When I suggested that we ought to be more mindful about commenting on other people’s appearance (saying things like “you look great” or “you look good”, because we don’t really know what’s going on underneath), I got some feedback saying “What? We’re not allowed to compliment each other?”
Which really surprised me because – do many of us believe that the only way to compliment one another is by commenting on our looks?
This made me think about a deeper issue: which is that we value outward appearance a LOT. And that perhaps this hinders true connection.
Listen, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to look good, except if we distort its actual value and sacrifice many other parts of our selves in pursuit of that.
Ponder for a moment how eating disorders and body image issues even come about?
From a young age, we tell our little girls that they’re pretty, their dress looks lovely, and their hair is beautiful. Those are seemingly all nice things to say. But do you know what those little minds learn? It’s powerful to look a particular way, it will get praise, it means that I am loved and I am noticed. (I’m not excluding boys, they receive similar messages in a different domain)
Have you considered that in an environment where looks are the first thing people comment on, that this might (just might!) contribute to us developing eating disorders and anxiety around the appearance of our bodies?
Words have incredible power, and sometimes it is precisely the insignificant, commonplace comments that have the deepest impact over time. So I’m questioning: is it really a good idea to compliment people on their looks? Especially when it’s often the first thing we say to someone? (don’t get me started on “have you lost weight?”)
What if we replaced all the appearance-based compliments with intrinsic-value compliments?
“You are so kind” “You have incredible perseverance” “You are generous” “You make me laugh” “You lift others up” “You are great at listening” “You have such an interesting perspective on life”
I think if we shifted our focus from outward appearance to the qualities we possess, we will begin to notice those more. And we might learn to value others and ourselves more for what we bring to the world, rather than how we look in the world.
What do you think?