The pitfall of compliments

by Rayna van Aalst March 25, 2018

The pitfall of compliments

In the past year or so I have cut down significantly on my purchases and while I was prepared to work on my shopping habits and consumerism, the process of being more mindful when purchasing items, in this case of clothes, a realization about a pitfall of compliments was quite unexpected to me.

A few months ago, I was wearing a new jacket. The rest was the same gorgeous me – beautiful hair with platinum highlights, charming smile and unforgettable sense of humor.

That day was full of back to back meetings and three of them were with friends.

When I saw my first friend arrive, she greeted me with “You look beautiful!”.

When my second friend complimented me with similar words, I thanked her and I started wondering about the compliment pattern I sensed.

Then my third friend greeted me the same way.

On my way home that evening, I was pondering about that thing with the compliments – why did I pick up on it and what was it? Long gone are the days when I would shy away from a compliment. On the contrary, when people say nice things about me I thank them with a smile and make sure to stand tall.

It’s also not that my friends rarely make me compliments. I also had no doubt that my friends’ words were genuine.

It wasn’t a self-esteem or trust issue. But what made their compliments stand out to me?

Suddenly the penny dropped.

As a person with a sharp eye I had noticed a pattern around the compliment which made sense to me only later that day.

Each of my friends greeted me with a smile, gave me a hug and said that I looked beautiful while their hand was sliding down my sleeve and their eyes glanced quickly at the jacket.

They were saying “you look beautiful” but what they really meant was “Hey I see something new and it looks beautiful on you”.

And that’s how with the best of our intentions we compliment people’s belongings and their “special” looks and not the person him/herself.

What’s worse we encourage the feeling that you need new clothes, makeup or your hair done or basically to be someone different to BE beautiful.

In the weeks to come I noticed the same pattern in other situations -  a friend of mine goes to the hairdresser or wears makeup and we all say – “you look beautiful”.

Someone shows a new piece of clothing, and the response is “Wow, you look gorgeous!”.

My husband and I get ready for a party and I tell him how handsome he looks.

Reflecting on my life, I realized that indeed most of the compliments I receive are when I have something new on or when I do something about my look.

Think about it. When do you get compliments? When you’re bare faced reading a book on the couch or when you have a full face of makeup ready to leave for a special event?

Since that realization I made a point to myself to say to my daughter how beautiful she is when I wake her up in the morning. When she’s showing me a new dress or something new about her hair, I would say how beautiful her smile is or how funny the joke she made was when she entered the room. Later on in our conversation I would acknowledge that her dress looks nice too but I am always cautious whether my message is “you’re enough no matter what” and not “you’re enough because of your clothes/makeup/hair you have on”.

No wonder we don't dare go to work without makeup or that we possess more clothes than our grandmothers in their entire lives and we still wonder what to wear.

Compliments are precious. We need more of them in our lives. Both men and women need to learn to receive compliments.

And we all need to pay attention to what our compliment really says.

Rayna van Aalst
Rayna van Aalst


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