Picture this: A pair of high school girls stand beside one another rooting around in their lockers before school starts. One says "Hi!" and other replies, "Hey! Oh my gosh, your hair looks so pretty!" Or this: An 11-year-old girl walks into her grandparents' home on Christmas morning, and her grandmother greets her with, "Look at you! Daisy, you are just beautiful!" These types of compliments are all-too-common.
There are many ways to describe someone's appearance -- heavy-set, dark-haired, Caucasian, muscular, scrawny, fit, blonde, skinny, fat, and everything in between. There are even more ways to describe elements of someone's personality -- strong, proud, funny, sarcastic, brilliant, charming, kind, genuine, witty. . . the list goes on. It’s up to us -- yep, you and me and that guy over there -- to decide how compliment others. Compliments are more than just words. They can impact a person in powerful ways.
In our society, we're conditioned to give compliments centered around appearance. This is both a symptom and a cause of our culture's continued obsession with appearance. While a compliment based on the way we look may bring us momentary joy, that feeling doesn't last long. Think about it. Recall a compliment you've received about our your looks and one about your character. Which meant more? Which did you remember longer? Compliments about our appearance are fleeting & lack substance. Consider also that our hair, the clothes we wear, our bodies -- they're always in flux. For example, a compliment about your sweater only sticks as long as it's in style. And think about young girls used to hearing comments about their bodies like, "You are so skinny!" In our culture, this is good thing, while being fat is bad. What happens when these girls fill out as they advance through puberty and stop hearing things like this about their bodies? If "skinny" becomes part of their self-concept, they will struggle a great deal with their changing bodies. In particular, compliments on thinness perpetuate a culture-wide pursuit of thinness that has damaging consequences.
Compliments about who we are -- our actions, values, and personalities -- really stick with us and serve as a reminder about what's most important about each of us. Personally, hearing that I bring joy to someone’s life feels way better than hearing that my hair looks best straight when I straighten it for picture day.
I want to present everyone reading this with a challenge. Give someone a compliment every day for the next week, but don’t mention appearance. Tell someone how you appreciate that they've stood by you through a difficult time, that their sense of humor always puts a smile on your face, or maybe even that you love having them in your life. You never know the impact that your comment will have on their day, even their life. Or here's another idea: Start a compliment train! The next time someone compliments your appearance, give another person a compliment about their character, and see where this takes you.
Remember, compliments carry power. Be the change you wish to see in the world. Good luck! You might just start a REbeLution in your corner of the world.
by Maya Bair
Sophomore | Notre Dame de Sion