Compliment Cheat Sheet

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Every time you turn around, it seems like someone is extolling the virtues of compliments. They’re good for your health! They build goodwill! They build confidence in both giver and recipient! All very true. (OK, not sure about the measurable health benefits, but there are probably some.) Still, doling out compliments can feel daunting. Where do you start? Who will be a willing recipient? What should you say?

Well in my opinion, you should:

  • Start anywhere
  • Assume everyone will be a willing recipient
  • Say something genuine

That’s not specific enough? You’re still daunted? Right-o, here are some incredibly simple, training-wheel ideas to get you started:

FORMULAS

Your ____ is gorgeous! (Hairdo, handbag, manicure)

I love your ____. (Shoes, eyeshadow, tattoo)

What a great _____! (Sweater, shade of lipstick, outfit)

EASY ITEMS

I’m just sitting over here coveting your shoes. Don’t mind me.

That dress is phenomenal.

What a superb hat! And you wear it so well.

I have to ask: Where did you get that amazing coat?

I’m seriously considering stealing that scarf right offa you.

BEAUTIFUL BODY BITS

Just had to tell you that your skin is completely radiant.

You’ve got the most elegant posture!

I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but you’ve got a truly gorgeous smile.

I can’t get over your spectacular curls.

SPECIFICS

That color looks incredible on you.

I adore your haircut. So chic!

I just love how you tied your scarf.

That combination of pieces is simply marvelous.

I pretty much love everything about your outfit.

YOUR ASSIGNMENT

Give out one of these to a total stranger, one to an acquaintance, and one to a friend. Do it by next Friday or I will totally come knocking at your door to wag my finger at you. You think I kid.

Just remember: Compliments are among the most trackable forms of present-life karma. You’ve gotta give ’em out to get ’em. And eventually, giving and receiving will feel equally amazing.

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  • Love this, love you. The world needs more of this, so we have to start somewhere : >

  • M

    I think this might be personal, but unless I MADE the items someone is complimenting, I feel extremely uncomfortable when someone compliments something I simply purchased. It’s too superficial to be meaningful to me and if that is what someone is going to pay attention to about me, I don’t know how much I want to continue the conversation.

    • Sal

      Interesting. I see compliments about purchased items as relating to taste, which, to me, is personal and not superficial.

      • M

        This might be reflective of growing up in a situation and with a body type that is very difficult to fit and very little excess money that could be spent on wardrobe “wants” vs. wardrobe “needs”. I suppose I think about the flipside of it in that I would be rather sad to find out that someone didn’t talk to me just because I was wearing a cheap, boxy t shirt because that’s all that could be afforded.

      • I agree with Sally — I take a compliement about something I’m wearing that was purchased as a compliment to me. If I didn’t purchase it, well, at least I chose to wear it.

        Plus, it’s not only “those shoes look great!” but I take it as “those shoes look great on YOU. You are rocking it!”

        • M

          I think I am a much more practical dresser and for most of my life, because of money and body shape, I couldn’t put “fashion” first. I finally got around to learning to sew this year, but that’s not a skill taught in school by default now. Even doing something like altering clothing can be a considerable expense if you don’t do it yourself.

          Just to be blunt if you are just looking at the persons clothing and focuses on judging and evaluating people on clothing, you’re missing a lot of good people. That’s what I don’t like about clothing compliments.

          I think a more fruitful exercise would be to find something about EVERY SINGLE PERSON to compliment them on and it cannot be about clothing, something they are wearing or genetically inherited traits.

        • Mar

          While I see both sides, Sal’s and M’s, I side more with M with my own personal reactions, but I would view differently comments about whole outfits or dress style versus specific items, with the former making me sort of happy and the latter not that much. I too grew up in a very poor family in a place with no options for cheap thrifting, so my wardrobe items and shoes did not total more than a dozen (excluding underwear and socks/tights). I’ve expanded my wardrobe quite a bit since I left home ten years ago, and chosen my items carefully, so I do now often receive compliments about something I am wearing, but it makes me a bit uncomfortable. Especially when it’s about specific items as opposed to whole coordinated outfits (the latter saying a lot more about taste and creativity). One’s chances of inspiring compliments with a single item by itself, be it shoes or a fabulous coat, in my opinion do go up as the money spent increases. (Which is not really necessarily true for coordinated outfits) And also as the financial and/or storage ability allows to entertain multiples and items that are not strictly chosen for functionality or necessity. For me, a compliment about a specific item I am wearing tells me that the other person recognizes me as someone who has the money to spend and time to worry about fashion shopping, and I don’t think either of those is necessarily worth complimenting on. I am not saying those are two bad things, but they are not necessarily good either in my own value system, I’d view them as neutral.

      • I agree and I’m actually more pleased with compliments on my clothes than on my body or face or hair, because I CHOSE my clothes, while my body just turned out this way.

  • I was standing in an aisle at Lowe’s and a woman walked by and she said, “I just had to tell you, I LOVE your skirt.” and then she was gone. I was stunned.
    i felt awesome. And when I saw her in the parking lot on the way out I waved and she waved back. Haha!

    My point is, that really stuck with me. A kind word from a stranger, no ulterior motives….love that! Must pay it forward.

  • LinB

    Agreed. You expend just as much energy to give a compliment as a slam, and the world is far better for the compliment. You can find something, anything, kind to say to someone. It is the prime instance of when a social lie, a “white lie”, is needed and wanted.

  • Anneesha

    I love complimenting random strangers; it’s a great way to break ice and generate new conversations.

  • When my son was in kindergarten, I set him up with a goal to give out at least one compliment a day. He was having trouble adapting to being away from me all day, and this helped him to focus on others instead of his own insecurities. He’s in 5th grade now, and he still does it. He gives out way more than one compliment a day, and on the days that I go out in the world, I do it too (I have to set an example, plus I’ve always done it to help myself not be so shy.)

    I love watching people light up when a boy tells them that their shoes are wonderful and as he draws them into conversation about where they got them.

    • Sal

      Katie, that’s AMAZING! Oh my gosh, you and your son are changing the world with that stream of kindness, guaranteed.

  • F. Voltage

    This is a fantastic idea! I actually never really have a problem complimenting people, friends or complete strangers, because it makes them feel better about themselves, and I always feel like a better person for having done it.

  • spacegeek

    You are so right! I try to give compliments outloud when I admire something in my head. It makes people feel good, and feeling good is something we can’t ever have enough of, IMO! I know that it makes me so happy when someone likes an item I’ve either carefully selected or something that was a gift to me that pleases me. Heck, I still remember the guy who told me how great I looked in the dress and boots combo I was wearing *at the gas station*! (Guess at 42 I don’t get hit on that often any more! LOL)

  • This is so interesting. I remember my mother telling me, when I was a girl, who tended to give out compliments quickly and easily, that complimenting strangers just made them uncomfortable and made me look insecure and needy. As an adult, I’ve been able to give–and receive–compliments from others without these feelings in the mix. I wonder now if that was just about her own inability to see herself as dynamic and lovely and confident enough to appreciate those qualities in other people.

  • Kelly

    I love giving compliments. It has always seemed to me that compliments from strangers are so much more sincere (unlike your mom telling you how “pretty” you are). I don’t even have to try to give compliments, they come out of my mouth without warning. Just last week I complimented my cashier on her skin and she told me her beauty secret (African black soap, I have some on order)! I remember complimenting a woman yesterday on her lovely yellow coat – it was fabulous on her. Although I do normally reserve my compliments to women, I find that women of all ages appreciate them. Often I’ll see little girls with the same kind of fashion spunk my own daughters possess and I’ll compliment their sparkly shoes or printed leggings or the sequined belt that brings it all together. Compliments are fun and easy. “Be kinder than necessary, because everyone is fighting some kind of battle.” James M. Barre.

  • Sarah

    I love giving compliments! I don’t want to go off on a total tangent, but women can be really cruel to each other! I hate all the competition. I don’t want to compete with other women, but especially when I meet women through my field of work (HR), I feel like a pecking order is immediately established based on a number of things we erroneously use to measure female worth – body, beauty, marriage, children. It’s almost as if there is just not enough female happiness in the world, so we all have to fight over the scraps. “I can’t be happy unless you’re unhappy” is the mindset. I have a few very close female friends where this isn’t the case, but on a superficial level, I feel like there is always a bit of a power play in effect between women.

    I’ve found that the easiest way to move past all that nonsense is to just throw out a compliment. A nice, genuine, sweet compliment (usually on jewelry because I love it and always notice it) serves to get rid of all that tension and break through the competition mindset. At the very least, I like to think that the compliment lets everyone else know that I don’t care who has the better life because it isn’t a competition and there is enough happiness to go around. Plus it makes me happy to get compliments so I try to give them when I genuinely mean them.

    **I just wanted to add that I really do love women and have some great female friends. I am not the kind of woman who hates other woman and only has guy friends and talks about how much ladies suck. But I do honestly think that there is always a bit of a power struggle/subsequent pecking order (and I am sure guys do the same thing, only with different measurements of success). I don’t mean to be anti-female, but I think we do feminism a great disservice when we don’t talk about these things honestly. I brought this up on another message board and I was told that I hate women and the one thing all the women I hate have in common is me, so I am the problem. But I don’t hate all women!! I don’t hate any women!!

  • poodletail

    Why, thanks, Sal! When I read your post and your readers’ comments each morning I feel as though I’ve started off the day chatting with girlfriends over coffee.

  • Anne

    What a great idea, a little kindness goes a long way. I’ve heard it said that if a person feels good about one area of their life (like choosing the perfect outfit), that confidence spills over to other areas of their life. Your innocuous comment about someone’s shoes could give them the shot in the arm confidence-wise to do something like sign up for salsa classes or ask someone out on a date.

    I think your follow up post should be on how to receive a compliment gracefully. I have been deflecting them for years until my husband said, “You know, you make people feel dumb for saying something nice when you do that.”

    • Sal

      You know, I should. I generally just encourage people to respond with a heartfelt, “Thank you,” but am curious to hear if others like to respond with more. I tend to get all chatty and give backstory on whatever is being complimented! (Some people love that, some are extremely surprised.)

      • My usual response was “That was so kind of you to say that!” because it is sincere, and it’s also giving them a compliment right back without saying “I love your shoes TOO” because that could be insincere.

        • spacegeek

          That’s a very nice response! I’m going to try that! I usually give the back story too–talk about how something was a gift, or that it was a great bargain or things like that. Maybe too much.

      • Cathy

        I always say “Thank you” and leave it at that unless they asked a question. (Occasionally I will add something like “This was my grandmother’s and I love wearing it”. But that’s all.)

        • Anne

          For some reason, for most of my life, I’ve felt very awkward about accepting compliments about my looks. Part of it I’m sure is related to self esteem and not always feeling as though I looked that good. Part of it is that for some reason I felt that my interest in being fashionable was maybe a bit silly and superficial and perhaps not worthy of merit. Gradually my feelings on both fronts have changed. I have developed more confidence in myself on all fronts. I feel that the way a person dresses can be a wonderful form of self expression and a form of artistic expression for those of us lacking conventional artistic skills.

          I never realized when I was younger that deflecting compliments was rude. Now I realize that giving compliments is a great way to forge connections with other people. They don’t have to be huge deeply meaningful connections, but in these days of hiding away in our rooms and spending more time with our virtual friends than those made of flesh, we need to make contact with each other in positive ways however we can. I love those times when a compliment given spurs a conversation. I think both parties come away feeling better about themselves. I’m just sorry that it has taken me so long to figure it out.

          • Great post Sal. It isn’t something I do everyday, and in fact since I work from home, I don’t even go out everyday in order to compliment someone else (though I suppose I could compliment myself, or my family). It is however something I have been working on, since I already smile at anyone who makes eye contact, some of them now smile at me when they see me coming (supermarket cleaners and trolley collectors, etc), so complimenting something about them is the next step. If it helps to make someone’s day just a moment brighter it is worth it.

            I agree with Anne though, that a more in depth “how to receive” would be awesome. It is only in the last year or so that it was pointed out and I realised that I have very low self-esteem, and it has impacted on my children. I have been working on my appearance and other things for longer than that, but it was a real eye opener. Knowing that I am trying to value myself and love myself doesn’t mean that it is easy to change more than 30 years of habit though and accepting compliments is something that I find very difficult (even the “Thank you” sounds false to my ears).

            I really want my children to understand how special I think they are, and even more importantly that they should know and think they are special and worth loving within and by themselves. I will continue to battle towards feeling that about myself, for them, and ultimately of course for me. So many posts and comments on your blogsite and others that have lead from here are helping in this war.

  • M brings up a really interesting perspective- I’ve never really thought about the difference between complimenting someTHING vs. someONE. When I compliment someone, I’ve always assumed they knew I was complimenting THEM, not necessarily the objects they are wearing. But also as M points out, that could be a product of how I take compliments and my feelings about my clothing. I see my clothing/accessories as an expression of myself and compliments on those items are a compliment to whatever I am trying to express, which is never how much I spend on something. I find that compliments on my actual person (or someone else’s) are far harder to accept or give because of body image and all of the issues that go along with it. For example, some variation of “you’re pretty” makes me very uncomfortable, whereas “that’s a lovely dress” does not.

    The issues surrounding compliments are so interesting. Thank you, Sal, for another thought-provoking post.

  • Jessica

    I love this idea! I’ve been reading this blog for a quite a while now but never commented, until this post hit home hard. I’ve never been able to take a certain type of compliments and i’ve noticed that you don’t have them up there – which is great! The type i’m talking about is the ones like: “your hair looks great today!” or “I notice you are working especially hard today” or “you look cute today”
    For some reason, in my crazy insecure mind, having the word “today” added in there makes it seem like i’m not any of those things they are complimenting on usually, and its a one-off thing. and I tend to actually take those compliments negatively. I’m sure the people who gave me those compliments do not think as complex as I do, but I can’t help but feel that way.
    I’m glad to see that you don’t have any of those up there, but is there any way for me to accept these kinds of compliments positively?

  • Susan

    Here’s what I’m working towards – more “you look great in that skirt” or “that skirt looks great on you”, and less “that’s a great-looking skirt”. In other words, compliment the person and not the item.

  • grace

    Here’s my thing about compliments:
    I DO compliment strangers on their clothes (thought of you yesterday when I raved about a total stranger’s teal/burgundy combination.)
    It’s fun and floaty and nice to give compliments about appearance– AND to receive them–who DOESN’T get a little lift when someone remarks on us positively–

    BUT– I feel strongly that there’s a danger of reinforcing Appearance as the most–or ONLY– important thing about us.
    Lisa Bloom wrote a great article on Huffington Post a while back (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-bloom/how-to-talk-to-little-gir_b_882510.html) encouraging us to avoid complimenting little girls on their appearance, their cuteness, their adorable fluffy dresses– at the expense of actually engaging with them about their interests, their minds, their unique perspective on the world.

    How about trying to give one non-appearance compliment for every appearance-related compliment?
    I recognize that it’s harder to give those to strangers, so maybe pay attention to giving non-appearance compliments to people we know well (family, friend, student), or interact with often (barista, bus driver, librarian).

    Just a thought (and it IS World Kindness Week, after all.)

    • Sal

      I’ve read and linked to that article, and it has changed how I talk with young girls. But adults? I don’t know if I see offering words of kindness about appearance as potentially harmful. In most cases, all we know about strangers is how they look.

      • Grace

        Wellll…… “potentially harmful” — I don’t think I’d go that far as to say “harmful”, with adults, in terms of individuals, anyway. I DO think that appearance is overemphasized, especially among women, and I say that as a lover of your blog, and and of your empowering approach to your love of style.

        I just think it would be lovely to take “random acts of complimenting strangers”– which, as I said, can be wonderful, heartfelt, and uplifting for the giver and receiver– to a bit deeper level– because I think it’s easy to notice and compliment someone’s appearance, and it’s harder to notice and maybe risker to compliment someone’s other qualities in the world– even those of people we know well and love best!

  • JII

    Unless someone I know is complimenting me on my attire, I feel objectified.
    I don’t want my clothing, etc, to be noticed, I go for the gestalt, hopefully.
    What I do compliment others, stranger, on, is perhaps if they have been in line with a whiny child or are doing well in a bad situation, I will say, sometimes, “You have such patience, what a good mother you are.”
    Things like that.
    When someone notices my shoes or earrings…I feel like a lightweight, and not to be taken seriously

    • Sal

      Again, my philosophy is that compliments on items are compliments on taste. You chose what you’re wearing, and if a stranger takes the time to reach out and say something nice about that, how could that be negative?

      • M

        I think the fallacy in this thinking is the assumption that people have a decent amount of time, interest, money and other resources to put into developing their clothing taste. Many people would look at me and maybe think “hmm.. ok.. she looks like most other heavy girls and sometime she wears a lot of colors.” and they would never have any idea about the art I create and the photographs I have captured over the years. When I make art, I can share it with many more people than my clothing tastes, honestly. I work with a bunch of guys that were surprised to find out I had my ears pieces 5 times despite me wearing earrings and my hair being pulled back every single day. I recently took some handmade baby items into work and even the guys were gushing over them.

        • M

          Sorry about the typos in there…

        • Sal

          But, M, I guess I just don’t see why someone who offers a positive comment to a stranger can be faulted for not seeing more or knowing more about the recipient. Someone who passes you on the street won’t know about your art because they don’t know YOU. Does that mean that, if that person tells you they like your top, they’re failing you somehow? And even if their assumptions about how much effort you put into your tastes are incorrect, they’re still giving you a positive thought. Furthermore, if complimenting hair texture or posture or other physical traits are out, then I’m not sure what’s left … at least for people who aren’t friends, relatives, or acquaintances.

          To each her own, obviously, and I definitely agree that giving compliments on things OTHER than appearance is a positive, beneficial, and valuable practice. But I disagree with the idea that we should prevent ourselves from offering compliments on appearance. The more praise in the world, the better, in my opinion.

          • M

            So, instead of thinking of people and the things they are wearing that you would naturally be drawn to compliment, think of the people that you normally wouldn’t compliment. Why wouldn’t you compliment them? How difficult would it be to try to make yourself shift to only compliment the people you never would compliment in the past? Do you think you could do it genuinely – adopt a point of view where their style and the clothing and accessories they wear is awesome? Do you think, in any minor way, that you are also evaluating people – thinking that you do not like their shoes or scarf and deciding they are not worth talking to? Are you willing to watch someone you can’t compliment based on their looks/style to see if they do something that seems like you can connect with them on or compliment them on? If you don’t even think something negatively about the person you normally don’t compliment when it comes to their looks, do you think of them as being boring? Normal? Not interesting? Too blah? What kind of impact does that have on the world? Do you think at all you might possibly be introducing any negativity into the world by making the evaluations necessary to give compliments based on something like looks?

            I believe you made a post a while ago about prioritizing your goals for selecting your clothing. For some people, comfort, cost and other practicality issues (physical activities that you engage in, work limitations, access to stores or sewing skills, laws/religion, etc.) take much higher priority over style. I’m not dressing to fulfill anyone else’s needs besides my own. If you aren’t looking into why I am possibly wearing something to provide any compliment based on whether you like my looks, then you didn’t look at what I was offering you about myself that’s not style.

            The day before Christmas, I was riding the subway and someone asked “are those Christmas lights on your backpack?”. I said “Yes” and the girl then replied how cute it was. I was somewhat baffled because being cute had nothing to do with why they were there. They were there because I walked around at night, in unlit areas, adding more visibility while biking at night and because they reminded me of an awesome vacation. They had also been on my backpack for months, but it was suddenly the day before Christmas and they were seasonable. When I tried to explain the reason they were there, the girl’s eyes glazed over and she looked away. I’m not sure if that’s exactly a good experience. It was just kinda.. weird. It’s like someone telling you that your toothpaste is beautiful when squeezed onto the toothbrush. What? Since when do you select toothpaste on beauty?

      • JII

        Sal, you are in the fashion biz, so a compliment to you on what you wear is a compliment on your biz, yes?
        A compliment to me on what I am wearing is actually the opposite of what I want…I want to be inconspicuous, I need to keep the focus off of me, and on my clients…
        But, if I am not at work or at a work related event, then I don’t mind it a bit if someone compliments me.
        Maybe that helps to explain my perspective?

    • spacegeek

      You know, I think I prefer clothing related compliments from women more than men. Or maybe it is “women at work” vs. “men at work” bc I don’t want to be objectified by the men I work with–they should be looking at my mind, not my bod! LOL
      OTOH, I’ve been working hard at reducing my weight, and a close and wonderful male family friend told me the other day that I was getting “even more sexy!” which actually felt great rather than creepy. That was about acknowledgement of my hard work (and I do feel sexier!), and I’ve had very little feedback on my weight loss efforts, which is another topic entirely.

  • Mel

    For the most part I agree with you, Sal. I love giving compliments to people, and generally like people noticing if I have a great outfit on, or they like my purse or scarf. It’s a great way of connecting.

    The funnest way is with strangers….I’ve met more of my friends that way. People will ask how we met. Oh…she complimented my shoes while we were waiting in line at Subway. Ten years ago. 🙂

    On the other hand, there’s this woman at work who insists on complimenting me, every day, about something. She will stop her current conversation to stop me as I walk by to tell me that she loves my hair, my shoes, my outfit, my pin, my scarf, and how pretty I am today. Uggghhh!! It’s sooo embarassing and awkward.

    I hate it. It’s all about calling attention to herself, not complimenting me. I feel like all she’s doing is calling attention to the differences between us. She wants the “audience” to note that she is very thin, very blond, very pretty, and oh so sweet to compliment the older, short, heavy lady who really isn’t all that pretty in the stereotypical way. I hope it makes her feel good, cuz I sure don’t.

    It seems like she has a 6th sense for a day when I don’t look the best…my hair’s a mess, or the outfit is a secondary outfit (doesn’t fit as well as it could, or something) and then is particularly effusive about the very thing that isn’t working that day.

    I walk away from her feeling like I’m bullied, but I can’t figure out why. I guess it’s because I feel like her compliments are so phony. A compliment here and there from her? Sure. But every day? And always in front of other people…about things that aren’t true….I guess that’s the bullying part.

    • Anat

      Oh, I have to say, I read this and totally understand what you are talking about. That a compliment from a certain person in a certain situation could definitely be belitlling.

  • Anat

    Haha. I took a fitness class today which I spent admiring the amazing ass on a 60ish woman training in front of me. I seriously contemplating complimenting her on it – I am sure she would get a kick out of that! – but felt that was just on the brink of being a bit too kinky/weird…. I am on the level of “hello nod” acquaintance with this woman. Any thoughts?

    • I would just say “You’re in amazing shape! I was trying to keep up with you the whole class!” or something. I’m not sure a compliment on anyone’s butt would be welcome, unless it was from my husband. 🙂

  • In my line of work, I encounter tons of strangers every day, and I do try to give genuine compliments (which is usually as easy as speaking up when I like something they’re wearing, instead of just thinking it!) Sometimes, though, I’m afraid that compliments will be taken the wrong way- that it’ll be inaccurately interpreted as flirting (especially if the person is male), or someone will think I’m being insincere in an attempt to gain their trust/loyalty as a client. I guess that’s their problem, though, and not mine, right?
    When it comes to friends, I try to remember that the most meaningful compliments (at least in my own experience) aren’t just about appearances. When someone says they admire some aspect of my personality (especially if it’s something that I’ve tried to cultivate, like open-mindedness), I remember that forever! Therefore, I attempt to give those compliments to others. Of course, compliments like that require a higher degree of intimacy- they represent that the “complimenter” has observed and thought about the “complimentee,” and that is something I appreciate as well.
    As for giving appearance-based compliments to young girls, I agree that they shouldn’t be the only form of compliment they receive. However, when I was an awkward preteen, I was used to being congratulated on my intelligence, grades, reading level, etc, but I never received any kind of compliment on my looks. I had bad body image, was bullied at school because of my looks, and would have done anything to hear a kind word about my appearance. Just wanted to point out that those types of compliments can still mean a lot 🙂

  • Meghan

    I have a night job as a cashier and I try to pay some kind of compliment to at least a few people each night. The most frequent compliments I give are to women, since it is a bit hard to gauge how a man will react, whereas women usually politely smile even if they seem annoyed or caught off guard. The easiest compliments are usually jewelry-related — I especially love complimenting unusual wedding rings!

    With non-strangers, though, I do make an effort to compliment them on things that are not related to their appearance.

  • Another great post, Sal — though I may need an extension on the assignment, as I’m unlikely to see any friends or acquaintances in person in the next week. But I’ve got a big social event coming up Sunday next, so I’ll keep it in mind for then. 😉

    Compliments really are an interesting karmic thing. As I don’t leave my house all that much these days, I’ve taken to complimenting my cat often, and my husband as much as he’ll let me, heh. A really odd thing has happened with my cat, though. She’s a large — long, tall — cat, and on top of that is rather overweight, tipping the scales at more than 18lbs (her vet would like to see her down closer to 15 or 16lbs). She was also born with a congenital defect in her tail, making it about half the length of normal cat tail and ending in a severe 90° kink that appears to be painful to the touch. So she’d be unlikely to win any kitty beauty contests.

    But I’ve taken to calling her “pretty”, usually several times a day. Also sweet, and wonderful, and beautiful, and I compliment her on how forgiving and patient she is with her often forgetful pet-parents, and how smart and clever she is. She’s soft and warm and usually pretty cuddly, and she has a perfectly proportioned cat face, in my humble opinion, with big pretty green eyes. I tell her all these things often. I don’t think she understands the words, of course, but she understands the tone of voice.

    What’s interesting to me is that over the months I’ve been doing this, it’s changed my point of view. She’s a beautiful cat — not in spite of her extra weight or short crooked tail. Just beautiful, in body and in action and in spirit. When my husband and I go out of town and we have to board her at the vet, the vet techs all comment on how much they look forward to having her stay. Realizing that she is beautiful, full stop, and saying the words out loud often, has made me better able to accept my own body as a thing of beauty, regardless of its many faults.

    I think few people are capable of accepting a compliment as graciously as a cat can, and unlike complimenting a stranger, I get no rush of social anxiety before I tell her how beautiful she is. The more times the words leave my mouth, the easier they are to say, even to strangers. And the more I really believe them, at something deeper than a superficial level. Suddenly it’s less “That sweater does a great job of masking your problems areas” and more “I really admire your courage in wearing that color, and the confidence with which you wear it inspires me”.

    I think compliments are just as much about the giver as the receiver. We need to say the words “beautiful” and “smart” and “loyal” and “courageous” out loud often before we can really, truly start to see those traits in our world and in ourselves. Even if we have to start with our cats, it is worth it to say these words out loud, as often as possible.

    • I really like how you have expressed you thoughts in your comment.

      I wonder if complimenting our (run of the house) bird has influenced the changes I am attempting to make too? He certainly enjoys being called handsome when I rub behind his neck!

    • Anat

      Love that idea!

  • HOWEVER, there are some people in the world that don’t know how to take compliments. Hmmm!

  • I give out sooo many compliments. I literally cannot help myself! I work at a retail store so all day I am seeing people and going, “Oh! I adore your bag! Where did it come from??” and so on. I like to give compliments because I like the way people light up. But I make sure to always mean them! Fake compliments just get you in trouble.

    XOXO, Lindsey

  • Also, I think that it’s interesting the way women (and sometimes men!) often jab at themselves when they compliment something about someone else. For instance, “I love that dress on you! I could never wear something like that — my stomach bulge would show too much!” Thoughts?

    XOXO, Lindsey

  • Laurie

    I love this! I’m a random complimenter (not a word? should be!) and I get it back too. Sometimes I’m left feeling a little awkward because not all people are open to compliments, so sad. My middle son does not take any compliment or praise well….he gets embarrassed. Complimenting random men is tough though….told one young guy I loved his shoes (for my own son) and his girlfriend got mad at me! I’m 45, they were 20, I’m not after your boyfriend, just his shoes! I mostly stick to complimenting other women, we appreciate it more 🙂

  • Sandie

    I adore getting compliments, and would like to get better at giving them, too–so I really appreciate this post.

    I have a (regrettable?) habit of offering a little story when someone compliments me, eg.”My husband calls this dress ‘Bats in the Belfry.” or “I think of these as the Clusterfuck Earrings.” Or, “Really? I was worried that I look like a traffic cone in this orange.”

    Perhaps TMI for the complimenter.

  • This is one way that style blogging has helped me. Now, in real life I actually DO say such things to friends and colleagues. It was a huge hurdle…having lived through the “sexual harassment” borderlines in the early 90s. I quit commenting on anyone’s appearance for nearly 15 years!

  • I love receiving compliments and giving them. I think most people appreciate them. I notice that men really love it! Telling a man he looks handsome in his suit or smells really good is nice, not creepy, it’s how you do it. I always notice fragrances and compliment those often. I dont think it’s superficial I think people like having their choices in the morning confirmed, that they have good taste and that their choices are pleasing to others. And if it happens to me on a day I don’t think I look my best, that’s even better, I’m a little kinder to myself after that : )

  • Lynne

    Love giving compliments and love getting them. I still remember being told I had a lovely smile from my English teacher over 35 years ago – possibly the only compliment my gawky teenage self received. It doesn’t hurt and it can make someone’s day (or year)

  • I don’t think compliments are always good. I always think very hard before I give a compliment: can this compliment be taken in a negative way? For example, if you tell someone how great they look when they’ve lost weight, it can make them feel ashamed and ugly if they gain the weight back. That’s why I prefer to compliment things like clothes and jewelry, which are less personal and more of a stylistic choice. Plus, then the conversation can continue to things like “where did you get that?”

    There are other concerns as well. A woman who works at a sandwich place I go to frequently recently changed her hair. She used to have it in tight braids and now it’s in a loose, curly weave. I really like the way it looks on her now, but I decided not to tell her that, because there is already enough pressure on black women in our society to have their hair look a certain way–that is, more like a white woman’s hair. Straighter, smoother, more relaxed, less nappy, etc. I don’t want to contribute to that, especially as a white woman. But that’s my own personal choice, and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone else their compliments.

    • M

      It’s funny you mention not making a compliment about the black woman’s hair. A few years ago I was in a store and a black woman came up to me and told me how beautiful my hair was. I do nothing to my hair but wash it a couple times a week and brush it every day, if I am lucky, and the last time I’ve had it cut professionally was nearly 8 years ago. I thanked her, but couldn’t help but to hope that her compliment didn’t come from a place of longing or insecurity.

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