Tuesday, July 08, 2008


"Hi! How are you?"

"Good--how are you?"

You've just greeted a girlfriend you haven't seen in a while. You know what comes next, don't you?

Think about it. . .

"You look great!"

"So, do you!"

And, henceforth, the greeting is complete. We've exchanged appearance-focused compliments, we've established a competitive cease-fire and now, only now, can we begin to communicate.

I decided a while back that I didn't so much like this game. I make a pointed effort not to focus on others' appearances and don't like how banal these greetings have become, uttered often, it seems, without thought, as simply a formality. I wonder, how can I look great all the time? Don't I just look average then? Shouldn't we reserve these niceties for when we really do look great? Philosophical arguments aside, I don't hate the players, just the game, and so I started curtailing my own compliments and quickly changing the subject when a friend would voice her obligatory praise. "Thanks, how have you been doing?", I'd redirect.

Why the focus on appearance? I sent out a website link, recently, highlighting a professional accomplishment of mine (which contained a bio and photo), and received from several recipients, "You look really pretty." Now, it's not that I don't like to hear that. I do. But, how about the fact that I've accomplished something, that I'm more than the sum of my features, that I'm making strides as a woman, but that society keeps throwing me back in my allotted space? How about that? Is "pretty" the greatest compliment of all?

I realized, recently, that it might seem rude, when greeting others, not to respond tit for tat, and that I haven't informed those I know that I've altered the rules of play. So, let it be declared that a) You're all beautiful, but b) That's not the point. I choose not to comment (or focus) on your appearance, because I'd rather connect to the warmth in your smile, the strength in your voice, and the wisdom of what you have to say. That's why I call you a friend.


Anonymous said...

I'm with you and I don't ever say to someone "you look great"- even if they do. If they are a good friend, and they are wearing something I love, then later on in the conversation I MAY (or may not) mention it. And I never, ever, ever comment on someone's weight, and- here's where I am probably rude- do not respond when someone brings up the topic of weight, whether it's loss, gain, theirs, mine, or someone else's. I find that it works very well to kill the subject. (And let's face it, when many people say "you look great" they are probably thinking of the other persons' body or weight as much as anything else like glowing complexion or great haircut).

Suzanne Nam said...

i think people usually mean "great" as in happy or healthy, or in that way that isn't about what you're wearing or your hairstyle or how much you weigh.

that's how i use it anyway.

depending on your circle of friends, most people aren't as... involved in your physical appearance as you think they are. if you're friends tell you how great you look then launch into a conversation about how another friend gained weight or got an awful haircut, you're probably better off finding a new social circle.

nuckingfutz said...

I think I must come from another planet or something, because I don't know anybody who greets another person like that on a regular basis. It's usually "how are you?" or "what have you been doing?"

On the rare occasions when somebody DOES say to me "you look great" or something along those lines, I take it as a compliment, because it's not something that's said to me all that often.

neca said...

Maybe its a regional thing as this is NOT part of the common greeting around here! (I live in NC).

If I see someone who looks "nice" and I want to say something, I offer a focused compliment: "That color looks lovely on you" "That shirt reminds me of spring." "I love your new haircut."

drstaceyny said...

Could be regional, as I lived in NC for a few years and wasn't so aware of this (though, it's confounded by age and time). I should restate that I'm not speaking about my close friend, but rather abt acquaintances, colleagues, etc.

avi said...

It's not a typical part of conversation for me & my girlfriends (all of whom I don't see often, so at every get-together, it's been awhile). Though I do admit if happens from time to time, and it a way of making each other feel good about ourselves.

I don't agree with your blogs' title, "every woman has an eating disorder" for lots of reasons, but I do believe that every woman wants to hear that they are beautiful - whether it be a child telling grandma that she's beautiful or a husband telling a wife, or simply being able to tell yourself that as you look in the mirror.

zubeldia said...

Oh yuck, I DO that.. I think it's partly age as I don't think I used to do this. Interestingly my therapist said on Tuesday: 'z, you look great'. She never comments on how I look, so I'm not sure what prompted it. Even so I felt ambivalent about it and we talked about it.

But I also say 'you look great' to men, too... I don't say it as a blanket comment, though... if someone looks sort of sad I'll say that too.

Anonymous said...

I hear this kind of thing ALL the time (I live in southern NJ). Not necessarily directed at me, just AROUND, all the time. It's become a meaningless statement, like "How are you?"/"Good".
The funniest thing is that my older sister, whom I only see occasionally, sayd this to me every time I see her, and it's funny because she spent the first 18 years of my life telling me how bad I looked!

ms.shoe said...

kudos to you for this post.

Weight and appearance are usually the first comments out of the female members in my family when we have gatherings.

I'll have to integrate your approach.

Jennifer said...

i am bothered by interfemale beauty fixation and competition; it seems that most girls are only able to socialize on common interests of beauty and food, but not on a very mental one.

or i should pick my friends carefully.

Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure this is about superficiality. Usually, if I really like someone, I always think they're terribly pretty. it just comes naturally to me. Pretty can also imply "I like you", "I think you look happy", "stay as you are".

Emily Jolie said...

I agree with you, Dr.Stace. Though I do tell people they look great when I really mean it. And then, like another commenter suggested, it's often more about their energy than their actual physical features. I might add, too, that they're glowing or radiant, or have a particularly good energy about them that day. Or that the outfit they've chosen that day looks really lovely on them or a certain color looks great on them.

I don't believe in meaningless compliments about someone's looks, but I do believe in giving people heartfelt compliments. I know I get a boost of energy when I receive them, and so I like to give others that seem boost when I feel moved to do so.

I don't like (one bit!) when people look you up and down as they tell you you look great (checking you out for flaws), and when it's obvious it's either just an obligatory floskel (a German word, meaning 'empty phrase'), or else a come-back at a compliment that was just paid to them, which is obviously mere politeness, not something that came from the heart.

Congratulations on your accomplishments! You are one strong and inspiring woman! Send me the email with the link, as well?

with care,


Anonymous said...

It's really weird - it's so customary that I feel like I'm being rude, in some way, if I don't offer up this tidbit of a compliment - and if I don't hear it, I feel weird, too (but when I Do hear it, I never believe it). Another thing I dislike is hearing: "you look tired" from Anyone. Bleah. Don't say that to me, please! I blame the obsession on women's looks for all this, but I also don't think it's terrible to say to a woman: "you look great!" if you really mean it and then let it go and move on.

Pseudonym said...

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