It’s fun to hear “you have beautiful eyes, wow!” or “your hair is so pretty.” However, we are so much more than our appearances, and while being a huge advocate of A) speaking my mind and B) giving out compliments quite freely, I have come to learn that these types of compliments don’t have a lot of worth to them.
Since the day I was born, I have been told on a daily basis that I have “beautiful red hair.” You have your main physical attribute that often gets pointed out too. Long eyelashes, on fleek brows, a cute sprinkle of freckles across your nose or that “perfect” olive skin. You hear it time and time again, you heard at all while a little child, and at some point, it did get old. Although I felt like a princess at three years old when I was given a sticker from a check-out lady because my hair is red, looking back, compliments given to a child will result in that child putting too much focus on their appearance. But here’s the thing – my hair color does not define me. Neither do your straight teeth, big blue eyes, or bouncing curls.
By the time children get to middle and high school, where everybody starts looking and feeling weird about themselves, they become obsessed with their appearance above all else. We think this is normal because of puberty. Puberty is a huge factor, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t have to be the leading cause. If we were to tell our future children at that age in response to, “All the other girls/boys are prettier/better looking than me,” with, “I doubt it, but who cares?” How do you think they’d react? If I was told something along the lines of, “I think you’re beautiful, but I know it doesn’t matter what I think. You are kind to everyone and make people laugh. That is so much better than being what you think is ‘beautiful’,” I wonder if I would have stopped obsessing over my appearance sooner. The way you look should not be all you account for.
No one starts accounting for the more important things, at least vocally, until later. But here is a quick reminder for everyone: Intelligence > Beauty. Good personality > Beauty. Kindness > Beauty. You see a pattern here. When I was in high school, friends of mine referred to me as the “pretty one.” I am so ditzy, and I know it, but being told “You’re lucky you’re pretty,” in reference to my intelligence is simply not okay. Nobody is going to care about what they look like if you deem them unintelligent or unimportant. You look the way you look, and you can’t – and shouldn’t try to – change it. Your confidence cannot be linked to how ugly or attractive other people think you are.
It starts at a young age. I still get caught in the trap of telling little girls how pretty they are. But does that matter, at all? No. We need to tell children how fun they are, or how nice they are to their friends. Ask them about school and tell them how much you loved that grade (even if it’s a white lie). Maybe then they will grow up working on themselves instead of thinking about what other people think of their appearance.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with giving out compliments that concern physical appearance, but wouldn’t you rather hear, “Hey, I overheard you talking with your friend and you seem really funny,” because it’s something somebody noticed about the kind of person you are? It doesn’t have to be creepy. Tell people how much they mean to you because of who they are. Tell them how ambitious you noticed they are with life, how much they honor their parents. Compliment them on their wittiness, their integrity, their ability to stay calm in a seemingly stressful situation. These are the things that hold up. These are things that say, “You are unique and of worth.” We can’t do much to change how another person sees themself, but we can hope that by complimenting more than the way they look, they can begin to know that their heart and mind outweighs the color of their eyes.