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?