Body image question: The follow-up

Just to follow up on my hypothetical question post from last month.  In 2009, when I first wrote that post (and this one), I had seen a post on another blog that seemed to say that if a man compliments a woman whom he doesn’t know, he may mean well, but he is really (a) saying that a woman’s only value is her appearance, and (b) reinforcing the patriarchy.  I wanted to know how others felt about compliments.

The book Notes from the Fat-O-Sphere by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby has some good advice about compliments.  First, learn to take compliments from your friends.  Second, a stranger’s opinion doesn’t mean much.  Extending these ideas, I think that we all should try to take compliments from strangers gracefully as well, even if we don’t ascribe too much meaning to them.  And I don’t think any compliments are bad if they’re sincere and given without expectation.

I got some well-reasoned responses to last month’s post; thanks to all who commented.  Here are some follow-on ideas:

1. How does the gender of the person complimenting you influence your response?

2. Are there any men reading this who want to chime in?  (I can’t always tell gender from a comment but I think most of the responders were women.)

3. What about compliments from friends?  Are they more meaningful than those from strangers, or less so?

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10 thoughts on “Body image question: The follow-up

  1. 1: I don’t think the gender of the person complimenting me makes nearly as much difference as the way in which the compliment is delivered. A sincere-sounding appreciation from a man is not much different to me than a similar one from a woman. That said, I tend to get different types of compliments from men than from women, on average. Women are more likely to compliment something I’m wearing or my laugh, I find, while men seem more likely to comment on how I carry myself. Don’t ask me why, it’s just what I notice.

    2: I’m a woman.

    3: I think it’s more that I have a better idea of how sincere the compliments are from friends. I know them. I know how they work. I know what they think about different things. On the other hand, I usually don’t question a compliment from a stranger simply because it’s from a stranger. in fact, several of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received were from strangers. All in all, I think it’s kind of a wash but mostly because while I’ve got more nuance on compliments from friends, I’ve got less reason to expect a stranger to say anything at all, if that makes sense.

    • Thanks, Twistie. Sound like, in general, that the meaning behind the compliment is the important part, and you do what you can to suss that out. Makes sense.

  2. Compliments are a very weird thing, even from friends. How do I gracefully accept compliments when I don’t gracefully accept criticism? I’ve developed my self-confidence based on the fact that I don’t live my life for other people, I live it for myself and therefore their low opinion of me because I’m fat simply doesn’t matter. So how can their good opinion matter? After all, today they may like my laugh, but tomorrow they may mention my weight “because they’re concerned about my health.” If I allow they know what they’re talking about when they say good things, then I have to allow them the same possibility when they say bad things.
    1. How does the gender of the person complimenting you influence your response?
    Doesn’t make a difference, I’m uncomfortable either way.

    2. Are there any men reading this who want to chime in? (I can’t always tell gender from a comment but I think most of the responders were women.)
    I’m a woman.

    3. What about compliments from friends? Are they more meaningful than those from strangers, or less so?
    If a friend compliments something I do, rather than a genetic characteristic, then it does have some meaning.

    • Thanks, Sarah. My thinking is that you (not you personally, but in general) can take each statement, compliment, criticism, or other statement of opinion separately and assess it on its own merits. I try to do that anyway, although I admit that I can get bristly when I hear a criticism. And I don’t think you (again, in general) have to take a compliment seriously to get some enjoyment from it, and to thank the giver. Just take what you like, and leave the rest.

  3. There are compliments I’m willing to accept from strangers. “Nice shirt,” or “Love your hair,” are fine. They’re not too personal, and they focus on an aspect of my appearance I have some control over.

    “You have pretty eyes,” or “You have nice skin,” start to get a little weirder. They’re fine from a lover, a friend, or maybe even a long term acquaintance, but they’re too personal and bodily for me to feel comfortable accepting them from a stranger.

    Your example, “I just wanted you to know, I find you attractive,” would seriously raise my hackles. Why do you want me to know this, stranger? Why can’t you strike up a conversation first, and show that you’re not creeping on me, before you start making personal remarks?

    • Thanks, Gene. My hypothetical implies that the stranger wanted to give a compliment and truly wanted nothing in return, but I have to admit that I’m not sure that that’s realistic. It may be just a pickup line.

  4. 1) It doesn’t really — a sincere compliment is appreciated regardless of the plumbing of the person delivering it. Learning to take a compliment at face value, and not ascribe meaning to it beyond the obvious, is definitely a worthwhile skill. Nobody likes someone who snaps at them for a compliment. I treat them like gifts… even if I don’t particularly want that fugly sweater I will graciously thank the giver. It’s the thought that counts. Of course, there is a difference between an actual compliment and someone saying “nice tits!” or whatever.

    2) not a man

    3) Depends on the friend. Some friends won’t say anything bad and they’ll lie if they have to to avoid it. Other friends only give compliments when they really mean them. The trick is learning which is which without insulting the latter by assuming they are the former, and without letting the former know their compliments go in one ear and out the other since you know they aren’t objective.

    • Thanks, Erin. I agree with your approach, and I do tend to be fairly gracious with compliments. I have a harder time with criticism, as I’ve mentioned here before.

  5. 1. The gender matters to me. If they present as female (as I am), I usually assume she’s just commenting on something she finds aesthetically pleasing, and think it’s nice to hear something nice about oneself. If they present as male, I usually assume he’s hitting on me, and respond accordingly. I’m not happy with how much I assume now that I think about it. But in my own defense, this is a reflection on my lived experience.

    3. For me they are. I care about my friend’s opinions, and care very little about the opinions of strangers. Of course, my friend don’t usually want to get with me, so if attracting a man is my goal for the moment a strange man’s opinion can matter a lot too.

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