I detest the word “cute.” Maybe it’s because that word has been used on me more than a few times. When I was a kid “cute” had the politically incorrect definition of “short, fat, and bow-legged.” I was probably at least two of those things. A few weeks ago, in the midst of a routine full of bumps and grinds, our exercise teacher told the class.”You all are so cute,” If we had been under 40, instead of over 50, she would have said we were hot. I posted this story on Facebook and one man said, “Take what you can get, sister.” Ugh.
My worse experience of cuteness was when I wrote a letter at age twenty-something explaining why I could no longer be a member of the church of my childhood. I had spent hours writing it. It was thoughtful and full of gratitude for my years in the church.The recipient read it and said, “That was such a cute letter.” It felt like a huge dis of a very difficult decision.
Terminal cuteness feels like a life sentence. To me, puppies and babies are cute; but much after toddlerhood, “You’re so cute,” seems dismissive and patronizing. Call me a cranky old lady, but I feel scorn for the word “cute.”
Since I am away from most of my worldly possessions for a year, I left all of my Christmas ornaments in Memphis including a thirty-year old Nativity set, hand-painted by a friend. It’s hard to imagine the Nativity Season without a crèche, so I purchased one from a big box store for $9.99. I brought it home and then noticed how totally cute it was. The figures have perfectly spherical heads with pink cheeks and thin, painted on smiles. They look like cartoon characters and I feel scorn for the manufacturer and for the silly Mary and Joseph. I consider returning them to the store.
Then it hits me. Maybe this is exactly what people thought about the real Mary and Joseph. Refugees coming to town with little money and no place to stay were almost certainly objects of ridicule and scorn. Didn’t they have any connections or know someone who could put them up for the night? How low are these people to end up in a cave or a barn to give birth? Isaiah 53:3 comes to mind: “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.” (NRSV)
So I decide to keep the Nativity set. It reminds me of the scorn and rejection suffered by Mary and Joseph. It is also an unlovely reminder of the scorn in my own head and heart, not just for the word “cute,” but for plenty of other things and maybe even some people.