“Hey pretty, how’re you doing?”
This question greeted me this morning, in-between the shoe aisle and cleaning cart at Walmart. In some ways — literally and figuratively — I felt trapped.
The older gentleman who asked the question, in front of me and much taller, did not move out of my way until we were less than a foot apart. The people pleaser in me did not state my discomfort, but instead offered a “I’m good, how are you?” as I squeezed past and tried to offer a tight smile.
As I walked away, the man continued to make uncomfortable comments about my appearance. He kept talking until I’d rounded two corners away from him. I truly do not know what his intentions were in doing so. And I won’t. But that’s the thing, right? In most of our daily encounters, others will not know our intentions behind our interaction with them.
Here’s my two cents: there are much kinder and appropriate ways to greet (or compliment) someone than with a comment on their appearance. This is not a preachy rant about how you can never tell someone they look nice. Rather, a suggestion that there are many other more meaningful ways to comment on someone’s worth.
When you’re commenting on someone’s looks, consider your proximity to them. While I’m always a fan of non-appearance-related compliments, I think it is almost always inappropriate for someone you are not close with to do so. Maybe that seems harsh, but I’d ask you to consider why you’re comfortable with complimenting a person’s (read: woman’s) looks when you would not be comfortable complimenting their (read: her) joyfulness or generosity. Just a thought.
And hopefully we can all agree that compliments are almost always weird coming from strangers at Walmart. Looks-related or otherwise.
Anyways, this post is clearly coming from a moment of personal discomfort and frustration, which makes the sentiments more personal and perhaps less nuanced.
I don’t mean to suggest to never compliment your friends or family on their appearance. Sometimes, hearing that someone thinks you’re beautiful is such a lovely and much-needed affirmation. In a world often devoid of encouragement, the more compliments the merrier. But just remember: the person you’re complimenting is a whole person — with a brain, emotions, thoughts, hands that serve and a heart that loves. Do your compliments reflect that person’s wholeness?
In any case, I hope you will think about more ways to encourage others that don’t always center their appearance. Here a few that I’m fond of (disclaimer: some I’ve heard, some I’m hopeful to earn by demonstrating…):
- Your joy is contagious.
- I love your laugh!
- You are so fun.
- You are such an encouragement.
- Your outfit is so stylish!
- I see Christ in you.
- My kids love you!
- You are a good teacher.
- You’re so smart.
- Your writing makes me feel something.
- You are thoughtful.
- You are so kind!
- I like your music taste.
- This pie is so yummy!
- You are funny.
- You are so strong.
- It’s good to see you.
- You make me feel so loved!
- You tell good stories.
- Your wisdom is so helpful to me.
- You are a good friend.
- You’re a hard worker.
- I love our conversations.
- I like your shoes!
- You are kind.
- I’m proud of you.
- I like your blog (not fishing for any compliments here, nope, not me)
- I like being around you.
- You matter to me.
Great thoughts, Hannah. I read a book 20+ years ago about how to get kids to talk to you and listen to you, and one of the suggestions was to comment on what you like about the outfit/drawing/occasion with an ‘I’ statement (rather than a ‘you’ statement). For example, “I really like how you used red in that part of this picture,” rather than “you are such a good artist!” Or, “I love how that neckline looks on you,” rather than “you look so great today.” Of course, this was geared toward talking to children, but I kind of think some of the ideas are suitable for adults, too.
And as for that creepy man at Walmart, I would say (maybe uncharitably) that he was not really complimenting you, but … something else … That would have been disturbing to me, for sure!
(This is Emily W by the way…)