They really aren’t, though. It’s the adult equivalent of having to agree with every parent that their child is gifted. You know this. They know this. These exchanges should be mere social grace, like asking “how are you” and always replying “fine” no matter your true feelings, but they’ve become much more than that.
Forgo performing it, and you’re not only rude, but it’s also as if you’ve outright insulted them. It’s as if being less than the best means they’re worthless. When we say that someone is pretty, is the best, that’s what we mean: they get extra consideration, extra points, because they have something that few people do. Pretty is rare, and it’s desireable, so we elevate it over the average.
The meaning of beautiful hasn’t changed. There’s no reason that we should need to call everyone beautiful. What has changed, though, is the meaning of lacking beauty.
Lacking it means that you’re not worth respecting. Those without are subjected to ridicule, humiliation, and treated with complete disrespect. Since ugly gained this dimension, pretty has gained the meaning of deserving respect.
How we treat fat people makes this obvious. It’s said that we’re only concerned about their health, and that humiliating them will force them to lose the weight and thus become healthier, but this is the only “health” problem we treat this way. It’s not because we think it’s self-inflicted, either—skin cancer is self-inflicted; many other cancers have environmental factors; any broken bones are obviously self-inflicted; car accident injuries are obviously self-inflicted, because you knew the risks and got in anyway. Not to mention all sports injuries. All alcohol related problems, including drunk driving and alcohol poisoning. Any contagious diseases, because that’s your own fault for being dirty and being around dirty people.
You see how ridiculous it is to claim “self-inflicted” as the reason for fat being ridiculed? Humiliate sports players. Treat those who get injured as idiots; they’re clearly bad players if they get hurt, a better player would have known not to take that tackle, would have known how to land. Yet we treat them as heroes and gladly rush them off to the hospital. We treat all alcohol poisoning, no matter who it is or if they’ve done this before. We treat the person who caused the 20 car crash on the freeway.
The only thing that’s different about fat is that it’s deemed ugly. And because it’s ugly, we allow ourselves to treat fat people like trash, as less than every other human being. This is what the push about “health at all sizes”, and “curvy is beautiful” are trying to fix. It’s not that everyone literally is beautiful, and as far as I’m aware science knows that not all sizes are healthy. The point is that to be unhealthy—fat—and to be ugly means you don’t deserve civil respect and don’t deserve basic courtesies. But when being beautiful and healthy gets you respect, then you must call yourself beautiful and healthy so that other people will accord you the respect that any decent human being ought to give to everyone.
The campaign to label everyone beautiful and healthy is no more than that: people just want the basic respect that everyone else gets. It’s not about rewriting beauty standards. It’s not about forcing you to declare undying love to strangers you don’t aesthetically appreciate. It’s about the fact that we only treat the beautiful and the healthy with the decency that we should be giving to everyone.