On Praising Beauty: Why Do Compliments Make Me Uncomfortable?


by Ginella Massa

"You're, like, really pretty."

"Thank you."

"So you agree?"

"...What?"

"You think you're really pretty?"

"Oh. I don't know.."

(10 points if you can name this movie)

I can't take a compliment. Especially from men, and especially when it's about my looks. I always feel really awkward and don't know what to say. I've realized that being self-deprecating is kind of lame, so I just say "thank you" and smile, then try to change the subject.

I think this akwardness comes from never really being praised for my looks growing up. Not that I was an ugly kid. In fact, I was a very cute child, if I do say so myself. But my parents never really applauded my physical appearance, instead praising other things like my good grades, my outgoing and social nature, and my uncanny ability to recite movies word-for-word. Looking back, I'm glad for it because I learned to measure my own self-worth by things other than my nice face.

When people did happen to comment on my appearance, I was always relegated to the CUTE category -- never hot, sexy, or gorgeous. So it's just not how I've ever seen myself (I blame those damned dimples). Only now that I'm older have I started to receive more feedback about my looks, and it's a very weird feeling. Thanks to social media, others are given the opportunity to write "stunning!" on my pictures, and I'm in an industry which sadly focuses on looks as much as intelligence, so I often get told how photogenic I am. But all of this is very strange to me because I feel like my face really hasn't changed all that much in the last 20 years (seriously, my kindergarten picture is just me with with bigger teeth.)

I won't lie, it's kind of nice and definitely a boost of the ego to get those compliments. But after a moment, I'm left feeling empty inside because I realize I have nothing to do with how I look (other than taking the effort to wear makeup). It's really just good genetics, and I'm not in control of that. So when a guy says, "you have an amazing smile!" "I love your dimples!" or "you have beautiful eyes," I'm thinking: "you should really be thanking my parents." In fact, I get kind of disappointed that I'm not getting complimented on something more substantial.

I know this sounds rude and ungrateful because this is usually what girls love: to be told they're pretty. Let's face it, it's practically the only reason we post selfies on Instagram. But I get much more satisfaction when a person I'm interested in says he thinks I'm really intelligent, or that I'm funny, or that I have a great personality. Because those aren't accidents -- they're all things I've worked at. A guy once told me I was an excellent driver and I was beaming at that compliment because I take great pride in my superior parallel parking skills (No joke. I'm amazing.)

I don't mean we should stop writing nice things on people's pictures (seriously, keep 'em coming.) I just wish people would take the time to also compliment the things that really matter, instead of placing so much value on accidental good looks.

Next time you're commenting on your friend's Facebook or Instagram pic, consider telling them how beautiful they are inside too.

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About the Author

Ginella Massa is a Canadian journalist, producer, and media trainer. She became Canada's first Hijab-wearing reporter in 2015. Ginella  has worked for CityNews, CTV News, Rogers TV, and NEWSTALK 1010.  She frequently writes about issues affecting Muslims in North America. 

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