Normally, my feature page highlights one of my own pieces but this month, Elizabeth Patch's fantastic post on how compliment a women without mentioning her looks deserves center stage. When Elizabeth asked me to contribute to her piece, I began to pay attention as to how often I dole out compliments based on appearance and I was surprised to realize how often I actually do. Thanks to Elizabeth I am much more conscious of complimenting the women (and men) in my life on who they are, rather than what they look like. Much gratitude to Elizabeth for this thought-provoking piece and for including my favorite compliments.
I secretly love it when someone compliments a new haircut or admires my outfit.
But what really makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside is when I get praise for something other than my appearance. Notice my garden, ask me about my writing, compliment my children or my home, praise my drawing or cooking or strange left-handed knitting technique, and you seriously hit my self-esteem button!
Commenting on a woman’s appearance is automatic.
We start by gushing over baby girls with “Don’t you look pretty in that party dress!” We continue to mention hair, weight, clothes, skin, makeup, etc. for the rest of her life. These comments are usually given in a positive spirit, but if that is the only type of compliment a woman or girl ever hears, a very subtle but profound message is reinforced: You are what you look like. Period.
An endless diet of “pretty girl” compliments (and nothing else) can help set us up for disappointment and anxiety and self-doubt.
We can’t possibly keep up with being pretty enough, sexy enough, stylish enough or thin enough! If these compliments stop or slow down (or never materialize in the first place!) feelings of being fat, ugly, old or otherwise not attractive enough make us forget the truly amazing qualities we possess that have nothing to do with looks.
I think we should help each other realize how fine we all look,
in all of our glorious sizes, shapes, ages, colors, faces and bodies.
But I think we also desperately need to be praised for our talents and accomplishments, our dreams and ideas, our tiny personal triumphs and our big public victories!
So here are 10 ways to compliment your female friends and family members, your co-workers and your casual acquaintances (and yes, even yourself!) without mentioning looks.
1. The “Good Job” Compliment
If someone does a good job, at anything, they deserve recognition!
Whether it’s a 4-year old who can read “big girl books”,
a 14-year old who made the winning goal at a soccer game,
or a 40 year old who finally gets her own administrative assistant,
nothing builds up pride and self-confidence more than being recognized for a job well done.
2. The “Brave Heart” Compliment
This is for the shy, hesitant friend who finally gets the nerve to travel to Europe alone, the newly divorced woman who grows more courageous instead of falling apart, and for everyone who overcomes the pain of the past,
steps outside her comfort zone and dares to start over again!
Admire her emotional bravery! You go girl!
3. The “You are a Goddess” Compliment
Bow down to her super-natural, amazingly awesome talents!
She can be the Goddess of the Play Date, or the Goddess of the Cocktail Party,
Domestic Goddess or Executive Goddess,
Multi-Tasking Goddess or Yoga Goddess.
Whatever type of Goddess she is,
giving her an official title is the ultimate compliment.
4. The “Smarty Pants” Compliment
If only we told our little girls how smart they are as often as we tell them how cute they are… She (or you!) figured out something complex, solved a tough problem, passed a test with flying colors, invented something new, started a business, proved that women are good at math or science or visual/spatial relationships (or any of those other things we’re not “supposed to be” good at).
Pass along a big “Brava!”
(Ms. Smarty Pants knows this already: Brava is for women, Bravo is for men)
5. The “Tough Cookie” Compliment
She juggles being a single mom with a full-time job.
Or she’s the first in her family to go to college.
Or she somehow manages to bounce back from a disaster that would crush most other women.
She deserves all the praise you can give her for her strength, her determination, her stamina and her guts!
So tell her! (and maybe give her a hug too)
6. The “Show Me” Compliment
It doesn’t matter what the skill is, whether it’s building a compost bin or designing a website, asking someone to show you how she did it is the ultimate compliment of her skills and expertise.
“Amazing cookies! What is the recipe?”
“You really know how to fix a leaky faucet! Can you show me?”
“I wish I could do _________. How did you learn?”
7. The “Life of the Party” Compliment
Don’t you just love hanging out with someone who can turn a dull event into something fun? Let her know!
“I love how you make me laugh!”
“You always make me smile.”
“You are so much fun to be with.”
8. The “Creative Touch” Compliment
This one is great for the artsy girls you know, the ones who always come up with something unexpected and original. Praise her creative touches, whether it’s her handmade greeting cards, that wild color she painted her bedroom, her ability to throw unusual ingredients together into something delicious, anything and everything that shows her expressive nature!
9. The “Queen of the Castle” Compliment
Compliment my kids, my home, my garden, my cat, and you shine a light on me! We are co-creators of the spaces we live in and the families we raise, and most of us are damn proud when someone compliments our home or families!
10. The “Mushy Gooey” Compliment
Go ahead, tell her you love her (or admire her or think she’s just plain amazing). You don’t even have to give a reason!
I’ve asked some body image writers to share some of their favorite compliments:
Often giving a compliment is a reflex. The automatic nature of “You look great” keeps our focus on what we see and not much more. This post will surely get women thinking about waiting a beat or two before saying “I love your hair” so that they can give a compliment that means so much more.
So, the first compliment I thought of is one I often tell my best friend: “You’re a really great mom. Really.” (And for those outstanding women without kids, “You would make a really great mom.”)
My other favorite compliment, to give and get, is: “You inspire me.”
I can’t think of one specific instance, but getting complimented on my writing means the world to me. My work is a reflection of who I am, who I truly am, at the core. It might sound melodramatic, but oftentimes it feels like my heart and soul laid out on paper (or computer screen). Even if I’m not writing about a slice from my life, it’s still me, my personality, my style on the page. And that’s pretty scary and exciting at the same time.
Writing is my passion. It’s my purpose. I feel like it’s what I was born to do, and what I’ve gravitated toward my entire life. So any time, a reader, a fellow blogger or writer, an old professor or anyone else compliments my writing or says it resonated with them, I am on cloud nine.
Margarita Tartakovsky, MS
Associate Editor | Psych Central Weightless Blog
My favourite compliment came from a good friend of mine who said I was wise, compassionate, and hilarious. I really felt great after hearing that, as I aspire to be all of those things.
It was a great reminder that I am more than how I look and that people love who I am and how I treat them.
Esther Kane, MSW
Psychotherapist and author of
It’s Not About the Food: A Woman’s Guide to Making Peace with Food and Our Bodies
Dr. Michelle May shares this great fill-in-the-blank way to compliment anyone:
“I feel ________ when I am with you because _____________.”
Michelle May, M.D.
Author, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle
Here's a compliment I've received a number of times: "You are so resourceful!" I think it's true; I'm pretty good at solving problems on the fly, and finding alternative ways of getting what I need when there appears to be an obstacle. I like being acknowledged for cleverness. I'd much rather be called "resourceful" than told I have great legs or a perfect pair of breasts.
Author of Read My Hips: How I Learned to Love My Body, Ditch Dieting and Live Large
Here’s a recent complement I received from a patient who was moving away in a card he gave me:
“You’re the best therapist I’ve had and I would be lucky to find someone else like you. You always made me feel like you were putting in a lot of extra effort and that I was special. You always made me feel cared about.”
That TOTALLY made my day, because I think that’s what we all want – to feel cared about – and that it’s a gift to be able to create that feeling for someone.
Ashley Solomon, Psy.D
Nourishing the Soul, a forum on body image and the effects of eating disorders
For a brief time in the early 2000’s, my best college buddies all lived within a few blocks’ radius of one another in Brooklyn, and they’d often throw parties at their apartments. I was always fashionably (though unintentionally) late, sometimes arriving as much as three hours into the party. I’m not sure where it started, but my friends used to say, almost every time, that “the party doesn’t start until Golda’s here.” I was never much of a drinker, so it wasn’t about that. It was just that I cracked people up, got shy people who didn’t know other people talking, and had a variety of weird running comedy routines with my friends that had people literally on the floor laughing. It was a great compliment, because it assuaged my guilt about being late and made me feel integral to the whole party experience.
Golda Poretsky, H.H.C., founder of Body Love Wellness
The best compliment I have ever received was given to me by a male friend over ten years ago.
He told me that the way I lived my life inspired him to be a better person. It remains today the most powerful and heartwarming compliment I have ever received.
Julie Parker (B.A. B.SocWork, MAASW) author of Be Yourself, Be Beautiful
Artwork and writing © Elizabeth Patch, all rights reserved. Used with permission of the artist. Elizabeth Patch's inspirational writing style and adorable illustrations take a light-hearted look at the serious issues of body image and self-esteem for women of all sizes. Website: http://elizabethpatch.com/.