Following on from my previous post – on how to lose the body judgement for your own sake as well as others, it seems I need to write another… how to give a compliment without loading it with body judgement.
It’s not easy navigating in this world where the dominant paradigm is to critique appearances. We are conditioned from the minute we are born that appearances are what we should judge others on and that we owe the world some kind of standard when it comes to our own appearance. One of the most liberating things I have learnt is to be able to let go of that conditioning, and start to think of the world in a different way to that dominant rhetoric. But it occurs to me that there is little to no help on HOW to unlearn all of that stuff, and what is the non-judgemental way to compliment people. In fact, many of us can’t even see when we’re loading a compliment with body/appearance judgement, and so often we are hurt when someone says “Hey, don’t be a douche!”. We respond “But I was complimenting you!”
So maybe I should start with a few examples of how not to pay a compliment someone?
I have someone in my life who does this EXTREMELY annoying thing. She looks me up and down and then indicates my outfit and says “I approve” in a slightly patronising tone. This one boils my blood! I don’t wear outfits for other people to deem that they approve, I wear them because I like them and/or feel comfortable in them. I have noticed that I get the “I approve” on days that I am wearing all dark colours, have most of my body covered or am wearing loose, flowing garments. It’s particularly pointed on the days where she looks me up and down and doesn’t give the “I approve”. I got one of those today. Clearly my outfit (which I think is fabulous) doesn’t meet the standard. See how “I approve” is not actually a compliment but a judgement?
Another is the “that is so flattering” faux-compliment. It’s not a compliment to tell someone you like their outfit because it hides/disguises/minimises their body. You are telling them that their body is something that should be hidden, disguised or minimised.
Add to the list the “you look great today”. What did I look like yesterday, shithouse? There’s no need to tack the “today” on to the compliment. The same goes for “in that dress/colour/when you wear your *** like that” or any other qualifier.
One that I get a lot is “Look at your legs, they’re amazing!” I get this all the time, and it’s because on my body, thanks to the fact that I don’t drive which means I walk or cycle most places, my legs are considerably thinner than the rest of me. What it does is highlight that the “acceptable” part of me is the thinnest bit of me. I know it’s supposed to be a compliment, but just because my legs are the thinnest bit of me, doesn’t mean they need to be pointed out to all and sundry because they’re the least fat bit. The rest of me, even my enormous belly, is pretty bloody fabulous thank you!
Some of you may have your own faux-compliments that you’d like to add to the list and you’re welcome to do so in the comments.
So… how do you compliment someone without accidentally putting body judgement on there? Well… it’s actually pretty easy! The best way is to keep it simple.
- DO compliments on people’s skills. A talent in styling an outfit or choosing fabulous colours or accessorising is a fabulous thing to have. “I love the way you’ve styled that outfit!” or “You have accessorised fabulously!” are great compliments that don’t load body judgement in there. You can even say “You have fabulous style!”
- DO say you like an outfit, garment or accessory. “I love your shoes!” or “Great dress!” “Those earrings are awesome!” Keep it simple.
- DO use “I like” or “I love” statements. I like your shoes. I love your outfit.
- DO tell people when they wear something well. “I like the way you wear coloured tights.” “You always make long dresses look so elegant.” “Your outfits are so bright and fun.”
- DO relate the compliment back to the person. “Blue looks wonderful on you.”
- DON’T mention people’s bodies. Unless you are engaging in sexy-times with them, it’s not really anyone’s place to comment other people’s bodies. Don’t say “That dress makes your waist look small/legs look long.” etc, instead just say “I love that dress on you.”
- DON’T state your “approval”. Whether you approve of someone’s outfit or appearance is irrelevant.
- DON’T put a qualifier of time on a compliment. You can just say “You look great!” rather than “You look great today.”
- DON’T use the “I wish I could wear… like you.” line. Drawing comparisons between bodies is pointless.
- DON’T compare the outfit someone is wearing today to one they wore another time. Perhaps they didn’t have the energy to put into an outfit at the other time. Perhaps they like the other outfit better. There’s really no need to point out that one outfit is better than another, unless someone directly asks you to compare them. Just say you like what they have on.
- DON’T use words like “slimming” or refer to the persons shape. Again, a simple “You look lovely.” will do the job.
- DON’T assume that an hourglass shape is superior to any other shaped body. Firstly it’s not and while maybe the outfit they are wearing does give them an hourglass shape, they can look just as fabulous in an outfit that highlights any other shape they happen to appear.
FUCK FLATTERING! Seriously, just fuck it. Don’t use it, it’s shitty.