Why My Son is Cute and Justin Bieber is Not

The Chinese word for cute is “ke ai” and Judah hears it a lot.  His curly locks (a rare commodity in China) and toothy grin more than make up for his confusing skin tone.  Nearly every person who walks past him glances, grins and mumbles “ke ai“.  The one exception, of course, being little old ladies who stare, scowl and scold us because he’s too cold . . . or too hot . . . or too fat . . . or too black but deep down inside, even the grumpiest little grandmas know that this kid is just plain ke ai.

Justin Bieber, on the other hand, is not ke ai. Granted our grasp of (and exposure to) Western pop culture is dramatically (and thankfully) reduced because we live in China but as far as we can tell from this side of the ocean he is the latest in a long succession of teen heart throbs who inherit the coveted responsibility of setting the global standard for “cuteness” (a title held by an elite number including the likes of Shaun CassidyKirk Cameron and that kid from Home Improvement (the middle one) ).   In fact just last week “oh my gosh, Justin Bieber is soooooooo cute!” became the the most uttered phrase on the planet (at least the American planet) among girls from 9 to 17 and ironically 28 to 32 year old women suffering from Post Adolescent N’Sync Withdrawal Syndrome (PNS).  But not in China.  Nope.  Not cute at all.

It’s not because he is any less dreamy.  On the contrary, milky white skin, blonde hair and enormous puppy dog eyes are all coveted and attractive qualities in the stereotypical Chinese eye.  However the word ke ai (although translated “cute”) doesn’t catch all of the meanings that we would attach to cuteness. So a baby is most definitely ke ai but a teenager (no matter how cute) is not.  A puppy . . . cute. A pair of heels with a matching purse . . . not cute.  Fluffy kittens clinging for life by one paw on a poster that says “hang in there” . . . (doesn’t translate but still) so cute.  Tiny, elderly couples in matching t-shirts holding hands and scooting slowly along the beach . . . hard to believe but not even a tiny bit cute.
So who defined cuteness for you when you were a teenager? 

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