Thoughts on Compliments

“Sorry, are you a model or something?”

“Er…no, just an ordinary person!”

“Oh wow, you’re just so pretty, is that your real hair…”

The compliment from the waitress really made my day. I was wearing the smallest amount of makeup one would wear if bothering to wear any at all (tinted moisturiser, eyeliner, mascara) and wasn’t even feeling myself that day. I had actually just run out of the pouring rain and into a Wagamama for a quick lunch before jumping on a 6 hour train to Aberdeen after a 9am lecture where I had been told my book reviews were “either stagnating or slipping in quality”. It was a real boost.

Of course, it also surprised me. I do not walk around receiving compliments left right and centre, though like most women, I receive them from time to time. At any rate, I haven’t been told I had model qualities since I was about 13, when people assumed I would be taller, and I certainly don’t

think I posses the symmetrical features necessary to start a career in wearing clothes. The complimenter herself was one of those impossibly smooth-skinned black girls (seriously, 0 blemishes) with a cute, plump face, and was herself taller than me. Her candidness was nice and shocking.

It occurred to me later that at no point during this conversation did I think “No, you are wrong. I look terrible. I could never be a model”, but rather thought “Huh, didn’t know I was looking that fly today. Sweet.” It occurred to me because I later realised that the former thought would have, at some point, crossed most other women’s minds, while the latter would have been the furthest thing from it. At least the women that I know. Fear not, this is not to be one of those “Why don’t women love themselves more???” posts, but more a probe into people’s general mindsets when it comes to compliments.

I’ve always wondered why people shy away from compliments, which are really just the observations of impartial parties. Surely this is even more egotistical than accepting the compliment in the first place. You think that people care enough about you – fawn over you, dream about you – enough to make up a fake compliment just to flatter you? Isn’t it more likely that what they’re saying is the truth rather than that they’ve gone out of their way to make you feel good about yourself? Don’t worry, I’m not judging. I know that most people, obviously, don’t think this way. If you’re not willing to accept a compliment, it’s more likely that this stems from internal insecurities, rather than an inflated sense of self. That train of thought would probably never occur to most normal people.

I’m by no means perfect in this regard – I still shrug off implications that I’m intelligent, putting any achievements I make down to hard graft as opposed to a natural, innate ability. I’m not perfect, and like everyone else I go through periods where I feel inadequate, usually in terms of work. My lowest days are when I feel overwhelmed, but I just see that as a sign that I’m not working hard enough, as opposed to I’m not good enough. Even though I’m insecure about not being able to achieve, or not living up to other people’s expectations, criticism of my work is never taken as a put down (even if it was intended as such), but as pointers on areas that need improvement.

Compliments about my appearance are no different. If someone tells me I look nice in a photo I say “thanks”. If I think I look terrible in a photo, I don’t take it as a personal attack, but rather a fact of life. I don’t think I’m stunning, and like other people I have insecurities about the way I look. But when people observe something about me, I don’t have a violent, negative reaction to it. Why would I?

Of course this attitude stems from my upbringing. My mother brought me up to be hyper-rational. It probably wasn’t her intention, but I’m so like her that now our personalities are all but indistinguishable, and this is the result. If different people (who have never met) tell you at different points in your life (that have no relation to each other) that you are a certain way (in personality, appearance, etc.), then this statement should probably be taken as true. I know I am pretty, because people tell me that I am. I don’t think I’m the most beautiful thing since Justin Timberlake went solo, i don’t worship my face in the mirror and, contrary to popular belief I do not look like Nicole Scherzinger (it is physically impossible for ordinary people to be that thin). I am an ordinary person who has the ability to be honest with herself.

Unfortunately I’m also cursed with the inability to give a shit about what other people think of me. Some people shy away at the very thought of accepting a compliment, so writing a whole post about how they were cool with the whole thing would probably blow their minds. People fear being judged, whereas I shake off critical derision and welcome critical discussion. Why do people always fear the worst, rather than embracing it? Or is that just me?

I’m not trying to preach. I’m in no position to preach – and I wouldn’t, even if I was – so I can’t tell you to “go out there and embrace all the positivity and compliments throw your way with grace and aplomb, you’re amazing, you’re just as beautiful as you think you are, inside and out”. In that case, this post may just seem like an egotistical rant, but bear with me, I really am trying to get at something here.

I just think that – feel that – people need to go easier on themselves. We’re surrounded by new age bullshit, telling us to embrace our insecurities, face our fears, strive for our dreams, love ourselves for who we are, really live up to our own expectations. “Everybody is body beautiful.” So why are we all chat no trousers? Why do we shut ourselves off from the light, thinking that it’s too good for us? There’s no way that could be us? Or worse, why is our immediate reactions to people honest about their abilities – about themselves – negative? That they are “stuck up,” “narcissistic,” “x,” “y,” “z”? Why do we always project ourselves onto others?

I like to treat people as individuals, in the vain hope that they will afford me the same courtesy. You may think I’m weird for accepting compliments as truths, but I think you’re just as weird because how could they be anything but? I hope one day, you come round to my way of thinking. There’s more space to breathe over here.

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