why u so cute?
You know, it’s really weird to me when anyone says that I’m cute? And I don’t mean that in a snarky, white ‘feminist’ kind of way. I’ve really just never thought of myself that way, and I’ve never really thought of ‘cuteness’ as something to…
i’m pretty big on “cute”. that is, i really like stuffed animals and polar bear videos and cats and cartoons. I’ve thought about it and I don’t think it’s about powerlessness, at least not necessarily. a polar bear is cute even though it hunts people and is basically a killing machine. i might be weird though. besides people and puppies, i’d describe sea slugs as cute, and bugs. and plants. they’re things that make me feel like giving someone or something a hug. it’s maybe kind of joyful? it’s definitely an unsexual feeling of excitement. i think sometimes cute and sexy happen at the same time, but cute happens way more often without sexy than with it.
I like stuffed animals, animal videos, and cartoons too, but those are things that are often specifically created to be cute (accessible, comforting, pleasing in some way?), and I think there’s a huge difference between enjoying that kind of cuteness and using that label with a human being. And either way, not everyone has access to ‘cute’ — race, gender, and income level played a major part in my mom and abuela’s conceptions of ‘cute’, and what it means to perform it, and whether or not it’s safe or acceptable to perform it, which in turn shaped my understanding of it.
What you say about cuteness as that sensation of wanting to hug someone is interesting to me because my abuela is an abuse survivor, and I think is to this day preoccupied with NOT wanting to invite physical contact or affection. I doubt she hugged my mom or her other kids very frequently, not because she didn’t care about them, but because my grandmother has a lot of unchecked baggage, if you will. My mom was very affectionate and attentive with me, probably because she too had unchecked baggage, but she also didn’t have the skillset to prevent my father from emotionally abusing us both, all of which is a long way of saying that now I’m having a lot of thoughts and feels about ‘cuteness’ and boundaries.
The article I was thinking of is actually a review of a Sianne Ngai text called Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, and Interesting written by Rebecca Ariel Porte, which I’ve linked because it’s fascinating, if a little overwhelming. She links the use of ‘cute’ to the ‘rise of commodity culture, but has a lot of intense and really thoughtful things to say about ‘cuteness’ and how it can be subverted aesthetically. The part I mentioned/did not remember too accurately was about how cuteness is “a particular kind of affective response to a lack of agency.” The author, Ngai, apparently argues “in order to judge something cute you first have to feel your own dominance in relation to it. This dominance may take the form of a desire to protect the cute object, as a parent might, or, more darkly, the desire to exert power by hurting or destroying it. These conflicting drives combine to produce an aesthetic category with strong ties to the childish, the domestic, the sexual, and historical ideas about feminine weakness.” I don’t think that that’s true in every instance, at all, but I think that there’s something to that argument, at least in a broader, cultural, collective discourse sort of way.