (I'm not a costume person); I dressed as scummy as I could, had my hair back, no makeup, all that. I affected a limp and a different voice (again, as best I could do). A few people told me afterwards that they didn't recognize me for most of the piece. It was a challenging persona for me to put on, and it was a challenging message for the congregation to hear in the monologue. I wasn't brilliant or anything, but I was pleased that I was able to pull it off as well as I did.
A chipper friend came up to me after the service. She smiled a chipper smile, gave me a chipper hug, and chirped, in obvious reference to the monologue I had just performed: "You're so cute!"
Cute?!? You found that cute?!?? Nothing about what I had done on the platform that morning was supposed to be cute, thank you very much.
Now, I try to remind myself that "cute" seems to be the go-to compliment for many women out there, and especially many Texas women I have met (my chipper New Jersey friend was born and raised in Texas). I understand that they don't mean to belittle or demean, for example, a piece of serious, intense writing that I've belabored over by calling it cute. They just don't have the mental time or energy (or maybe the vocabulary?) to search for a more accurate word to describe it. My chipper friend didn't mean to imply that my dramatic efforts that morning looked childish or amusing (I hope). She wanted to say something nice, and "cute" was the word that fell out of her mouth. My hurt and offense was probably unwarranted. I hope.
In any case, "cute" is going on the banned word list for my English classes next year. Even if you're describing babies, puppies, and brand new pumps, it's worth the effort to learn some new adjectives.