When I was pregnant, one of my favorite things to wonder about was how my baby would look. Not what he would look like, specifically, but how — good or bad. And if he did look bad, if he were actually ugly, would I be capable of knowing?
My son just turned 15 months, and I’m not really sure. I think he might be objectively cute. Legend has it that my best friend’s mom — who has four grandchildren — deemed him an “exceptionally cute baby” in the presence of my best friend, who has a son born just months before mine. This kind of social evidence leads me to believe that my assessment is accurate, but I accept that I might never actually know. Recently, though, a group of mean-ish moms made me wonder if a little bit of conniving could have given me more of an idea.
Here’s what happened: My neighbor Liz is on a text chain with a group of moms who live in her native Australia. A friend of theirs gave birth earlier this month and was being indecisive about choosing a name. After nine days of nameless baby, Liz received an update: The newborn now had a name, and it was Charlene. Liz did what most people would do when faced with a seemingly unchangeable fact about a new friend’s baby. She lied: Beautiful! she responded. She can be Charlie.
But Charlene was not the baby’s name at all. To see if they could prompt a false fawning reaction, Liz’s friends had presented a fake name, one they found unfortunate and knew that, in her heart, Liz would too. From half a world away, they went about making merciless fun of her. When I heard this story, I felt joy first and foremost. Then I felt inspiration.
If you can gauge your friends’ honesty over a name, why not apply the same technique to a photo? While you might not ever know the true nature of your baby’s looks, tricking your friends will at least let you know if your Instagram likes are born out of obligation or merit. The scheme I’m about to outline works best if your baby is very new and underexposed online. All you need to do is find one random, not-cute baby photo from the internet, and do what Liz’s friends did: Send the lie to a friend and say he’s yours.
Now, I doubt even the meanest of your friends is likely to say your baby isn’t cute. But I do think you can do some decoding. What does the reaction say, exactly?
Wow, look at his expression! What a smart-looking baby. He looks like he’s really thinking and taking the world in. Congratulations: This means you can trust your friend, who cannot bring herself to lie about an ugly baby. She is searching and working, hard, to compliment him in departments other than looks. Your next step is to send her a text like this: Haha, weird. I sent the wrong pic. That’s actually a baby from my mom group. This one’s mine. And if she reacts the same way, refusing to rely on physical compliments? It’s possible you’ll never really know if your baby’s ugly. He might be. He might not be. Maybe you just don’t have superficial friends.
But say your friend reacts like this: OMG, what a gorgeous baby! That is the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen. AW, sooooo cute. Well. You have a little bit more of a hint that you could be parading around an ugly baby, unaware. You’ll have to retract this photo too — a clumsy friend might even confess at this point. But what you now know is that at least one of your friends is the kind who’d let you believe your ugly baby is cute.
You might be wondering if it’s possible for any baby to be ugly or just uncute. Get off your high horse and get down on the stable floors with me. We both know that once you cross into your 30s and more and more people start having families the tenor of mean-girl conversation turns to this. You’re probably drinking an IPA or a glass of white wine (gross) in a not-loud, well-lit place, but all the same, after two drinks, you’re going to lower your voice and insult the looks of a mutual acquaintance’s loved one. But you’re older now, the areas of social vulnerability have expanded, and instead of insulting someone’s girlfriend or boyfriend, you insult their baby. I don’t think she’s that cute, you say, giddy with the mean thrill.
Maybe your friend agrees with you, maybe she doesn’t. Perhaps the lesson to learn from this is that everyone’s baby is cute to someone or a few someones, who are hopefully their family. If that’s true, then everyone’s baby is probably ugly to at least a few people. If you trick them, you might be able to figure out if those someones are your friends.