A while back, I realized that it is hard to feel like more than a body when we’re complimented on our bodies. If appearance-related compliments are what we receive the most of, we’ll focus on how to get more of those compliments. This can easily lead to obsession with our bodies and appearances, feeding straight into diet culture and resulting in living small.
For quite some time, I have refused to comment on others’ weight. Whether their weight increases, decreases, or stays the same, I don’t care and don’t mention it. I refuse to be the person who fuels diet culture by praising the weight loss of someone who may be engaging in disordered eating or by shaming the weight gain of someone who has priorities other than trying to control their body.
However, as someone who loves helping others feel good, I frequently compliment others’ clothing or looks without mentioning weight or body size, so I decided to spend one week attempting to avoid complimenting anyone on their appearance AT ALL. Here’s what happened:
- I failed HARD. Day 1, right out of the gate, I caught myself making appearance-related compliments almost without even realizing it. “Your dress is gorgeous,” “I love your shoes,” and “You have a great smile!” all fell out of my mouth so easily. This was going to be much more challenging than I expected.
- It’s tough to compliment someone you don’t know. I love letting random people know when I like something they’re wearing, or how they’ve styled their hair. It’s fun, and I know it makes them feel good, but during this experiment, I attempted to avoid it. It turns out, it is extremely difficult to find something non-appearance-related to compliment someone on if you don’t know them. Now, I know I could just have not said anything and dropped my stranger compliments, but this experiment was an attempt to say different things, not simply say nothing at all. I found a few different compliments to use:
- When seeing a happy face at work: “You give off such an energetic vibe – it makes me as excited to be here as you seem to be!” (when at work)
- When hearing someone tactfully talk to a barista about their coffee order being incorrect: “What a great way to phrase that; I’ll have to remember that to use later.”
- When seeing someone at the store who came up with a creative way to carry their purchases to their car: “That is such a smart idea!”
Another really cool thing here is that complimenting strangers requires that we put more effort into awareness and engagement with the people around us. It’s an interesting challenge to step into the present moment in this way.
- I noticed compliments on my own appearance from others even more….and it made me a little uncomfortable. I was hyper-aware of my own reactions to these compliments, and recognized that my mind immediately went to ways to get MORE compliments, such as right away planning my outfit for the next day. This experiment helped me to realize that my efforts in my appearance went beyond making myself feel good and were an attempt at social acceptance through compliments, and I wasn’t feeling fulfilled because I felt that others weren’t seeing me for the complete, more-than-a-body person I am. And of course they didn’t, because I was investing most in my appearance as a way to be recognized. I wanted to change that to be more in line with my own values.
- I became more aware of how I talked about infants and children’s appearances. This one was really interesting. I noticed that the first thing I wanted to do with children or infants – especially girls – was to mention how cute they were. I made a point to change that, and instead asked the children or parents’ about the child’s milestones or interests. It seemed to me that there was a great deal of focus on children’s appearance even before they were aware that they had an appearance, and it would be a shame if a child were to ever believe that the way they looked was the most important thing about them.
- Appearance compliments have a place. Humans are multifaceted, and our appearance is one of those facets. While I firmly feel that weight-based comments or compliments are to be avoided, I think that complimenting people on their appearance in other ways can be pleasant for everyone involved. The key, to me, is that we try to find ways to uplift each other besides focusing only on looks. We can’t leave this to someone else, either – if everyone assumes someone else will do it, then no one is looking for the good in people beyond their looks.
So, I challenge you – try to spend a day, a week, a month, or more complimenting people on something other than their appearance. Dig deeper, engage more, and try to find what’s great about other humans that you aren’t able to see.