Picture yourself at a store trying to describe the type of garment you're looking for: Did you immediately go to the f-word... flattering? It's no surprise that I think we need to stop using the word flattering immediately. In fact, my disdain has never been hidden. While I realize that by definition, the word "flattering" doesn't really seem all that bad (all it's supposed to mean is "enhancing someone's appearance"), it's become synonymous with "slimming," operating under the assumption that everyone must want to look a certain way. So why not opt for dishing out one of the many actions that actually are flattering: A smile, a sense of confidence, a strong, personal sense of style?
The problematic nature of the term arises when we consider just how a garment can "enhance" someone's appearance, and what it is we mean when we say something is flattering. Generally, the use of the word is meant to signal that what someone's wearing is making them look more like what the dominant narrative defines "attractive" to be.
Generally, it's even more brazen that that: "Flattering" is a code word that indicate that whatever a person is wearing makes them look more like they're supposed to look. And even if an outfit — or, say, some contouring — does make a person look slimmer, why is that a an admirable achievement that we feel the need to point out? Well, it shouldn't be. Celebrating the shrinking and making our supposed "flaws" less noticeable don't really send a body positive message.
I know that most of us don't mean to hurt the people on the receiving end of our compliments, or make them feel like steaming trash. So what if someone does look really good in the outfit they're wearing? Or the color eyeshadow they're rocking makes their face glow in a particularly noticeable way?
For that, there are seven alternatives to the word "flattering" that are more expressive, more precise, and a lot more complimentary:
1. "Wow, that outfit looks so good on you!"
Simple. Classic. To the point.
2. "You're so good at doing makeup! Your look's amazing."
See how you're complimenting their skills instead of being all, "Oh, I noticed you made your face look skinnier?" Better.
3. "I seriously love your sense of style."
Again, you're appreciating the work that it took to create the look and complimenting the aesthetic, instead of reducing someone's talents to "looking slimmer."
4. "You look gorgeous!"
I mean, at the end of the day, hearing you're gorgeous can just be a pretty nice thing.
5. "That outfit is so you!"
What's a better compliment than, "I like when you look like your own gorgeous self?" Oh, there isn't one? OK!
6. "You look so happy."
What's more important than you appreciating their look is them appreciating their own look. Let 'em know you can tell they're feelin' themselves and that you think it's great.
7. "Those colors make you glow!"
OK, maybe this one is good for everyone except goths. But if you're trying to say that a color looks really good on someone, it would seem like that's preferable than "flattering," no?
So these are just seven out of an almost infinite number of compliments you can give: None of which require the word "flattering" to be effective. Now don't you feel just a little lazy for falling back on your old standby? Next time you go to give someone a compliment, think about what you're trying to convey — and then just say it.
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Images: Jodie Layne; Giphy; bustle/Instagram