A few months back, I was sitting in the sunshine on a bench in my local town square, noodling back and forth about a project idea with one of my favorite partners in creativity. The project involved, among other things, writing, photography and video. At one point, as part of a “readability” test, I pulled out a black Sharpie and wrote three words in all caps on the back of my business card:
YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL
We took a test photo and discovered the letters I’d written were too small to read. Realizing we had some logistical problems to solve before we got our creativity on, I tossed the card into my bag and forgot about it.
A couple weeks later, I was rummaging through my bag in search of lip gloss when I pulled out the card again. The words YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL caught my eye, and I smiled. Not a broad, toothy smile, mind you. My smile was an almost imperceptible upturn at the corners of my mouth. But somehow, this tiny facial shift produced a tangible surge of my spirits, an actual elevation of my soul. Since a smile is a smile no matter how small, instead of throwing away my business card, I propped it against the base of my computer screen and let it sit.
Now the words YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL greet me in the morning when I sit down to work. On most days, I head to my office straight from a trail hike with the dog. My hiking attire consists of my favorite Army-green cargo pants, now threadbare and frayed at the cuffs, a paint-splattered sweatshirt that smells of beef liver dog treats and a worn baseball cap that hides my often-unwashed ponytail. I look like a homeless dog walker. It’s not pretty, and it’s definitely not beautiful.
And yet: a perfectly ordinary 2×3-inch piece of white cardstock whispers YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. I listen, and ever so slightly — and completely illogically — my mood ascends.
This reaction is illogical for a number of reasons. First, see homeless dog walker, above. Second, I am fully aware that I wrote these three words myself, but I certainly didn’t write them about myself. Rather, I chose them randomly and spontaneously, exploring a seed of an idea for an interactive art project. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL was simply a “place holder” compliment for more thoughtful, personalized appreciations of other people in the future.
Third, if I were in the market for a compliment, YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL probably wouldn’t be my first choice. Instead, I might want to be lauded for being “honest,” “thoughtful,” or “generous.” I might even prefer purely pragmatic praise like “You manage to put hot food on the dinner table on a pretty regular basis” or “You didn’t use profanity when yelling at your kids to get off the screen” or even “You’re remarkably unconcerned about being seen in public wearing rags.”
Logic aside, I remain keenly aware of the subtle yet noticeable boost I get from my predictable, daily, recurring compliment. There are myriad reasons that it’s silly, if not inane, for these five syllables to brighten my day. But they do. In fact, this sweet, positive, warm, affirming statement helps improve my outlook when I’m struggling to write, create, parent or otherwise get through a long day.
The least I can do is share the gift of a complementary compliment. Today, and every day, please remember
You are wise.
You are kind.
You are creative.
You are needed.
You are loved.
You are powerful.
And, yes, you are beautiful.
Willow Older is a nationally and internationally published writer and a long-time professional editor. She lives in Northern California where she runs her own editorial services business and publishes a weekly newsletter called Newsy!.
Originally published at medium.com