Thursday, January 5, 2012

You Look Great

When I lived in Washington DC in the early 2000s there was a man with Coke bottle-thick glasses who doled out compliments to everyone. Known as “The Compliment Man,” he had a knack for knowing what you wore that brought you the most pride– shoes, jacket, skirt, purse. He could spy a new hair cut. He had a naturally gifted talent to recognize your adornment, and he crowed his observations fueling confidences and narcissism. Often he was thanked for his keen observations with a tip.

I like getting compliments. I think it’s safe to say that we all like recognition of feeling well put together or beautiful. We appreciate when someone else finds an aesthetic appreciation for our clothes, accessories, or hairstyle. 

The one thing I’ve never been comfortable receiving are comments on my weight; any observation at all makes me squirm a bit. It feels to me like a judgment on my body – judgments based on appearances alone. I haven’t quite figured out why, exactly, it makes me so uncomfortable.

What I do know is that I don’t comment on the weight of others. I largely omit ever referring to a person’s weight in my observation of them because I’ve always thought there was too much damned focus on weight in our culture, fueling eating disorders, obsessive behavior, and the diet industry. We’re all built differently, and when I see somebody I feel like I’m looking beyond the external (after all, what I see with my eyes is only skin deep). What does extra weight gain or loss matter to my interaction with the full soul of a person in that shell of a body?

We’re made up of more than a number, and we have so many other external attributes that make us unique and beautiful: skin texture, color, hair, hairstyle, and (this is a big one) personality. There are the things we add to our appearance to embellish our beauty: nail color, make-up, clothing, jewelry, and other accessories.

These additional embellishments to our bodies are the things of compliments, and are best received when we understand why the compliment is given. For me, it’s good to know that a particular outfit looks exceptionally flattering, that a scarf looks good with my eyes, or that that combination of shirt and scarf makes you think of a French love affair. It’s an exposition on “you look great,” a phrase that has recently entered our lexicon of greetings in the U.S. and will lose ground and meaning without the genuine thought put behind it. Without thoughtful understanding of what we are saying, it could become the automatic “how are you?” greeting that elicits an equally robotic response. 

Again, I love compliments; I just want to know they are genuine, are made up of my adornment rather than my size, and that when you see me "I'm so happy to see you" comes as readily to your lips as "you look great" because there's a soul inside me that is so happy to see you - the you that's inside your body. 

It's discussion time! What do you think? Here are some questions for your consideration: 

  • What do you think about “you look great” as a greeting?  
  • And how exactly should one respond?
  • What are your thoughts compliments?


Journey said...

Guilty! OMG, never knew that saying, "You look great" was a bad thing. Actually, I think I say, "You look fantastic", and when I say it, I mean it from the heart.

I think I said it to you at Trail Days in May...and you did look fantastic. Your face was happy and glowing, you body looked healthy and active. I don't remember what you had on. I think for me it's more of the feeling you give off than what you're wearing. Having said that, if your clothing, jewelry, etc. is pretty, I'll tell you. Love ya~Journey

Leanna said...

Uh-oh! Maybe I wasn't super clear.
I don't think it's a bad thing, Journey, to say "you look great" or "fantastic." I'm sure I do it, too. I know I do it, too.

But for me, it feels like it matters to know why someone's making this assessment of me. It's the exposition. See, it matters to know that I looked like I was happy and shining from the inside out (which I think I get through physical activity/exertion).

I DO know it can be meant true and fully from the heart. But I do see, in our society, that we're slipping to a place where it can be disingenuous. And maybe that's the crux of the post, that we should slow down what we say, and figure out how to communicate the deeper meaning of "you look great."

Maybe this is ultimately revealing of how I can tend to feel about myself. Perhaps I question people's flattery of "you look good" because I don't feel terribly different than the self I've always been.

Leanna said...

And from my friend Robert, a link to an article about The Compliment Man from the Washington City Paper.

Hemlock said...

This post really resonated with me. I cringe when I visit family over the holidays because I know they always say something like "you look great" or "you've lost weight". Comments about my weight-- even if positive-- make me feel so uncomfortable. And I've always had such a hard time accepting my body, and I totally obsess about my weight. When they say it though, in my head I try to translate it into "I'm happy to see you" which is what I wish they'd say.

Anonymous said...

Whenever I say, "You look great," it means that I see a healthy glow, a look that is not tired or grumpy.

Leanna said...

There were a lot of conversations on facebook that didn't migrate to the blog.

One friend commented that thinks this post will resonate with many women. "I was just thinking about this the other day. And I feel differently whether the compliment comes from a man or a woman, and from family or friends."

Her next post said "In fact you could probably write a whole book on the subject. I have distinct memories of when my grandmothers both told me that I had gained weight. In one memory I'm 8-9 and in the other I'm 26!"

My mom's cousin replied: "Although I was skinny and gangly (114 - 125 lb.) until my late 20s, my self-image was poor many of those years. I thought I should have been different, but that was not who I was. I was a nerd, not understanding until recently what all that meant. Furthermore, I have been horribly critical of anything less than perfect, having been raised that way. Leanna's mommy and Grandmother accepted me unconditionally.

"Through the years, I've learned to be a more loving person. Nobody's perfect; we all have our own ideas of what is important. It's who we are!

"BTW, I learned that I did need to work on the grooming that I thought mattered little because,"Beauty is only skin-deep." It has helped my self-esteem & my willingness to be 'out there.'"

My response: "So true: 'we all have our own ideas of what is important.' I also agree that when I'm dressed well, I feel well. It makes a difference for me. I think the unconditional love part is the part I want to come through on any level - that when we see each other on a spirit level that's the most valuable compliment we can give anyone."