Refuse This Compliment

A friend of mine once asked me why I thought a particular girl was right for him. I gave an answer with a variety of contentions, but the first point was terribly destructive:

“She is beautiful.”

My particularly shallow opinion of her exterior appearance should have absolutely nothing to do with his level of interest in this girl. If he is attracted to her, then he does not need me to inform him of the facts. If he is not, then my opinion should not alter his lack of attraction. But most importantly, he should never seek anyone’s (let alone my) approval of a woman’s looks. By simply bringing this up, I am perpetuating an infectious behavior where (1) I judge his choices, and (2) he becomes more concerned about being seen with a girl than enjoying her companionship.

Notice that I am not at all addressing the effect on the woman’s self esteem or her behavior. I want to point out that this scenario harms the participants before even considering the subject.

I am also not saying that he should only care about inner beauty. That would be nice, but the primary concern should be his sole desires, outside the influence of society or his peers.

Here is another example. Guy meets a girl, tells you about her. You ask to see a picture.

What do you say next? “She is gorgeous!” “I like [insert name] better.” “Oh, she is [insert race]?!?”

I cannot think of an appropriate comment.

Now I can understand the human instinct of wanting to associate a visual representation with a mental image. But surely there are better responses than requesting a picture. “She sounds wonderful.” “I can’t wait to meet her.” “Tell me more about how she makes you feel.” The concern should be understanding his interest or at least engaging the discussion – anything but immediately offering unsolicited [approval/disapproval].

So about the girl: how much is she concerned about her appearance, and to what extent does it affect her self-image? We are all well aware of society’s portrayal of beauty, and how this can lead to adverse consequences. But in what ways are you a contributor?

If you did not catch Lisa Bloom’s post last year, How to Talk to Little Girls, please take a few minutes to consider her point. In a nutshell, she contends that we should avoid telling girls that they are pretty. I am really struggling with the idea of never complimenting the beauty of someone that I may care about. Women love to hear that they are beautiful, right? All else being equal, they would surely prefer to be attractive than not.

The answer lies in what the recipient actually hears. The compliment serves as a form of validation. An innocent and appropriate validation might be recognizing her effort to be visually appealing. Strangers or significant others likely gain pleasure from seeing her in her best light. She is rewarded for her sacrifice. But the danger arises if she is seeking validation of her existence. The fact that someone inherited less desirable genes does not give them any less purpose. I am afraid that this is the root of many women’s people’s struggles.

So here is my prescription. Guys: Complimenters: quit being lazy. Girls: Complimentees: refuse to accept it. If someone compliments your looks, demand that they elaborate. Are they really saying any of the following?

- “I am so glad that your parents mated with one another instead of someone less symmetrical.”

- or “I really appreciate that you want to look your best when you are around me.”

- perhaps even “When I look at you, I see evidence of the natural order and intelligent creation.”

If you can master any part of this predicament, then you are well ahead of me. If your experience can offer any insights, I look forward to hearing your thoughts. Until then, I will probably be checking out all of your friends.

2 thoughts on “Refuse This Compliment

  1. I hope I am not becoming a creepy commenter, but I have thoughts. So. I think it’s an interesting series of questions you ask. I think physical attraction probably shouldn’t be the primary force driving a relationship, but we can’t pretend it’s unimportant. When we see a pic of our friend’s significant others, it helps us associate a name with a tangible person. “Aspiring” to not notice the physical reminds me of “aspiring” to be colorblind. It’s well meaning, but maybe impossible.

    As for thr type of compliments, you covered a number of good topics. I did read the article you mentioned, but from my own experience, girls who grow up hearing how smart they are but not that they’re pretty have their own issues. :).

    All in all, genuine compliments are thought provoking but worthwhile. The last three sample compliments are great. Symmetry and intelligent design always get to the ladies. :) Thanks for sharing.

    • I appreciate all comments, particularly those that disagree and/or contribute to the topic.

      I was really making two separate points. First, my friend will inevitably care if he is physically attracted to a girl, but he should not care how I feel about it. Second, beauty should not be a girl’s primary goal.

      And interestingly enough, I meant for the ‘symmetrical’ compliment to be a shallow example. Maybe I will try it sometime.

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