I was given a compliment today. I was told that when I listen “You really listen and that makes me feel safe and important.”
I’m almost 100% certain that my husband and daughter would disagree, but whatever… (See what I did there? Hilarious, I know!)
I like compliments. I like receiving them, but I especially like to give them, knowing how much it can mean to people. And if a compliment that I give someone means nothing at all, it doesn’t matter. Nobody was hurt.
For years now, I have been consciously trying to move away from the superficial (and dangerous) culture of obsession with appearance and I’m always aware of this when I compliment people. By which I mean that I consciously try to give compliments that aren’t appearance based as much as possible.
Think about it though, how nice would it be if we all put a bit more thought and authenticity into our compliments so that they actually mean something and are given and received with genuine appreciation?
Obviously I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with complimenting appearances at all, but for women in particular; it’s almost an expectation of some kind that we all should be conforming to. When we habitually compliment each other on appearance, we reinforce the internalised belief that appearance is what matters and that our value as women is all based on whether or not we fit a narrow definition of ‘attractive’.
“I like your hair”
“That’s a nice dress”
“You look slim” (There’s a WHOLE other blog post there….)
“Is that tan real? Wow”
“I love those shoes”
“Nice skirt, it looks so high fashion”
“Look at you with your long red nails”
Yes, these are nice compliments to receive – although the likelihood is that you already know your dress is nice, that’s why you bought it. Same with the shoes. You probably like your own hair too. And your nails. But these kinds of compliment alone, all the time, are very superficial and often not particularly genuine.
On the other hand, complimenting someone about their character – their parenting; loyalty; passion; attitude; resilience; work ethic; kindness; achievements; the unique things about them that you like or value is far more authentic and will inevitably mean more.
I mean, who remembers compliments about their hair or clothes with any great emotion? On the other hand, who forgets compliments about their character and who they are as a person?
For me personally appearance based compliments are irritating. I cut my hair short, in part because I couldn’t bear how important it seemed to be to the rest of the world that my hair was so thick and shiny. It gave me a “Shut the fuck up about my hair! It’s just dead stuff hanging off my scalp!” attitude.
Likewise, when I lose weight and people ask me if I’ve lost weight or tell me I’m looking slimmer… irritation and a “Why do people assume weight loss should be celebrated. Well fuck that! I’m going to get even fatter!” attitude.
Yes, I am fully aware that this is my issue (One of many!). Yes, of course I like being told I look beautiful or nice or pretty, and yes of course I tell people they look beautiful or nice or pretty.
But what I’m saying is, a thoughtful compliment about anything other than appearance will do more for most people’s self-esteem than “I like your top” ever will. Self esteem is so often mistakenly linked to appearance, which keeps us in the grip of low self esteem if we don’t fit that acceptable standard of beauty (which most of us will never perceive ourselves of having achieved). Whereas if people are built up around traits unrelated to physical appearance, self esteem really does flourish.
Telling someone that you love their creativity or admire their integrity will last a lot longer than “Your hair looks nice”.
Telling someone that they’re brave or positive will help build them up in ways that “I love your shoes” can’t.
I’ve probably forgotten hundreds of “You look nice in that” (Some genuine, some patronising and others just for the sake of it no doubt)
But I will never forget being told that my passion inspired someone.
So this is my mission to the 3 people who read my blog… Try and balance appearance and character based compliments a bit because yes, we all like a nice comment about how we look, but we all benefit from genuine, thoughtful compliments about who we are.