Wednesday, February 13, 2013

On Compliments and Weirdness

I have a weird thing about compliments and I've been called out a few times recently for my response to them.  I’ve been told it is rude to respond to compliments with self-deprecating humor or disagreement like I usually do, but I just don’t know what is the right way to respond. 

I am five feet, three inches tall and have a small frame.  I have long brown hair and blue eyes. I am somewhat oddly proportioned, with a long waist but a short upper-torso.  I have skinny arms and a small forehead.  My nose fits my face, but my eyes are more hooded than I would like. 

Aside from the ability to dye or cut my hair if I want, the rest of what I've described above was completely out of my control. I didn’t have any say over the face I ended up with, just as I didn’t choose to be near-sighted.  Trying to take care of my body and look presentable is up to me, but acting like I had some say in what I look like seems like saying I could have chosen to be born somewhere other than Ohio.

And this is why I never know how to respond to any compliments I may receive on my appearance.  It's not like it happens all the time or anything, but when it does, I simply don’t know what to say.  I look how I look.

When you really consider compliments on appearance, they come down to this: something about the way one person looks is appealing to the person giving the compliment.  If it is physical characteristics, the compliment is basically: "Good job being born with physical characteristics I find pleasant to observe."  If it is in regards to some other aspect of appearance, like the person's clothes or hairstyle, the compliment boils down to: "I noticed you choose a hairstyle or outfit I like." 

I brought this up at a recent work happy hour, because obviously after you've all had two drinks this is the perfect thing to get all psychological about – especially when you’re just a bunch of people who work in IT and none of you are experts in psychology.  Everyone (read: all three people) I've discussed this with agree with me that it is difficult to know the correct response to compliments on appearance. 

I admit that even though I'm terrible at responding, I love it when someone compliments my appearance.  A kind-hearted (read: non-creepy) comment can immediately brighten my day.  If a compliment is really just a person stating his or her opinion, why do compliments still make us feel good about ourselves?  Is it that we appreciate so much that someone took the time to notice us and the effort to say something about it that the logic is behind it doesn’t matter?  Should we feel weird about giving compliments based on appearance if the other person doesn’t have any control over our opinion?

All this writing about it and I still have no idea.

Really, how we act and how we treat others should matter more than how well we appeal visually to others.  Kindness or compassion or hard work or making positive use of our talents.... Those are things we have the ability to choose and try to cultivate in life.  Maybe compliments on appearance seem weird because they are based on things we can’t entirely control rather than aspects of who we are that we can control.

I guess it’s not an either/or situation.  It’s fine to appreciate if someone takes the time to compliment appearance and it is also important to put effort into more than our exterior.  I still don’t know exactly what to do or say in response to compliments, but this whole conversation has made for some funny jokes at work now.  I may still be awkward about compliments, but if the result of all of this is something to laugh about at work, I guess it was totally worth bringing up.

I realize I’m completely overthinking it, but sometimes I do that.  I guess I should just say “thank you” to any compliment and move on without going over all of this in my head every time.

Yeah.  That’s probably what I should do.

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