I’m really active on Facebook. I like posting funny things I do/see, calling out to people for help, and seeing what my loved ones are doing. And I particularly enjoy commenting on pictures my friends post of themselves. My comments are sometimes funny, flirty, and almost always telling them that they’re beautiful.
When I spend time with my friends, I jump on whatever opportunity to tell somebody that they’re beautiful. Whether I just tell them with a straight “you look nice today,” or a loud agreement when they say they look fantastic in waist coats. If someone comments that they’ve put on a little weight, I’ll respond with “yeah, I believe the technical name for your body right now is ‘babe-a-licious,’” or whatever I think up on the fly.
I have wondered, if my mild obsession (for lack of a better word) with declaring my loved ones ‘beautiful’ is because of a secret desire for them to reciprocate and tell me that they think me beautiful. But to be honest, I dismissed that theory pretty quickly. After all, if I was actually hoping for reciprocation, surely the thought running through my head when I compliment someone would be “they’d better say the same thing back.”
Instead what I feel is affection towards the person in question, and a genuine belief that they are beautiful. If the person I am talking to or whose photo I see meets both of those criteria, that’s when I will compliment them. The reason I love telling my loved ones that I find them beautiful is because I want to be nice to them and give them a compliment that I think they will like.
Giving people I love and care about compliments is a good thing, of course. But, while I freely give compliments to the people I love (“you’re so clever,” “you’re an amazing cook,” “you’re such a funny roleplayer,” etc.), I compliment people for their attractiveness more than anything else.
As a lifelong fat person, I have always belonged to a marginalized group that is associated with unattractiveness. Fat people are almost never held up as figures of beauty. I believe this has made me value positive compliments about my appearance highly because I do not receive them often. When somebody calls me attractive, particularly in a way that suggests I am lust-worthy (ie. they refer to me as ‘sexy’ or ‘hot’ rather than as ‘cute’ or ‘pretty’), it is immensely flattering to me.
Our society is so obsessed with appearance that being called physically attractive is the highest praise to receive in many of our eyes. Positive comments about appearance can seem more flattering than positive compliments about any other aspect of us.
This makes me wonder if I should stop telling people I find them beautiful. Maybe I should focus on their other qualities more? But thinking and calling someone beautiful is not just about their physical appearance. Not with me, at least. Beauty also shows itself in kindness, loyalty, uniqueness, cleverness, ability, talent, philosophy, and any other characteristic that I find appealing. And I like to think that it works in a similar way for many other people, too. Plus, I know (because everybody I compliment has told me) that my compliments on their beauty make them happy. To deny them happiness that I can so easily give them would be a bad thing for me, as their friend, to do.
I have, however, decided to alter my phrasing just a little. Because even though everybody I have declared ‘beautiful’ has been happy with my saying that, there will be people out there who will not want the label of ‘beautiful’ placed on them.
A few years ago, I was eating lunch with a friend. I had on a necklace that says the word ‘fat’ in gorgeous, loopy letters. My friend asked me about it and I explained that I was wearing it because I am fat and not sad about that, and she said something like, “oh, that’s nice… but you’re not fat.” I was so very not cool with that, and after reflecting on it I realized that it wasn’t that she didn’t see me as fat – that was her opinion and she was entitled to it – it was that she had declared me as not fat, period, and in doing so denied both my self-identity and all of the discrimination I had lived through and was continuing to live through that resulted in my self-identifying as fat in the first place. All she needed to do to make what she had said an acceptable, and even kind, remark, was to add the words ‘I think’ to it. There is a world of difference between ‘you’re not fat’ and ‘I don’t think you’re fat’, and a similar difference exists between ‘you’re beautiful’ and ‘I think you’re beautiful’. By saying ‘I think’, you are turning your compliment into an opinion that you hold all responsibility for. Basically, it takes the pressure off them to accept your compliment, while at the same time lets them know that the compliment is there for them to accept, if they want.
In the end, I love telling people that I think they are beautiful, because it is the best compliment I can give them, and anybody I would give such a compliment to would have to both be beautiful in my eyes and be somebody I have developed some sort of affection towards. It does concern me that most people might find compliments on physical attraction more flattering than compliments on any other aspect of them, but I will continue to tell my friends that I think they are beautiful, because I know they enjoy the compliment. I will, however, make sure I say that what I am declaring is my opinion alone, because nobody I am complimenting should feel obliged to have to accept my compliment as fact.[Feature image: Photograph of a person smiling. They are wearing an orange-yellow scarf over their hair, a red shirt, and a white necklace.]