A few days ago I wrote a blog about dealing with weight loss compliments. The comments on that blog got me thinking about the way that we compliment in general – how many of our compliments deal with appearance. On Facebook discussions about the event, some people defended the idea that if someone asks “have you lost weight” it’s basically the same thing as saying “you look good” and should therefore not be an insult.
I have a problem with that because it continues to feed into a culture that says that thin is better. One of my readers returned to work after losing a great deal of weight due to stage four cancer and a coworker said “boy, cancer looks great on you!”
It’s not just weight loss though. We compliment on clothes that are “flattering”, where flattering often has the meaning of “makes you look closer to the cultural stereotype of beauty”. I have a friend who told me that he didn’t like my outfit because it made me look bigger.
I’m not saying that compliments about appearance are bad, but they can be tricky since so often they reward conforming to social stereotypes rather than authenticity. Also, they are easy and they allow us to avoid finding out anything deeper than those that we can see during a handshake.
As a society we water the flowers that we think are beautiful, and often that defaults to the flowers that conform. Roses are beautiful but so are sunflowers, carnations, tulips, daisies etc. But if you only water the roses it doesn’t matter how beautiful the other flowers could have been. There are a whole lot of beautiful flowers that aren’t being watered in our culture because they don’t happen to be roses.
I happen to think that all the flowers are beautiful and so I’m a fan of watering them all. (Don’t worry- I’m at the end of my use of the flower metaphor now).
While you may enjoy compliments about your appearance, your weight, etc., it’s important to realize that because of a history of not being complimented, and being shamed and stigmatized or other personal reasons, many people do not enjoy compliments about appearance. So it pays to be able to compliment something else.
Try asking someone “what have you been up to” and then listen with interest.
Instead of complimenting specific clothing, try complimenting fashion sense. Compliment intelligence, wit, athleticism, work achievement. Commenter Sharon suggested saying “It is always so nice to see you!” as a substitute for “you look great”.
Again, I’m not suggesting that you give up on appearance compliments altogether. I’m a fan of saying “hello beautiful!” or “I love that outfit, it looks fab on you!” I’m just saying let’s challenge ourselves to see beauty in all sizes and shapes (including, perhaps, our own) and let’s temper our appearance compliments with other compliments. Let’s water all the petals on all the flowers (ok, I was almost done with the metaphor). What are your favorite non-appearance compliments?
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