Make It Stop: “I Hate Being Described As ‘Cute'”

I’m 30 years old and people –including those who are much younger – are calling me “cute” (as in like a puppy, not hey-baby-you’re-cute). Even though it may be better than being called old and haggard, it still annoys the bejeezus out of me. I’m an adult! There seems to be no way to respond without sounding like a baby.

At first I didn’t get why this is such a big deal. In fact, I’d never heard of a woman objecting to the word “cute.” Granted, I’m 6’1, which, as the universe lets me know on a constant basis, is tall for a woman. Strangers always feel the need to comment on my appearance, which definitely gets annoying. From where I’m standing, I figured being called “cute” would be a compliment. No one ever calls a woman like me, with size 12 feet, “cute.” I get “statuesque” sometimes, but I figured that’s  just a nice way of saying that I look like a lumberjack.

So I Googled “I hate being called cute” and read a few essays from people just like you. From what I read, the word “cute” makes one feel diminished, disempowered, and infantilized. Stuffed animals are cute. Losing your first baby tooth is cute. A woman with student loans and a Volvo in the garage is decidedly not.

In life, there are things you can control and things you can’t. You can’t control what people say to you. Unless you stuff a sock in their pie hole, you can’t stop their mouth and lips from forming the word “cute” while they talk to you.

But, you can control a lot of other things that affect how you’re perceived, like your hairstyle, makeup, clothes, and attitude. Let’s put this in Taylor Swift terms. I’m sure people called her cute during her “You Belong With Me” phase. What’s cute about her? She’s goofy, approachable and has about as much edge as a Soft Batch Chocolate Chip cookie.

Let’s fast forward to Ms. Swift’s “Bad Blood” video. What changed? Clearly, she’s sleeker, more confident. She’s rockin’ bolder hair and bolder makeup. She looks un-mess-with-able, like she’d plant a stiletto in someone’s ass if they looked at her the wrong way. Maybe you can take a page from her book and update the way you present yourself and make yourself more mature-looking. I’m not saying you have to be a full-blown diva, but you can use a dash of diva-ness in how you carry yourself. If you have long hair, cut it into a more modern style. If you only wear pastels, try on some darker clothes. Stuff like that.

To be clear, this isn’t a height issue. Think of Selina Meyer on “Veep.” She’s tiny but no one would ever call her cute. She walks with her back straight and command in her voice. Even though she’s around 5’ feet tall, she definitely comes off as presidential when she’s stomping around the West Wing.

Although you may not realize it, you have a lot of power here. As Peggy Olsen said when she channeled Don Draper, “If you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.” You don’t like being called “cute,” so find out what gives off that impression and change it. Just a few simple tweaks could make all the difference.

Make It Stop is a weekly column in which Anna Goldfarb — author of “Clearly, I Didn’t Think This Through” and the blogger behind the blog, Shmitten Kitten — tells you what’s up. Want a fresh take on a stinky dilemma? Email [email protected] with the subject “Make It Stop.” She’ll make it all better, or at least make you laugh. Girl Scout’s honor.