Non-appearance-related compliments

Our culture focuses so much on appearance that it can seem like a fact of life. For some decades now, thinness has been considered the ideal for how people should look. Lighter skin tones are still quite honestly considered a basic standard, but not skin that’s very pale: a nice “healthy” tan is desirable. Clear skin is best. Straight hair is currently “in.”

We focus so much on appearance that it can be difficult even to give someone a compliment that’s not looks-based. Take a look at your social media feed and you’ll see what I mean. Anytime someone posts a new selfie or changes their profile picture, there’s a barrage of comments all saying “you look great!” “beautiful!” “haven’t changed a bit!” That’s so common, in fact, that Facebook makes “beautiful” and “gorgeous” automatic reactions on stories. You don’t even have to type it! Just click on the words to react.

But doesn’t the ubiquity of those words ever make you want something different? Do they ever feel a little insincere? Do you want to stand out from the crowd by receiving or giving a compliment/reaction that isn’t the same as usual or that at the very least captures more of who you or someone else is than how your/their face or body looks?

It’s time to up the compliment game. First, challenge yourself to stop commenting on others’ appearances, or at least to make it just a 1 in 10 occurrence. Second, dig deep. If you are reacting to someone’s photo on Facebook or Instagram, for example, you are likely friends. You know something about them and like them (if not, you may want to consider paring down your “friends” list). What are qualities you treasure? My friends are, among them, kind, strong, courageous, faithful, wise, well-read, knowledgeable, patient, generous, loving, outgoing, thoughtful, fun, hilarious, clever, persevering and talented. And that’s just a few of their admirable qualities. They’re great parents, hard workers, experienced in all kinds of work and non-work capacities, dedicated volunteers. In short, they’re people I adore.

I like to say these kinds of things:

  • “I love seeing that big, friendly grin.”
  • “You always do such fun activities with your kids.
  • “The way your eyes light up makes me smile.”
  • “Your style is always so fabulous and reflects you so well.”
  • “Seeing your face reminds me how good it feels to be around you.”
  • “Your goodness just radiates from your face.”
  • “I love the twinkles in your eyes.”
  • “You have such great taste in clothes.”
  • “I’m so blessed to know you.”
  • “Your smile is 100 watts of happiness.”
  • “I admire so much how caring you are.”
  • “I can see that fun mischievousness I like so much reflected in this photo.”

It’s even possible to compliment people you don’t know, out in the real world. You can compliment a harried mom in the supermarket on how kind and patient she is being with her toddler. You can tell someone their scarf is gorgeous or the color of their shirt is stunning. You can compliment a stranger on their smile.

Just think how much you can lift someone’s day by taking a minute (or a few) to figure out a different way of commenting besides saying how beautiful or gorgeous or thin or young they look. Pick a compliment with staying power: it sticks because it’s different, and it sticks because it reflects something about them that is more real and long-lasting than what’s on the surface. Go and have some fun crafting your own. (Or you can use some of my ideas; it’s OK.)

Share some of yours with me, too, if you like.

Beautiful life Full life Life in a body

lifeandlims View All →

I’m a book reviewer, editor, and writer with four daughters and tons of projects always keeping me hopping. I blog at Life and Lims and run the book review site Rated Reads.

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