I recently found myself in the middle of an uncomfortable conversation between two friends, a guy and a girl. He was saying to her, “you’re not hot, you’re beautiful.” It was clear that the intention was to compliment, but it sounded rather backhanded. It’s a weird thing to say, because to most people, hot and beautiful are synonymous. So how can you be one and not the other?
The difference is that hot connotes objectification and beauty does not. Although most people don’t say it, it is understood that calling someone hot is exclusively commenting on their physical body and not the actual person. Being called beautiful would be categorically better than being called hot, if not for the unfortunate truth regarding the value of a woman in our sexist society. As objectified persons, women are not valued in society as capable, effective and influential. Rather, their worth is determined by their desirability, and the potential pleasure and utility they could provide for men. As a woman, the treatment you receive from men, and ultimately the rest of society, is determined by your desirability. It doesn’t behoove you to be beautiful if you are not also desirable, so although being called hot strips you of your humanity, it is considered a better compliment because hotness is a better asset than beauty.
This conundrum brings me to the John Hughes 80’s classic, “Sixteen Candles.” The main character, Sam Baker, is arguably beautiful – not hot. She pines after popular senior Jake Ryan, who is unfortunately dating a certifiable hottie, Caroline Mulford. Caroline is highly desired by the male characters of the movie; however, Jake loses interest in her. Sam goes unnoticed by most guys, save for a geek and Jake Ryan. Jake, fed up with Caroline’s hot party-girl antics, abandons her to pursue something more real with Sam. So sure, it’s not easy being Sam. People forget your birthday, don’t invite you to the party and a geek shows everyone your underwear. By the end of the movie, though, no one would prefer to be Caroline over Sam. The beauty gets the guy and the hot girl realizes people don’t like her – they want her.
Referring to someone as hot is derogatory, not a compliment. Hot or not should never be a question – everyone is beautiful and no one deserves to have their humanity diminished by cruel beauty standards.