Have you ever given a compliment and had it totally backfire? Sometimes we make problematic compliments completely on accident, unaware that our words have implications. You can never be completely sure whether somebody will perceive things the same way you do, though. The best thing to do when someone takes offense at your words, IMO, is apologize, remember not to use that compliment again with that person, and move on. If it's your friend, I'm sure they're just glad they've been able to share some kind of lesson in the value of your words.
As long as somebody's intentions are good, I personally have no problem correcting a sentence structure or a phrase that they didn't realize was body shaming. After all, I've made just as many mistakes with my words as the next person, and how is anybody meant to learn if we don't educate each other?
Of course, many of these compliments are definitely things that some people would love to hear. I know my mother gets giddy anytime somebody asks her about weight loss, for instance. But when family members approach me in a similar vein and I know I've gained 30 pounds since I last saw them, I can't help but cringe. Our words will have different meanings to different people, but it's better to be safe than sorry. Here are seven compliments to take a moment to think about before dishing out.
1. "Have You Lost Weight?"
Even if I had — which I haven't in about three years — this question feels totally inappropriate. Why don't you compliment me about how I totally worked out what to do with my bangs since you saw me last, instead of making me think even more about my clothing size? Usually this is uttered in a congratulatory way. But doing so only tends to perpetuate the idea that we should all be striving for weight loss, and that we all look better when weight loss occurs.
2. "You Look So Pretty Today!"
Today? Why only today? What about every other day when I'm doing something different? It's great to recognize when somebody is trying something new with their makeup, hair, and clothes, but emphasizing today might make them feel like they've been doing something wrong all along. The comment definitely makes me anxious about how I looked before.
3. "I'd Never Be Brave Enough To Wear That!"
I never realized that clothes took courage until I started wearing skin tight garments as a fat woman. Apparently getting dressed in a way that reveals my plus size body — instead of hiding it — deserves a medal of honor. Even for my straight size friends, wearing something that could be considered "revealing" can be met with shock.
This isn't just limited to clothing, either. When I went through every hair color imaginable, girls in club bathrooms would always consult me on whether they could "pull off" pink locks. Bravery can totally come into fashion in a Grace Jones kind of way, but if you're just referring to hair color or wearing leggings as pants, then the person you're saying this to might feel like you're implying they "shouldn't" be wearing whatever it is.
4. "You Really Remind Me Of (Insert Any Fat Celebrity Here)."
I've been called Beth Ditto. I've been called Rebel Wilson. I've been called Divine (but I'll totally take that one, thank you very much). Often, the only thing I have in common looks-wise with these people is my waistline.
5. "This Outfit Is So Flattering For Your Figure!"
I've read enough women's magazines to know that the word "flattering" just means, "You look thinner than you actually are in a wrap dress." Flattering is (more often than not) a sly way of telling someone you think they look better when they look more petite. And that's just wrong on so many levels. Even if you think an outfit might accentuate somebody's curves or help flaunt one of their better features, point that out instead of using the buzzword "flattering". I'd much rather hear, "Wow! Your tits look great in that dress!" than "That dress is so flattering on you!"
6. "Your Style Looks So Much Better!"
Better than when? When I was born? When I'm naked? When I'm not wearing something to your taste? Often, I think people use compliments as currency, feeling obligated to give a clothing compliment just because they like the person. My style is very different to what my friends like, though, so I don't expect them to compliment me on it. Instead, I prefer when they tell me how great a human or friend I am, rather than trying to force a styling compliment they don't necessarily believe.
7. "Is That Natural Or Makeup?"
I'm guilty of this one too, often asking women whether their eyebrows are real or not. It's probably because mine are fake AF and I'm constantly trying to pick up tips. To me, this question is complimentary because we then get to discuss makeup for the next 15 minutes. To others, however, you might be implying that they don't naturally look that beautiful.
At the end of the day, the way we perceive compliments is totally subjective. Taking the time to think about our words and the person we're saying them to before they come out of our mouths isn't just "political correctness gone wild," though. It's just a way of being self aware and sensitive to the feelings and experiences of others.
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Images: Georgina Jones