If there's one tool anyone can use to brighten up someone's day, it's a compliment. Compliments evoke positive feelings and interactions; they add sparks that ignite a conversation. Even though I myself am horridly incapable of accepting them, I have to admit that sometimes a few nice words, when said genuinely, can be very uplifting.
However, as flattering as they may be, we also need to be cautious in expressing them. A compliment might be delivered with good intentions, but the "kind" string of words might also include a specific remark that doesn't carry a good message. Other times, the compliment sounds a little too backhanded, sounding more like a pat-on-the-back insult. So hopefully these can give us some guidelines on how to make the necessary changes to be more considerate in the ways we communicate.
1. "You're brave, for a girl."
This can also be substituted by calling her "smart, for a girl", or saying she "drives well, for a girl." It's 2018: girls find jobs and speak for themselves and are not always the fearful weaklings you identify us to be. I call this phenomenon problematic flattery, because in this small “compliment,” you flatter one specific person by degrading many others. You may not have meant to insult anyone, but, congratulations, you just stereotyped the entire female population.
2. "You’ve lost weight!"
Living in a world that worships "skinny," we tend to overlook how there are some circumstances that can make a person lose weight. Sure, they might've worked for it (in which case, do commend them for their efforts!), but what if they fell ill? What if they're stuck in a horrendous eating pattern? What if they’re grieving, stressed, or depressed, and have not been taking care of themselves properly?
Call me crazy, but in this world today, where societal perceptions of beauty have grown increasingly unrealistic, I still think that beauty comes in different shapes and sizes. Praising someone for losing weight (without knowing the possible reasons behind it) means you’re taking part in that narrow-minded society.
In fact, I have friends who were chubby, then lost weight, then received endless compliments and encouragement, therefore live their lives today completely terrified that they will ever gain the weight back. The fear consumes them whole. This is because in their thinness, they were accepted by society, and to remain there, one would go to very great lengths, including eating disorders or overly strict exercise regimes. In short, glorifying supermodel-type bodies and congratulating every “weight loss”, we're reinforcing the "thin equals pretty" idea, which can sometimes be more harmful than it is rewarding.
3. "You look different with makeup on!"
Thank you, because I definitely didn’t buy this $30 mascara and spend an hour in my bathroom getting ready just to look the same.
4. "How on earth are you still single?"
"You're so funny, gosh, why are you single!" "You're such a great person, I always wonder why you're still single." I know right? It's such a surprise that you can be a fully functioning person in this modern age without being in a relationship! Mindblowing!
We take it lightly, but surely it can’t be that hard to applaud our sense of humor, or intelligence, or any of our positive traits and achievements without reminding us yet again that we are still single. Also, how do you expect us to react to these "compliments"?
"You're so funny," Gee, thanks! "Why are you single?" ... Man, how should I know???
Point is, if you have something nice to say, say it. We’ll thank you. But if you plan on following that statement by questioning the status of our love life, do consider to just stop before you do any damage.
5. "You look better without glasses on!"
I know I took them off for this party/event, but unless I asked for your opinion, please don't tell me I look better without the one object in this world that I wear every day.
6. "You're pretty, for an Asian."
Despite your niceness, what are you actually saying about the entire Asian race? Aside from the supermodel-body image issue, the world seems to love promoting how the Western beauty standards (big eyes, blonde hair, fair skin, tall figures) are the most "ideal", while for other ethnicities, the world just handpicks women like we’re strawberries in a field.
This basically applies for every sentence that goes: "You're (insert positive adjective), for a (insert specific race)." It's not a pleasant gesture. Similar to #1, your honeyed words are served with a side of prejudice. Problematic flattery. Honestly, it doesn't take that much to be a decent person; just think of compliments that don't make you sound a little racist.
7. “You’re not like other girls.”
Last but not least, one of the epitomes of problematic flattery. You’re right, I’m not like other girls, but do you understand that none of us girls are the same anyway? It’s like you just had this presumed expectation of what girls are like, and one specific girl just happened to differ from that expectation.
Mostly guys would use this sentence as a pick-up line. And let’s be real, us ladies usually fall for it. But I say that it’s time we recognize that in doing so, he is putting us in a spotlight, but sweeping our fellow women under the rug.
Boys, you can make a girl feel nice without demeaning other girls. And girls, recognize this, and instead ask: what’s so wrong about being like other girls? What’s so wrong in being like other women, who are capable, and strong, and unique in their own ways too? What’s bad about being a part of that sisterhood?
And most importantly, why do I have to be differentiated from my great sisters across the world, just to gain your attention?
The answer is, I don’t.
Joanne Amarisa Pangkey is a design student currently studying in RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. She is also an aspiring writer, as it’s one of her truest passions; the other two being photography and petting big dogs. You can find most of her work in her blog (www.withrisa.com) and Instagram (@joanneamarisa).