Much has been written over the years on how to graciously accept a compliment. As a society we teach our children to simply say “Thank you,” instead of automatically becoming self-deprecating (“This old thing? I’ve had it for years”) or coy (“Do you really?”) when someone says “I love your dress,” or “I love your haircut!”
Personally, I’m still waiting for the day when it’s okay to reply, “You’re right. I look hot in this dress.” But God forbid I should appear vain or conceited, so I smile and voice some oversight (“But I look better with makeup”), suggesting I left the house that morning hoping, but unsure, that I looked suitable for public viewing.
Over the years (47, if you’re counting), I’ve concluded that many of us are marginally adept at receiving compliments, but woefully abysmal at giving them. As a whole we pepper our compliments with qualifiers (“for your age“) or wide-eyed, pseudo-innocence (“Gee, I could never do what you’re doing.”) The kind of statements that you’re taught to respond to with “Thank you,” while your brain is silently replying, “Bite me.”
Assuming you’re not a total male douche and still think that “You know what would look good on you, baby? Me” is an acceptable compliment to any female, of any age, ever, or you’re a woman who thinks another woman, barely a half-dozen years older than you, loves to be told she “looks just like your mother” (in which case you’re both so lost, I can’t help you), I’m offering up the worst compliments I’ve ever personally received, in hopes of providing you a glimpse into what I’m really thinking when I say “Thank you.”
1. “You look fabulous for your age.” What does that mean?? I look great because I don’t look 47? Is 47 a bad thing to look like? If I told you I was 37, would I still look fabulous, or would you be thinking, “She’s only 37?? Damn, she looks 10 years older.” And when was the last time you told a 24-year-old that she looked fabulous for her age?
2. “Not many women your age can wear their hair that length.” There’s that pesky qualifier again. “Your age.” STOP THAT. So now I’m left wondering if you’re saying I shouldn’t either. This is the stepsister compliment to “My boyfriend or husband would never let me cut my hair that short.” What is this, 1956?? Who says “My husband or boyfriend wouldn’t let me…” anymore? I just smile and reply, “Yes, thankfully my boyfriend has a thing for human Golden Retrievers.”
3. (After telling a co-worker I was starting a new diet) “You don’t need to diet. Your boyfriend likes voluptuous women. My hubs likes thin women. But you’re lucky because you don’t have to worry about it. You used to be really skinny, now you have curves. Own them.” Ouch. There’s so much wrong with this one, I hardly know where to start. Since you not-so-subtly stated that I’m fortunate because my boyfriend prefers women with curves, we’re just going to end our Facebook friendship right now, before this escalates into a public, online brawl, WITH CAPS.
4. “Of course you can still wear a bikini. You’ve earned it. You deserve to flaunt whatever body you’ve got.” “Whatever body I’ve got??” Swell. Now I’m not going to the beach unless I’m wearing a burka. In black. At night.
5. “Older women look better a little heavier.” While this may be true, I’ve yet to meet any woman who likes to be referred to as either “older” or “heavier,” particularly in the same sentence. A double-don’t. (And for the love of God, never substitute “mature” for “older.” You’re likely to be shoved out of the car. While it’s moving.)
6. “You look great. Where do you get your work done?” Say whut?? This is the equivalent to “When are you due?” to a woman who is not pregnant. The latter suggests she’s either packing around an extra human or she’s simply fat, and the former suggests she couldn’t possibly look that good without a little surgical intervention. Either way, you better hope she’s not your Secret Santa at next year’s office Christmas party.
7. “Great dress. I admire you for still going sleeveless.” That’s okay. It’s a public service. When I raise my arms, the local meteorologist can tell the wind direction and speed by the flapping of my underarms like wind socks on a barn. You’re welcome. Now excuse me while I go get a sweater.
8. (By a saleswoman.) “You’d look great in this dress. And we have a full selection of Spanx on the second floor.” Gee thanks, but since you basically just stated that I’ll have to stuff myself into a toothpaste tube to wear the dress, I think I’ll pass.
So ladies, if we meet on the street, let’s just say “You look fabulous, dahling,” “Oh, so do you,” and leave it at that.
Until we meet again. Did I mention you look hot in that dress?