There’s a period of my life I call B.C., or Before Compliments. In hindsight, those were good days.
Somewhere between learning the moves to ‘N Sync’s “Bye Bye Bye” and caring only about weekend slumber parties, someone paid me a compliment. Actually, I remember the moment exactly. I was a high school freshman laughing with my two best friends at my locker when a girl I only kinda-sorta knew said I had a pretty smile. She just blurted it right out. It certainly caught me off guard, but I thanked her politely.
Let me interject to say that my parents had been telling me I was beautiful since I was born. But they were my parents and had to say that, or so I thought. This compliment was different. This was like being handed the lottery without having even played. I didn’t know it could feel so good to hear nice words from a fellow classmate, let alone about my appearance, of which I couldn’t do much about anyway.
But to be honest, I had never even given a thought one way or another to my smile. So when I was on the receiving end of another compliment again – I had a “pretty profile” – I might as well been knocked down by lightning. Where had these compliments from non-family members been all my life? Why was I not seeking out the praise of others sooner? It felt so good.
So good, in fact, that it was like a drug. I convinced myself that only because someone else said I had an attractive feature, that I might actually be attractive.
So imagine how crushed I was when someone rudely pointed out one day that my lips were so thin that my top lip disappeared when I smiled. (People can be so mean.) But it gets worse. I was at my friend’s house when her little sister laughed at my “pointy nose.”
“When I look at your profile view, your nose turns up.”
Gasp. Who had been lying to me all this time? Who were these people who told me otherwise? Why would they lie so that I felt so good about myself only to be brought down? The moment was crushing, and sadly, I remember it all too well.
I should have never put so much worth into those compliments, and all the others I had ever received. But once a girl hears a compliment, and puts so much influence into hearing more compliments, she’ll come crashing down at the slightest affront.
Here’s my point: compliments can mess with your head. The compliments shouldn’t have mattered so much to begin with, and the insults shouldn’t matter at all.
I believe we all need to build each other up and give compliments – when we mean them genuinely – once in a while. But it is our responsibility as individuals to not give power to someone else’s words spoken about you. It’s far more important to feel good about ourselves, and that starts with speaking those compliments to ourselves.
So here’s my tip (thanks to mom) on accepting compliments politely while not over-thinking the words for your entire life. Say thank you when someone says something nice about you. It’s not necessary to instantly come up with a return compliment – they shouldn’t be forced. And it’s certainly not invitation to disagree, saying, “No way, I have an ugly smile, what are you talking about?” Just say thank you, smile, and know in your heart that you knew your smile was great all along.