Today, I told a little girl she was beautiful, too, and I regret it.
It was after work. I was wearing a knee length blue patterned dress and black heels. I stopped at a local chocolate shop on the waterfront for a quick gift on my way home. When I stepped out of the shop, there was a little girl, maybe 4, sitting with her mom on a bench outside the door. As I walked by, the little girl was looking up at me with a huge smile.
“Hi!” She said, very excited like.
“Well, hello!” I said back in an exaggerated expression, meant to show her mom how cute she was. (Moms have a way of making eye contact or using tone instead of words to say things like “so cute”, “I know how you feel” and “I feel your pain”. Today, my tone was telling this mom “She’s kind of awesome.”) Four-year-olds are more often found hiding behind mom’s leg than sharing outward joy with strangers. This girl was just magnetic.
I kept my slow pace over the stones, in heels, and the girl yelled after me, “You’re so beautiful!”
I was stunned, and a little embarrassed. A tattooed man had just stepped out of another shop. He looked at me, then at her, and kept on. I’m not sure if it was instinct or habit, but I stopped and turned back to her, still smiling. “And, you are so beautiful, too!”, I told her. I took my time to annunciate each word pointedly so she knew I meant it.
I was now about 15 feet away. “I like your shoes.”, she replied, still a giant smile on her face, and by now she had scooted her bum forward so she was was on the edge of the bench.
“Thank you so much. They are my favorites.”
Her mom and I shared a smile and I reached the door of the next shop, and went inside.
When I reached my car I was still thinking about her. I wish I hadn’t told her she was beautiful. I wish I had stopped.
I wish I hadn’t t responded in kind with a superficial compliment about the way she looked. I complimented a little girl on something she has no control over. I wish I had told her I thought she was brilliant, or amazing, or a fabulous speaker. I could have told her that she seems like the kind of girl that lots of people want to be friends with.
I wish I’d come up with a better way to tell that little girl that her smile and her hello were the shiniest things I saw all day. I wish I’d told her that beautiful isn’t how we look, it’s how we make people feel.