Compliment Friends In Ways That Aren't About Appearances
Have you ever had an epiphany after reading something? It happened to me a few years ago after reading an article in which the writer chose not to compliment the little girls in her life on their physical appearance. Instead, she chose to compliment facets of their personalities, their accomplishments — that kind of thing.
Suddenly, I began to think about the kind of compliments I tended to both give and receive. Ever since my childhood, the most common compliments I would get would be centered on my appearance. “Oh, Allie, don’t you look pretty in your dress,” or “Don’t you look cute today.” When I thought about the compliments my brother got, I realized they tended to be less often centered on his appearance, though it was still common for him to hear, “Aren’t you a strong young man” and the like.
Receiving Compliments Based on Only Looks Can Have a Negative Impact
I realized we were trained from pretty much birth to be conscious about our physical appearances and to place stock in them. We have also been conditioned to hear other people’s unsolicited opinions about our physical selves. I began to think about how this conditioning had altered my interactions with the world. Too often in my life, the best compliment I could think to give a friend would be about her physical appearance. If someone lost weight, I would tell them how thin they looked, as if the adjective “thin” automatically turned that sentiment into a compliment. After all, many of us are socialized to believe that thin equals good/attractive and fat equals bad/unattractive.
As someone who has been plus-size most of my life, I have struggled to feel attractive and faced low self-esteem. I was often teased about my weight and appearance by my peers and put down by my family. I’d receive backhanded compliments like, “You’d be so pretty, IF YOU LOST WEIGHT.” I’d comment on an actress’ attractiveness and hear, “You’d look like her, IF YOU LOST WEIGHT.” Eventually, I began to try my best to tune it out.
I remember for my senior prom, I had gotten all dolled up, actually happy with the way I looked in my dress, and was excited to go even though I didn’t have a date. I showed an older female relative my final look and gave a spin, only to hear, “Are you sure you don’t want to wear shapewear under that?” I was crushed. No, I didn’t want to wear some body- and soul-crushing shapewear that would restrict my ability to move and dance and breathe. I wanted to maximize my ability to have fun. But, yet again, my feelings were pushed to the wayside. All that seemed to matter was that my body was larger than society wanted it to be. I always had the feeling that I was somehow letting my family/parents down by not being thin and fitting their ideal for attractiveness.
Now, I Choose My Words Wisely
Now that I’m older and more aware of the power of my words, I try to choose them wisely. I’m aware that if a friend has lost weight, it could be from enacting a lifestyle change to get healthier, or it could be because they’re physically or mentally ill with an eating disorder. There’s also the fact that even if your friend has worked hard to lose weight and get in better shape through healthy means, the positive reinforcement will feel nice in the short term, but if they gain the weight back, that reinforcement can make them feel ashamed, guilty, or like they’re letting people down. Then again, the flip side is that if your friend has made positive changes to get in better shape and/or eat healthier, it can be hurtful if no one recognizes that hard work. I know, it’s a minefield out there. But, there is a way to navigate it.
Instead of commenting on their body, which is none of my business, I try to react to other positive changes I see. If my friend seems healthier and happier, I’ll comment on that fact to show my support. A simple “You look so happy” or “You have such a big smile today” or “You seem to have a lot of energy” can go a long way. In this way, I’m acknowledging the change and supporting healthy behaviors without giving an opinion on their aesthetics. I’ve received positive feedback for this new way of complimenting in return. The women in my life have noticed and have been extremely appreciative of compliments that are not beauty- or body-focused. Admiring someone for a positive change they have worked to make can be even more impactful than a superficial comment ever could be.
This is not to say I don’t ever give compliments based on physical aesthetics; I still do. If I see a selfie of you in a new outfit, girl, I’m all about that fire emoji. The people in my life are beautiful and stylish and uniquely attractive in their own ways, and I do love pumping up their confidence. I just am more mindful of the compliments I do give and the words (or emojis) that I use. And I try to make sure to compliment other things all the more.
The Bottom Line
These days, I love to comment on my friends’ social media posts about their achievements. This can include health and fitness milestones as well. If a friend reaches a personal record for most miles run, you best believe I’ll be in that comment section cheering her on. If you get promoted? I’ll be there telling you how proud I am and how much you deserve it. For too long, women have been socially engineered to focus only on aesthetics, to base our self-esteem mainly around our superficial appeal. But, by embodying the change that we want to see in the world, we can break the cycle. We can reinforce in the women around us that we are more than just our bodies. We all have infinite admirable qualities that come from inside us. It’s about time we get some recognition for them.