Common sense would probably tell you that complimenting someone on their appearance is usually a good thing to do, right? Maybe less so when it comes to a perfect stranger. You hardly want to go up to someone on the street and creepily whisper into their ear “you look delicious today.” But when it comes to loved ones, surely it’s a good thing to give compliments on their appearance? How can saying something positive about how a person looks possibly be a bad thing? Well it is. And you might just RUIN THEIR LIFE! Being slightly hyperbolic with that one. Let’s have a ramble and play some devil’s advocate.
Is Complimenting Someone on Their Appearance Really a Good Thing?
Think about it. What is a compliment? It’s a form of praise or admiration for whatever it is you’re expressing your words towards. You could be complimenting someone’s brush strokes on a work of art, or merely complimenting someone on the state of their home. But in essence, A COMPLIMENT IS A JUDGEMENT.
When you tell someone they look nice or that they’re beautiful you are judging them based on your standards. That you approve of how they currently look. And to a certain extent, that they are now a better version of themselves to what they previously were.
You’re also playing into the human reward system. Your positive comment is going to set the person up to seek that compliment again in the future. Ergo, they’re more likely to continue doing the action that they have received the compliment on in the hopes of getting the same gratification again.
And in regards to appearance, you’re inadvertently setting the person up to think less of themselves when they first wake up in the morning looking “like a mess” and more of themselves when they’ve “made the effort.”
Paying Compliments Also shifts the focus away from how the person might feel about themselves
Despite the fact that giving a compliment is obviously something being said in a positive way – unless it’s a little backhanded and merely a sneaky insult. Or if you simply just blurt out“OH MY GOD NICE BOOBS!” Which isn’t really a recommended thing to shout.
But if you really think about it you could still be sending the wrong message when you start paying compliments to someone based on their appearance. Sometimes seemingly good things can actually be the wrong thing to do.
What paying compliments actually does is shift the focus away from how the person feels about themselves, to how they feel about how others might be judging them
You’re indirectly telling them that they ought to do things to seek the approval and appraisal of others, rather than do things simply to please themselves. That how they FEEL about their appearance isn’t important, but it’s what others think that really matters.
So If I can’t compliment or criticise someone on their appearance, what can I say?
Why are you asking me for? I’m not an expert. I’m merely here to pretend I know my shit before having the big reveal that I actually know fuck all.
In all honesty though, like a lot of things in life there is no right or wrong answer. You’re not going to go through life never paying your partner a compliment on their appearance. But I think it’s about finding the balance. It’s ok to occasionally pay someone a compliment on how they look, as long as you don’t only do it when they’ve “made the effort.”
It’s also important that not all compliments need to be on a persons appearance. There are plenty of other things you can compliment someone on without getting into how they look.
How about commenting on how something makes them feel. Like if your child has drawn a picture – taking it away from appearance for a second – rather than just comment with your opinions on it, you can comment on the effort they put in. Or how much they seemed to enjoy doing it. Something that reinforces the fact that they’re doing it for themselves and not just others.
You could compliment someone on the person that they are. That they’re strong, or thoughtful or something like that. That someone is selfless, funny, they make you think or any other numerous personality traits that aren’t based on looks.
I’m not saying you can never pay anyone a compliment ever again
Look, I know I’m being partly facetious with all of this. I’m not saying you can never pay anyone a compliment on appearance ever again. That you should just refrain from saying anything remotely positive just in case you accidentally let slip that you like someone’s hair and you end up ruining their life.
I’m just saying that we should think about what we say. That our words are more powerful than we think and that a little bit of self awareness over what we’re doing isn’t always a bad thing! And if in doubt, there are plenty of lists online giving you suggestions on what to say instead.