Disclaimer: You are allowed to disagree with any or all of this post - kind of like Ricky (my hubs) did. So, as a result of the above mentioned disclaimer, I have been so reluctant to write this post. Even though I have a blue post it note in my pen/paper agenda with a few writing points, I have felt fine moving that post it note from week to week. I am worried I will offend you. So please. Be not offended. What follows is merely some thoughts that have been rolling around in my head for, oh … about 5 years.
The idea for this post came up one day when I was scrolling (this literally could have been any day in the past 10 years). I saw a picture of a friend on facebook and read the comments. "What a great picture." It may have even said, "What a great picture of you!" but I am not certain. I took pause and thought to myself. What a great picture. Was the person commenting on the person's ability to take an artistic photo. No. Were they commenting on the ability to capture light and use the space well? No. They were saying, that the person in the photo looked good in the photo. It struck me. While the well-intending commenter (no names cause here cause (spoiler!) we've all been this person) meant to be giving a compliment, it wasn't a compliment at all. Telling someone they look good in a picture is the same as saying, "You don't normally look like this, but the picture makes you look good." or "Wow, two dimensional and possibly a filter is better than the real thing!" You might simply say, "You are beautiful." Three words. That's all you need.
The second example I am going to write about, was one that came up a few weeks ago. The day after watching our Middle School Musical, I needed to email a student who played Golde in Fiddler on the Roof. I started with, "First and foremost, you were amazing in the performance last night." Once again, I took pause. Were. I was giving a compliment for something in the past, and basically leaving the compliment in the past. You were ...amazing .. same as saying, "You were great yesterday, but today, you are just normal. Nothing special." This is where Ricky and I had a little "agree to disagree."
I rephrased the compliment with "First and foremost, you are amazing. My husband and I really enjoyed the performance last night." I am not sure if this had a greater, or even different impact. Let's be honest. She is in Middle School and was probably thinking, Who is this mailing me? But these situations have me thinking about how our words are intended versus how they land. There is a definite discrepancy here, and one worth considering when we craft our discourse.
"Have you lost weight?"
Oh dear. This one. While this might be a compliment to some (those working to lose or who feel like their appearance is attached to the red digital number - cause let's be honest, the ones with the little arrow … are they really accurate?) it's not to everyone. I am not sure I want to go into detail here - so I won't. But I offer you this alternative if you are truly trying to compliment someone's appearance - especially if you don't know their health and fitness goals.
"You are beautiful!" Oh … there they are again … those three words.
Now, this one isn't a compliment per se, but it's a comment often made out of compassion.
"You look tired."
Thanks, but really … no thanks. Basically saying "Wow. You look like shit. Bags, circles, melty face …" Just. No.
And finally, an I see you and I want to take note, and possibly compliment you, compliment-not-compliment …
"Are you pregnant?" Often asked with excitement and raised eyebrows. Like they have x-ray vision.
People. For reals. I know for a fact I am not the only girl (I know of four off the top of my head) who had to reply, "no." (<- period or comma inside the parentheses??) to this comment.
I don't need to break this one down. Unless you KNOW and I mean know in that, Ms. Preg-o-nante told you herself, don't … just don't ask.
Now - get out there shape shifting your words, and I bet you a million bucks, you'll shape shift a life while you're at it. You are beautiful! xo
Like it is - According to Vail
“You have lost so much weight!!” a colleague smiled and said to me a few years back.
In her defense, I honestly think that she was trying to compliment me in a positive way. However, I it struck a chord with me and a I mumbled, “I know,” as a response. I am sure this comment would have fallen on someone else very differently, but for me it was most certainly a compliment that was not actually a compliment. In fact, I often think that “compliments” that are focused on appearance rarely have the effect that we desire.
There are two major reasons that body related comments are really tough for me.
They make no assumptions about the past: This is the glaring issue with these non-compliments. If I have lost weight or look skinny now, what does that say about what I was like before? Not only does it imply that I was fatter, heavier, but there is a layer of you were just not good enough. It places so much importance on physical appearance and not the amazing individual inside.
They don’t take into account someone’s personal history: In the above example I mentioned, the person trying to give the compliment certainly did not know my history with body image. However, it is safe to bet that most women and I think many men have or have had a complicated relationship with their physical bodies. I suffered from an eating disorder in my early twenties which was painful, scary and finally cathartic when I was able to pull my way through the worst of it, but it will stick with me whether I want it to or not, for life. When I was truly ill, a comment like, “you are so skinny,” would have been like eating disorder crack. I would have loved it and it would have fueled the controlling desire to be even thinner. So, when I hear a remark like that, I still have to check in with myself and give a little self-love. I have to give myself a true compliment. “You are strong and healthy and your body can do amazing things.”
The second layer to my history is that at that very moment I received that non-compliment, I was struggling deeply with infertility. At that point it had been about three years and the reason for my weight loss was out of my control. Though in the end a misdiagnosis, I was taking medication to support my thyroid, thinking that it would help my body be more receptive to pregnancy. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the right fix. I was on high levels of synthetic thyroid medication and I felt totally out of control. I wasn’t happy about the weight loss; I was worried that there was something genuinely wrong with my body. Shortly after, I suspended the medication and the weight and strength came back. Not surprisingly, when I reached a healthy weight, compliments did not flow in.
So what is the take-away here? For me it has been to make sure that my compliments, when given, are thoughtful and speak to the whole person and who they have and always will be. Compliments are wonderful and it is so important that we lift each other up. In my experience, being careful about how your words fall comes from receiving a really meaningful compliment and thinking about how to mimic that sentiment.
I find personally that the greatest compliment that I can receive is confirmation that someone heard me or saw me. When some starts with, “I loved when/how you said…” or, “thanks so much for doing…”, I am listening and I am taking it in.
Compliments should feel like a warm blanket on a winter night or a hug from a cherished friend. If you hear a compliment and that feeling is not there, you might have received a compliment that is not a compliment. Don’t fear, all it takes to let that feeling go is to give yourself a loving compliment and remember to bring compassion to the person who was doing their best, trying to lift you up. Sometimes it is the thought, not the actual words that count.
“The greatest compliment that was ever paid to me was when someone asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.” – Henry David Thoreau