Dressing Up as Common Adjectives

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Photo: ELLE

As Sylvia Plath pleaded “Is there no way out of the mind?” so we ask ourselves: “Is there no way out of adjectives?” Who hasn’t suffered from the unintended cruelty of a carelessly thrown adjective: what do you mean I’m “weird,” “tired,” and “plump”? I thought I was edgy, melancholy, and curvy.

The idea of representation stalks us. Oftentimes, people stop after they declare something a societal construct, as if that is the “aha” moment, but humans are in fact social creatures, whether we like it or fight it or both. Truth is, we somewhat have to live for someone’s gaze, whether we choose the whole generation, the future us, or our parents.

So, if we can’t escape the description of the main character in the novel of our life, we might as well know the guidelines to the game of the omnipresent adjectives.


Elle Taylor Swift

I know you're trying, Taylor, but still such a "pretty" girl. | ELLE

When sad girls sigh and say they dream of being “pretty,” they actually mean that they dream of being rich. Pink manicure, make-up tips from beauty bloggers, and a bright dress can turn anyone into a girl who just stepped out of Pretty Little Liars.

The business objective of shooting for “pretty” is quantity: if a girl finds herself in dire need of numerous suitors, this is the right tactic. Pretty girls don’t wear cowboy hats, but wear peplum dresses. Pretty girls bake the perfect green and red Christmas cookies and do cardio a few times a week. You don’t expect the pretty girl to quote Kant, but Gandhi is alright and even expected.

“Pretty” is about how well you rise to the challenge of being measured out and modified. It is only fair that pretty girls win in the lottery of reproduction. Wasn’t it Charles D. who said the planet is all over species that are the quickest to adapt to the standard?


Elle Alexa Chung

Alexa claims being an "interesting" girl can be a profession. | ELLE

Some use “interesting,” when they mean “weird” or good old “crazy,” like this “pretty” girl in my class, who called A Clockwork Orange rather interesting. But forget those who give “interesting” a bad name through sarcasm and pedestals for Her Majesty The Ordinary.

In our case, “interesting” is genuine. It’s someone who looks like how they live or that you think is different and exciting; someone who looks like they could be the one mind-shattering interaction in the timeline of your life. For me “interesting” girls are made of black nail polish with a billion rings, black skinnies, overwhelming hair, and one item that I probably couldn’t pull off, but I’m familiar with the type enough to declare that “interesting” girls come in all possible galactic shapes.

The golden key to “interesting” is the word interested. Interesting girls are interested in themselves and the world. Sometimes when they talk about their weird obsessions, like snail shells or everything Italian, their eyes light up and suddenly you’re into snail shells, too. We seek out “interesting” girls – well, people, but those are not in our target audience - because they can show us how interesting it can be to live. Then we store that magic and pass it along.


Elle Olivia Palermo outfits

Olivia always looks like she has it together. | ELLE

Straight healthy hair. Clean white shirts with blazers – wait, are those ironed? Wow! Thin black eyeliner. Forget curves and deviation. It’s all about lines, because everyone knows the shortest way to get from A to the B of your greatest ambitions is a line.

When sad girls say they want to be pretty, they don’t mean they want to be rich, they mean they want to be smart. “Smart” girls call themselves independent and then bring up the famous question: “Doesn’t independent only mean how comfortable you are with loneliness?” Smart is not about knowledge or the art of the debate, although many “smart” girls enjoy it. It’s about being smart enough to know when and who you want to be.

If the “pretty” girl adapts to beauty standards, “smart” girls know the exact degree of pretty they need to be for what’s on the agenda. “Smart” girls know how to and do take care of themselves. They set the rhythms of their relationships and quit every deal right before it stops being worth it. “Smart” girls are just good at life, even if at times they may have a problem with accepting the rules.


Elle french girls

I refuse to apologize for my "chic" French girl obsession. | ELLE

“Chic” is all about the “pretty,” but smudged, the “interesting,” but toned down, and the “smart,” but uninspired by smartness. Chic is about the basics with an interesting twist. Here old-fashioned insect brooches come in handy, but the iron not so much.

“Chic” girls are mysterious, because they simultaneously are and refuse to be these adjectives. The lack of definitions doesn’t throw them off. They ooze the charm of the harmony in self-confidence in all their floating, changeable, late, thoughtless, imperfect selves. Whether they smoke or not, whether they are straight/gay/whateversexual today, whether they can imagine a future with the current beau or not, they don’t turn personal into political and don’t ask themselves too many questions. Events in their universe are just that, somewhat disconnected from cause and effect.

Does this turn them into the bourgeoisie, people who are comfortable in the system and, hence, don’t need to politicize their freedom? In a way, yes. At least “chic” girls do it with style.


Of course, these archetypes are memes, not humans. I have yet to meet a walking adjective, but it’s curious to notice the patterns. Adjectives are judging and confining, but that’s part of the fun of a subjective world. Otherwise we would just have to stay silent in the first place, because to choose means to exclude.

Of course, no type is better. If they like a “pretty” girl, she’s perfect. If they don’t, she’s bland. Same with extraordinary to weird for “interesting” girls, genial to boring for “smart” girls, and free to unsubstantial for “chic” girls. Palahniuk said too many adjectives means bad style in writing. Too much concern about adjectives means bad style in a self.


Do you recognize yourself in any of the types? What is “your,” unmentioned adjective? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment.

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