Much has been written over the years on how to graciously accept a compliment. We teach our daughters to simply say “Thank you,” instead of automatically becoming self-deprecating (“This old thing? I’ve had it for years”) or coy (“Do you really?”) when someone says “I love your dress.” Personally, I’m still waiting for the day when it’s okay to reply, “You’re right. I look hot in this dress.” But God forbid we should appear vain or conceited, so we smile and voice some oversight (“But I look better with makeup”), suggesting we left the house that morning hoping, but unsure, that we looked suitable for public viewing.
Over the years (58, if you’re counting), I’ve concluded that many of us are marginally adept at receiving compliments, but woefully abysmal at giving them. We pepper our compliments with qualifiers (“for your age“) or wide-eyed, pseudo-innocence (“Gee, I could never do what you’re doing.”) The kind of statements that you’re taught to respond to with “Thank you,” while your brain is silently replying, “Bite me.”
Assuming you’re not a total male douche and still think “You know what would look good on you, baby? Me” is an acceptable compliment to any female, of any age, ever, or you’re a woman who thinks another woman, barely half-dozen years older than you, loves to be told she “looks just like your mother” (in which case you’re both so lost, I can’t help you), I’m offering up the 10 worst compliments I’ve ever personally received, in hopes of providing a glimpse into what we’re really thinking when we say “Thank you.”
1. “You look fabulous for your age.” What does that mean?? I look great because I don’t look 58? Is 58 a bad thing to look like? If I told you I was 48, would I still look fabulous, or would you be thinking “She’s only 48?? Damn, she looks 10 years older.” And when was the last time you told a 24-year-old that she looked fabulous for her age?
2. “Not many women your age can wear their hair that short.” There’s that pesky qualifier again. “Your age.” STOP THAT. So now I’m left wondering if you’re saying I shouldn’t either? This is the stepsister compliment to “My husband would never let me cut my hair that short.” What is this, 1956?? Who says “My husband wouldn’t let me…” anymore? I just smile and reply, “Yes, thankfully my hubs has a thing for human Chihuahuas.”
3. (After telling a co-worker I was starting a new diet) “You don’t need to diet. Your husband likes voluptuous women. My hubs likes thin women. But you’re lucky because you don’t have to worry about it.” Ouch. There’s so much wrong with this one, I hardly know where to start. Since you not-so-subtly stated that I’m fortunate because my husband prefers fat women, we’re just going to end our Facebook friendship right now, before this escalates into a public, online brawl, WITH CAPS.
4. “You’re 58? Congratulations.” Huh? Turning 58 is not an achievement or something we get some kind of middle-age trophy for. It just happens. All by itself. Seriously, I never put it on my Life Goals story board, so no congratulations are necessary. If you wouldn’t say it to a 30-year-old, don’t say it to a 50-year-old.
5. “Of course you can still wear a bikini. You’ve earned it. You deserve to flaunt whatever body you’ve got.” “Whatever body I’ve got??” Swell. Now I’m not going to the beach unless I’m wearing a burka. In black. At night.
6. “Older women look better a little heavier.” While this may be true, I’ve yet to meet any woman who likes to be referred to as either “older” or “heavier,” particularly in the same sentence. A double-don’t. (And for the love of God, never substitute “mature” for “older.” You’re likely to be shoved out of the car. While it’s moving.)
7. “I love your white hair. But aren’t you afraid it makes you look older?” No, actually, because that’s what I was going for. 58 seemed so, well…young, so I was going for 70. But thank you for letting me clarify that.
8. “You look great. Where do you get your work done?” Say whut?? This is the equivalent to “When are you due?” to a woman who is not pregnant. The latter suggests she’s either packing around an extra human or she’s simply fat, and the former suggests she couldn’t possibly look that good without a little surgical intervention. Either way, you better hope she’s not your Secret Santa at next year’s office Christmas party.
9. “Great dress. I admire you for still going sleeveless.” That’s okay. It’s a public service. When I raise my arms, the local meteorologist can tell the wind direction and speed by the flapping of my underarms like wind socks on a barn. You’re welcome. Now excuse me while I go get a sweater.
10. (By a saleswoman.) “You’d look great in this dress. And we have a full selection of Spanx on the second floor.” Gee thanks, but since you basically just stated that I’ll have to stuff myself into a toothpaste tube to wear the dress, I think I’ll pass.
So ladies, if we meet on the street, let’s just say “You look fabulous, dahling,” “Oh, so do you,” and leave it at that. And men, if you’re compelled to comment on a woman’s looks, a simple “You’re pretty” (or some similar, straightforward variation thereof) will be less likely to result in her feeling compared to your mother and/or accidentally (oops) spilling her drink in your lap.
Until we meet again. Did I mention you look hot in that dress?