So I’ve written occasionally about beauty and self-image, but I haven’t said much about how we compliment each other. Have you noticed that most of the time we tend to compliment others on how they look in some way? “You’ve lost weight! Lookin’ good!” “Love that new outfit.” “Nice new hairdo.” “You look pretty today.”
I have to admit, of course I love receiving these kinds of compliments. Yes, I do like feeling that I look good. And I think compliments are pretty much always a good thing. But what happens when we’ve gained weight or we’re having a bad hair day? Are we going to automatically remember the times we were told positive things when we were thinner or fresh from the hairstylist? (and then think poorly about ourselves right now in comparison?) Just something to consider.
I was reminded twice recently just how wonderful it is to be complimented on attributes that will last. One, I spent a morning editing, which is my only paid job. And honestly, it’s not work for which one gets a lot of high-fives. Writing is more visible; editing, though, is basically a way to ensure someone else’s writing either gets noticed or doesn’t get attention in a bad way (“you misspelled my name?!” or “I’m going to sue you for libel!”). So as proud as I am of my editing work, it’s largely thankless and something about which I can only congratulate myself.
But during the course of this busy morning of work, I fixed a mistake, and the writer was appreciative. That writer either brought the important catch to a publishing editor’s attention, or that editor saw it in the notes on the story. Either way, that editor contacted my boss and said how much she appreciated my good work. My boss passed it along to the other editors with whom I work, so we all can know that sometimes, our hard work does get noticed. And bam! I’d gotten appreciation. Actual praise for the work I do regularly. Woot!
The other compliment recently that really meant something to me came from someone I’d never met before. I was doing volunteer work at the Fresno temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We Mormons go to church services on Sundays in our local meetinghouses/chapels/church buildings (we refer to them variously as such). But our temples are extra-special places, where we learn and make covenants with God and then can provide those same opportunities for our ancestors who have passed on. They’re particularly quiet, holy, and sacred, and going there to do work for our ancestors is such a blessing. Early one Saturday morning, I spent an hour there, working in close proximity to a few other women I didn’t know but drinking in the peace that exists there. In the course of our time together, I felt particularly warmed by the kindness of the women who were volunteering there with me. They smiled beatifically (absolutely true!) and were thoughtful and helpful. One told me that she loved how my eyes danced, among a few other observations about how I came across as a person.
Now that was a compliment to remember. Lately, I might have been feeling incredibly stressed and exhausted and worn down by all kinds of things that have been going on in my life, and I might have been feeling bad about my weight (I admit the stress has led me to eat very poorly, a habit I’ve been trying to break but have been not terribly successful in fighting recently). I was wearing no makeup; my hair hadn’t been fixed for the day other than receiving a quick brushing. I wasn’t even wearing anything nice. But this compassionate lady told me that she appreciated my soul, my spirit: who I am inside. And I thought, “You know, it doesn’t matter today how I look. Because who I am is shining out through my eyes and my face. And somebody noticed.” If I stay the kind of person I want to be (well, hopefully, become better), my eyes will always dance. I will always smile genuinely and with warmth and friendliness. Even when I’m 90 and my body looks very different and my face is wrinkled, my eyes and my smile will be the same.
Yes, I like it when people tell me I look pretty. But when someone compliments ME, who I AM, it really sticks with me and warms me from the inside out; it has staying power. If all of us just made more efforts to recognize the best qualities — the forever, enduring ones — of those around us, the world would be a nicer place. And maybe, just maybe, we could be less concerned about how our outer “shellves” look.