are we cute when we age?
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I said that calling old people “cute” often is patronizing because it’s diminutive and, to my ears, infantilizing. My friend disagreed and considers it just another compliment.
For example, this couple in one of our new favorite blogs, Advanced Style.
This is a great-looking couple—classy and elegant, and the guy’s response to receiving a compliment was smart. But adorable? I don’t see adorable and I don’t think, if these two were, say, in their 40s, the word adorable would be applied. I think we often use cute and adorable for older people who continue to assert personality rather than just slinking quietly off into their dotage. (Unless we call them cranky or curmudgeonly, the alternate personality assertion.) Which is not to say it's impossible to be a cute older person. But to me, cute older people are those who were cute when they were younger, too. They're just cute people.
It seems to me that we go from “cute” and “adorable” childhood, through adulthood when we are not considered cute unless we are 5’ tall and snub-nosed (and I’ve been told by a friend who is under 5’ that she gets very tired of being called cute), then cycle back to “cute” and “adorable” in old age.
I certainly don’t suggest the words are used as intentional slurs—not in this blog or anywhere. I think we often use "cute" as shorthand--it's easier than thinking up more specific words. Once, a friend and I went shopping in the little gifty shops in a small Texas town and tried not to use the word "cute." It was just about impossible.
But in this context, the words just sound patronizing to me, however unintentionally. You rarely see them used in The Sartorialist, the influential blog which inspired Advanced Style.
My friend and I have agreed to disagree but now I’m curious at to what others think. Am I just a cranky old curmudgeon? (Well, yes. I'm spry, too. But what do you think anyway?)
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