How do you compliment people while staying body-neutral?

Posted by
“You Look Purrrfect, Cat Print” from Etsy seller BentonParkPrints
My mum loves to compliment me. She does it to help me feel loved, affirmed and beautiful. However, her absolute favourite “compliment” is “You’ve lost weight!”

The fact is, I haven’t lost weight and I have no intention to. In fact, I’m working hard to disassociate my happiness and self-esteem from my appearance completely: I don’t want my mood to depend on how I look.

The problem is, I really want to be able to affirm my friends and family in the way I want to be affirmed — in ways that recognize their inner awesomeness, and are completely disconnected from how they happen to look like on the outside that day. Usually I’m not stuck for words, but with this I’m stumped. Our culture has conditioned us to always focus on the outside, and the first thing I want to say when I want to compliment people is, “You look great!”

So my question is, how do you go about affirming people in ways that don’t reference their physical appearance? -Loubelou

Great question, and I think it’s one for which our Homies will have a lot to great insights. We’ve already talked about preventing body shaming, and the discussion was AWESOME. Now let’s talk about how to compliment someone without referencing their physical appearance.

Right off the bat, a great go-to for people you’re close to is to hug them and then compliment their hugging skills. “Dude, you’re such a good hugger!”

Or for people you haven’t seen in while — and this is where it’s hard NOT to mention something about their looks, because if you haven’t seen their physical form in a long time, you may be taking in all their new and different appearance data — is to just say, “I’ve really missed you!”

Perhaps think of something they accomplished recently and compliment them on that — that’s one of the few times Facebook can be your friend. “Congrats on that awesome sculpture you just made. I heard it sold in no-time-at-all. Damn, you’re creative.”

Now let’s talk about more ways to compliment people that don’t have anything to do with their physical appearance.

Comments on How do you compliment people while staying body-neutral?

  1. I struggle with this too – especially when I meet little children. Many are too young or shy to be comfortable with much more then, “You look so pretty” or “let me see those muscles.”

    I like the hugging idea- that will work with a little kid every time. And I usually try to find a way to tell a kid that they are smart – but that takes time.

    It almost seems like a compliment is expected when you meet a small child – and I think that’s why I get hung up. There is nothing to compliment other then appearance when you’re just meeting a child for the first time, especially if they are shy and don’t want to talk. But I think it’s especially important for a child to build their self esteem on more then “you look pretty.”

    Anybody have other ideas?

      • Funny, I do this too once in a while ( you know, when you ran out of normal compliments like: wow, you are a shoe lace master and commander etc etc….or the kid is so unpleasant you just want to run, but try to say something nice anyway….), but MY kid hates it and I used to hate it when I was a kid….. But somehow, sometimes it is the only way out…..

    • Although this is still commenting on how something looks, I try to steer clear of “you look pretty” and instead comment on something they are wearing while being specific and trying to open up conversation about other topics. So, I might say “I like the cat on your shirt. Cats are my favourite animal!” instead of “You look very pretty today.” Maybe this just puts emphasis on fashion instead of physical traits, though, although I do try to make it more about an interest rather than how something looks (“Cool Spiderman shoes! I like Spiderman too” instead of just “That dress looks really nice on you”).
      If the little kiddo is holding a toy, I try to make a comment about that instead.

      • We try to give comments on clothing choices as opposed to physical beauty as a way to give a compliment/break the ice. It works, but it’s still hard to de-program myself from the whole “you’re so cute/such a sweet heart/so handsome” lines. Asking about hobbies, school, family, etc is also a good way to talk to kids without focusing on bodies and beauty.

      • This is generally what I do when I don’t know someone well enough to compliment anything OTHER than looks. When you compliment their physical appearance, you’re complimenting something that they probably didn’t choose. But when you compliment their scarf/earrings/shoes/Batman backpack, then you’re complimenting their taste and style. It’s likely that the nice lady ringing up your groceries really loves the funky cat earrings that she’s wearing, so she really appreciates the compliment.

        • At my wedding I complimented a 5-year-old with “I like your dress!” She beamed and said “I picked it out myself!” While still commenting about her appearance, it was also an affirmation of her choice, which was awesome.

        • I especially like to compliment kids’ outfits when the clothing choices are particularly quirky, because 1. being creative is awesome and 2. it affirms for them that their quirkiness is a-okay, which is a message that kids don’t always hear. “I love your outfit! Stripes with plaid looks so cool together!” It also tells their parents (who, assuming the kids are young, are certainly within earshot) that there are people who are judging their parenting positively for letting their kids wear outfits of their own choosing (whether the parent supports the quirky choices or tolerates them with sighs and eye-rolls.)

      • I try to do this with kids too. Complimenting clothes feels better than the standard “you’re so cute/pretty” go-to.

        I also have no problem being random. I have been known to just jump right into asking kids if they like minecraft/adventuretime/frozen/pokemon/harry potter/whatever I think is around their age group. Kids don’t judge you for being awkward and you can just jump right in at the introduction! Then, if I find something they like, they will usually start talking up a storm! I think since I like a lot of “kids” stuff, it helps me relate. My boyfriend calls me a kid magnet.

        Talking to “grown ups” on the other hand…that’s scary and awkward. I probably default to the “you look nice” a lot more with other adults. I think I’ll just sit at the kids table.

    • I’m a youth leader at my church and am fairly short at 5’2″. All I have to do to make the teens get that happy/proud look on their faces is for me to yell at them, “I thought I told you to stop growing. Growing is not okay! You’re supposed to stay small and cute, not going around looking like a grown person.”

      • Word of warning: this may backfire on people who may be uncomfortable with their size. I’m 6’4″, and even after almost 30 years, when people tell me to “stop growing” it makes me want to cry (and often I do), because I would have absolutely stopped growing if I could have. I’m sure there are many others (especially growing youth) who feel this way as well.

        • I did this to the girl I used to nanny… I was her nanny from 5 months to almost 9 years. Last time I saw her she had grown so much, I said something that to a younger child would have been funny… like she was monstrously tall or something like that. On reflection, for her to be so much taller than everyone in her class… for a 12 year old girl is probably not something she appreciates joking about. I apologized later. I said for someone who is short I was always jealous of tall people, but I understand if being tall isn’t something she really likes…

      • I read this a while back and it DEFINITELY made me re-evaluate the way I talk to children. It seems like it comes naturally in introductions to say something to girls about their appearance (“You look so pretty!”) while it’s less-so for boys (“Wassup, little man?”) unless it’s a unique feature (“Nice mohawk, dude!”). Girls are going to get enough messages over their lifetime about their appearance being the noticeable thing about them. 🙁

      • I definitely try to compliment children on something besides their looks. ( “Gosh I love the stories you tell me.” “That was a kind thing to do.” Etc. ) I’ll still compliment their looks — don’t get me wrong. ( I mean, they’re adorable! I can’t resist. ) But I try to include something else. This can be tricky if you’re just briefly meeting the child. If I think I can’t find something extra in the time allotted, I’ll try to be more specific about the looks : “I love your curly hair!”, “You have beautiful eyes.”

    • With kids, I open with a question. One of my go-to questions is “what was the most fun thing you did today?” That’s a great way to get to know them to find something to compliment them on.

  2. I have this problem a lot. I didn’t grow up in an environment that fostered much body positivity, so it’s something I’ve been actively wrestling with for quite a while. My favorite compliment, to get and to give, is definitely, “You look so happy!”

    • um, if someone told me that right now, I’d probably burst into tears. It is a lovely compliment when someone is actually happy, just don’t use it if you know that person might be having issues.
      and I’ve just highlighted what a minefield this whole complimenting business is, oh dear.

  3. I was just thinking about this while walking in to work this morning. I’ve also seen articles about similar things with young girls. I think compliments on things that tie in to your friendship are great and sometimes those compliments come just from interest. Telling them why they make a great friend is always an awesome thing. Ask how a student is doing with classes or peers, ask how an academic is doing with conferences. Ask what projects a creative person is working on. Try out a game that a gamer recommends. Ask for reading recommendations or talk about what you’re reading.

    I got super sweet compliments from a coworker about how she appreciates the things I do and that I’m intelligent and she loves working with me. Total case of the warm fuzzies!

    And if you want to go with appearance (because sometimes it’s just nice to say someone is looking very put together), how about being stylish? Or having great ideas for clothes that go together? A lovely new haircut or wonderful glasses or neat jewellery? Those are all things a person chooses and changes which tends to bother me less than things that are tied to biology.

  4. Usually when I compliment someone’s appearance it’s on their outfit or item of clothing or how they did their hair that day- something that they chose, rather than were born with. Most people DO want to feel that they look good, but I’d feel super freaking weird complimenting someone’s body (unless that body is naked and in my bed, anyway) so I figure it acknowledges the effort they put in and also their awesome taste/personal style. Beyond that, though, I’m a pretty shy complimenter. I’ll mostly just say simple shit like “you’re awesome” or “that thing you did is awesome”. I’m really awful crappy at taking compliments too (it’s not that I have low self-esteem, I just never feel confident that I’m responding with a proper amount of graciousness) so I think that puts me off being overly effusive.

    • I can identify with your reasons for not taking compliments too well. I think my awkwardness about getting compliments, which isn’t as bad as it used to be but still comes up if I’m tired or stressed, is most of why I find it difficult to figure out any to give that are both genuine and appropriate (note: “good to meet you, I love your height/breasts/face” is not right, even if you’re thinking it). My go-to tactic with anything emotional/relationship-related is to ask myself what I would be happy with, but with getting compliments that doesn’t work because I just think “Nothing! I don’t want one! Now I can’t think of words. Abort conversation attempt! Abort!”.

      It took me years to get past that at all, and relapses are frequent.

  5. I grew up in a very body-negative home. Comments like “you look so much better in makeup” or “that outfit makes you look heavy” were commonplace, which ruined my self esteem. I grew up that way because my mom grew up that way. I am hopeful that if I have children, I will not follow in my mother’s (well-meaninged but ignorant) footsteps. I think telling people that they are great huggers is an awesome way to compliment someone. Asking someone how things are going and genuinely meaning it and actively listening is a way to show someone you care. I always love complementing people on their sassy shoes or glasses, or an accessory they are wearing; it compliments someone without fixating on their body. Telling someone “I love your laugh” or “you look radiant!” does wonders for people’s self-esteem.

    • I’m sorry that you had to grow up in such a body-negative home. Fortunately, the worst I tended to get–from my mom, at least, was the “oh, you look tired,” usually followed by some comment about dark circles under my eyes. Annoying, but usually well-meaning (worried I’m not getting enough sleep, or when I’m sick, worrying about me being sick, that sort of thing), and usually followed by a “gee, thanks” from me.

      Honestly, the compliments you suggest I would definitely take over a “you are pretty” any day! And I really should take some time to compliment the good huggers in my life.

      Here’s a question, though: it’s still acceptable to call a baby beautiful, right? Just checking…

  6. “It’s so great to see you!”

    “You rock that (insert clothing item/accessory here)!” is nice because it compliments their attitude/looks/fashion sense all at once without bringing their body up.

    “You’re inspiring”

    “You make my day”

  7. Maybe this doesn’t QUITE count, since it’s still regarding appearance, but a person’s clothing or style can sometimes be an easy go-to. I like to say things like “I love your hat!” or “that sweater is such a great color on you!” while, of course, avoiding any comments on perceived weight loss (unless they bring it up first). But trying to come up with non-appearance-related affirmations can get me stuck, too. Great topic.

  8. This feels so awkward to type, but I really want to see other people’s ideas so I thought I’d add mine to the brainstorm. What about a “Hello gorgeous” or a “Hello lovely” well hugging someone? A friend of mine says: “hello friend!” every-time I see her.

    • I have female friends who say “Hello gorgeous” and it’s fine, but when a guy says anything remotely similar I tense up and immediately try to get out of the situation, so it might be best for VERY close friends.

      • Yes I too have friends that do that and I do it too. So affirming!

        I also say “You look happy” a lot, mostly to not be a creeper and to encourage the person to stay mentally positive.

        I avoid body/physical commenting altogether at work or among non-close-friends, otherwise I would probably comment inappropriately ( however sincerely) something like “Wow your boobs look so perky today!” …Not so great at the office.

    • I have a close friend who always refers to me as “friend” as a nickname. She answers the phone with “Hello, friend!” and says things like, “So, friend, where do you want to go?” It makes me feel warm and fuzzy every time she says it because I know it’s a term of endearment. I’ve taken to calling her “friend” as well because it feels like a connection.

      I don’t have a term like “friend” that I frequently use to address other people. Sometimes I’ll use “my dear” but it’s situation-specific. It feels awkward when I say it to the wrong person. I do use “rockstar” a lot, not as a greeting but as a compliment, because it’s light-hearted and gender-neutral. I find the key is to say it with enthusiasm and sincerity, so it doesn’t come off as sarcastic.

      “You got the job! You’re such a rockstar!”

      “Wow, a B+! You’re such a rockstar!”

      • I had a friend that used “friend” all of the time. So much so that I started using it. It’s such a wonderful little way to reaffirm how good you feel around someone.

        “Oh hi, friend! How are you?” Siiiiiigh. 🙂

    • I second “You look well!” because it implies they look healthy, happy, or otherwise “well,” as opposed to “pretty” or “skinny” or “fashionable” or whatever.

      • I suffer fibromyalgia, and a lot of the reading I do, suggests people with chronic illnesses don’t like this one, they feel it’s dismissive of how they’re feeling or shows a lack of understanding that they’re not well and probably won’t be.

        Personally, if I’m out, I’ve made an effort to look well, and I probably am looking for a day off from being sick so if you tell me I look well, I think it’s nice to know it’s working and my effort has paid off. But each to her own I suppose.

        • Hmm, good to know. I wouldn’t have thought of it that way–but rather in the way that you take it, so I will keep this in mind. I often go with a compliment that runs in this direction, myself, so I will have to consider it more carefully, I guess.

        • I also have a chronic illness, and I would be completely fine with “you look well”, but that is a tricky one. It’s also hard because many chronic illnesses don’t have any outward symptoms (I don’t look ill on the outside), so you may not know someone is suffering. Unless I’ve told people, they don’t know. But I agree with Sarah, I would be fine with that comment, but yeah, it might not be with some people’s situations.

        • The reason some of us don’t like that one, aside from it feeling dismissive of how we are actually feeling, is that it directly relates to statements about how we look too good to be sick. The whole “You don’t LOOK sick!” thing that people say to mean (or just before they actually say) “so you can’t actually BE sick because illness is always visible.” Even if we know the compliment is well-meaning and acknowledging of our effort, it’s reminding us of all those other crappy conversations at the same time. And triggering sad/bad memories when you’re supposed to be out having fun is just kind of a mood kill.

          HOWEVER, with some friends, “you look well, how are you FEELING?” would be great. I do have a few friends who ask that, and who actually want to know the answer, AND who are willing to accept “I’m out to have a great time and focusing on that right now” as an answer. Because they understand subtleties and that such a response means I probably need a little extra care but I don’t discuss it/be the center of attention/feel that it’s an appropriate topic right now (because really, no one wants to even hear “my IBS is acting up” when we’re sitting down to dinner). Now, obviously we’ve gotten to that point of understanding through a little experience, which means sometimes I’ve had to press the point of not wanting to talk about it a bit forcefully, but we’ve gotten there. So just saying, “You look well, how are you feeling?” indicates to me that the person is aware that how I look is not always directly related to how I fee (or that I took great pains to hide the physical evidence of how I feel today which took a lot of spoons), and then it doesn’t bring up yucky feelings about people saying “you don’t LOOK sick.” It also opens up the conversation to me being able to say “I’m in a great mood, but sort of tired” or “I’m feeling fabulous and I’m probably going to overdo it but can we [go do something I wouldn’t normally be up for]?” Which also sets the expectation that we are going along on a fun adventure together but I’m going to burn out fast when I’m done. And that’s awesome too.

    • I was thinking something like this or the previous comment about looking “radiant” since they focus more on the person’s whole being. I feel like the best compliments are the ones that get to the core of the person’s being which is difficult when you are just meeting of course, but something that can be easy is “you have a fantastic way of making me/others feel comfortable” or “I love how comfortable I feel around you.” These obviously don’t work on the first hand shake, but sometimes it can be awkward if the first words out of a strangers mouth are a compliment, it can seem insincere when they don’t really know you. One compliment on appearance that I always feel comfortable recieving and giving is commenting on how the color of an article of clothing brings out hair/eyes/skintone.

    • ‘You look well’ bothers me, actually. Maybe it’s my own paranoia talking, but a lot of the more appearance-focused people I know will use it as a euphemism for ‘I can’t see anything to compliment in your appearance but I feel I should say something’. Specifically, in my case, if I’ve lost weight when I see the extended family, my aunts will comment on that or say I look ‘great’ – if I’ve put some on I’ll get ‘you look well’. Of course it’s still a kind thing to say and it’s not their fault it affects me the way it does, but to me it brings with it the same kind of problems as any other body-based compliment.

  9. The ones that stick with me and I try to give are things like ‘I have so much respect for you since I saw how you handled such and such’ or ‘ you make me think I could do (insert be vegetarian/get married etc)’ or like the above person said ‘you inspire me’ is a good one.
    Or if you don’t know them well ‘I heard you are a great cook/musician/etc’ or for in laws, other randoms etc ‘I love your home, it makes me feel so comfortable/its a great expression of your style’.
    I could go on but I won’t! Xx

  10. Over the holidays, I hung out with my sister-in-law’s ex (who’s now back in the picture). We hadn’t seen each other in 3 or 4 years, and he said “I’d forgotten how funny you are,” which had me oddly glowing for the rest of the day.

    Somehow the fact that he’d “forgotten” and I’d just reminded him felt like a double compliment… like, he knew this about me before, I’d just reminded him again, and now he was confirming that it was true then AND now. You mean, I’m this awesome now… AND THEN!??!

    I’m going to use this now with everyone I haven’t seen in a while… I’d forgotten how [witty, thoughtful, hilarious, sweet, WHATEVER] you are!

  11. “is to just say, “I’ve really missed you!””

    I’ve just realised why I struggle with this; it’s because saying stuff like that means taking responsibility for how I feel about the person. Compliments that start with “you” or “you’re” make it about them, which feels so much safer. That’s a bit freaky and unpleasant, I’m going to have to work on it. Not stop paying the latter kind of compliment I mean, but stop hiding my feelings behind them.

    In my defence most friends rather than lovers (or my Dad) I’ve had have considered admission of affection to be a bit heavy, but that’s not so much the case for the first time now so… got to learn to trust, Jan, got to learn to trust.

  12. Voice: singing voice, speaking voice, written voice (ie writing style). *not* accent, obviously. But it’s always nice discover that other people like the way you write or speak. And if some sings at all, compliments to that are bound to be welcome — even if they’re singing under their breath whilst doing the washing up don’t be fooled.

    For those who play an instrument, of course, that’s their voice. A hug and a ‘thank you for playing’ are always appropriate.

      • I always feel weird when somebody comments on my voice, because I’m super self-conscious about it. I have a slightly-deeper-than-average voice, typically speak quietly (talking loudly makes my throat hurt), and years of low self-esteem have given me certain tics – talking fast in an effort to get my words all out at once, pausing awkwardly in the middle of sentences in preparation for interruption, etc. So when somebody told me I had “a nice voice… like a loud whisper” that “would be a great reading voice,” I laughed but wanted to cry.

    • I once had a caller at work send me a follow-up email and end it by asking where I was from, because she liked my accent – a slightly odd one since I live and work in the same city I was born in, so I have the same accent as half of the inhabitants, but I thought it was nice!

    • One of the sweetest compliments I’ve ever gotten was from a patient with deteriorating eyesight. He said “I’m happy to have you as my nurse, because you have such a comforting voice. I can’t see your smile, but I can hear it.”

  13. To me, spending time with someone is the ultimate form of love. So when I get or give “I love spending time with you” that really means “I love you.” It’s my favorite.

  14. I don’t see anything wrong with complimenting someone on something they’re working to achieve. For example, if I see a long-distance friend who I KNOW has been working out to lose weight and she has, complimenting the results of her hard work is nice. If your friend just had braces taken off, compliment them on how nice their teeth look. You would do the same thing if you went to their house and saw their newly remodeled kitchen.

    Truthfully, every single comment you make can be taken as a compliment or a criticism. “That shirt is really cool” could be taken to mean “I hate your pants.” “Your new haircut is really flattering” could mean “You looked like shit before.” Hopefully your friends know you well enough to know that you’re not trying to insult them.

    Remember that no matter what you say, it’s not up to you how the other person receives it. All you can do is put kindness out into the world; you can’t force other people to pick it up.

    • As long as you know the person is working at the goal of losing weight! I once had the flu for two weeks and could barely eat without getting nauseous. I didn’t really take the “you look good! have you lost weight?” with the same graciousness as if I had been busting my ass at the gym. But yea, I don’t think someone’s physical appearance should be ignored if they’re doing something. it just gets sticky when it’s the default compliment.

    • I agree with you on this. I saw my sister in law for the first time in several months over the holidays, and I KNEW that she’d been working out and had lost weight as a result, because we’d had a whole conversation over the summer about her trying to get healthy and training for a half marathon and really enjoying all the new energy that she had because of the way she’d been eating well and working out. She looked great…but then, I couldn’t bring myself to complement her because I couldn’t figure out how. Just pointing out that she’d lost weight was out, because that wasn’t really the point of her lifestyle changes, and it might imply that I thought there was something wrong with her before. Same with “you look great!” or even “you look healthy!” or any variation thereof…my over-thinking brain has read too many blogs about subjects like this, so I ended up just saying nothing. Which, it turns out, bummed my SIL out because “nobody noticed” how different she looked at Christmas. Sometimes, you can’t win.

      I kinda miss the me that could just give a complement, any complement, and have it be taken at face value as something positive and well meant, instead of the combination of social anxiety and fear of it being taken wrong causing me to clam up. I’d hate to think we’re becoming a society that bites back on the nice thing we want to say because we’re afraid that it might hurt someone’s feelings. I’m afraid that fear of hurting feelings is turning us into a society that says NOTHING to one another because we’re afraid it will be taken wrong…and I think some forms of pleasant and polite interaction might be going away because of it which makes me sad. It’s good that we’re thinking about alternative things to complement one another on…I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s suggestions…but maybe we should cut ourselves a little slack sometimes too. I don’t get dressed up nice to go out so as to not be attractive…I don’t necessarily NEED to be validated all the time…but if you think I look pretty, you can say “you look really pretty” without offending me.

      • I usually try not to read too far into compliments and I would like to think most people do. Most people won’t go out of their way to say “I like your X” or “your hair looks nice” if they don’t really feel that way.

        Every now and then, though, someone gives a weird compliment/statement that leaves me wondering, but usually they come from the same couple of people. I have one family member that often gives an observation comment like “Oh, you cut your hair.” followed by a bizarre statement that perhaps on some planet might have been intended as a compliment, but it’s hard to say. (In this case, the one that stands out is when the above comment was followed by “It makes your chin look pointy, like Jay Leno’s.”) I usually respond with an “um, thanks.”

      • For me it totally depends on the compliment-giver. From my friends, I can take things at face value and the compliments on appearance will make me feel good. But I recently henna’d my hair, and at Thanksgiving my grandma was gushing over it–“oh, your hair looks different! What did you do to it? It looks so good!” I told her I dyed it, and jokingly asked if it looked so bad before since the comments were a bit over the top. She actually said, “yeah, it wasn’t as good before.” But this is the same grandma who told me, when I was a teenager, that I’d look “so pretty if I would just do something with my eyes.” But totally denies ever having said that, and next year will totally deny the comments disparaging how my hair used to look.

        So, quick compliments about appearance from friends who notice plenty of other things about me? I’ll take them, and usually feel good afterwards. Over-the-top compliments from someone who used to criticize my appearance, and still likes to scrutinize me all the time even if now it’s to compliment me? Feels icky.

        • I understand what you’re saying. My nana, when I was home for Christmas, made a point of continually pointing out how “radiant” and “flawless” my skin was. Sounds good, right? Except, #1, my skin wasn’t “radiant”, I was at the almost end of my birth control cycle and had zits like a teenage boy…the lighting in the house was just really flattering, and my Nana is going senile and has bad eyesight. And #2, Nana is the queen of “you’d look so good if you did X with your hair” or “so and so’s daughter has such a great ‘figure’, let me tell you about her diet and workout plans for an hour.” I love her, and give her pass for being not in her complete right mind, and also from being the product of a generation where conformity and being decorative was the most important thing. But years of her nagging me about my weight/clothes/weird colored hair/tattoos makes any compliment from her hard to take. It’s a strange uncomfortable situation, and I feel like it probably mostly applies to family members.

  15. I really like hearing “you look great” or “you look well”– yes, physical, but very generic and doesn’t assume anything specific (weight loss, etc). Also ditto what everyone has said about complimenting choices– if someone likes my funky earrings or my little mermaid shirt or my holiday striped converse, I want to hear it! I love that you like a choice I made or a color/character I like.

    Ditto also on accomplishments. “Hey I heard your choir did a great concert” or whatever is nice to hear also.

    Never ever ever EVER comment on a person’s height. EVER!!! Nothing makes me feel worse. I don’t care if people “mean well”; it’s something I’m very insecure about and completely out of my control. I know I’m tall, thanks, and it doesn’t matter to you in the slightest. The only time it’s okay to comment on height is if you’re the same height as I am and you want to ask where I got these cool pants.

    • The thing about remarking on someone’s height is that it isn’t really a compliment, just an observation. There’s nothing to say back. When someone says to me, “You’re tall,” I want to say, “You have brown hair!”

      • Exactly– people think it’s a compliment for some reason (I get “you’re so wonderfully tall!!”) but it’s not. It’s not wonderful, I hate it, I’d appreciate it if you don’t bring it up, and how dare you assume it’s “wonderful” when you have no idea what it’s like to live with this? You would never say that someone is “wonderfully thin” (maybe they’ve lost weight and have started a fitness routine, or maybe they’re goin through a tough round of chemo) or “wonderfully short” or “wonderfully fat” for the same reasons. If I wear a green shirt, that’s a choice I’ve made and I love if someone agrees with my choice. But so many people assume that it’s okay to approach me and “compliment” on my height– what they’re actually doing (even if they don’t think they are) is implying “oh look, that person is highly unusual and I must comment on it because it’s weird”. Not cool.

        • I actually love that I’m tall, but it’s not like I could have chosen to be otherwise, and I don’t consider height a positive or negative trait.

          The funniest height comment I’ve ever received was from an old woman in a restroom at an art museum. She looked at me and said, in this gravelly and incredibly theatrical voice, with many dramatic pauses, “Seeing you there…and how tall you are…just…absolutely…traumatizes me.”

          I’m 5’11”, which is taller than average, but not exactly traumatically tall.

    • People love to tell me I am short. Like, thanks. And I realize that it is more common for girls to be short, so it isn’t the same for tall girls. But it is always in an awkward statement of fact, not a compliment… so I don’t really know why people say it.

      • My sweet DH is short. I’m taller than him by 5 inches. And often we get “oh, you’re so much taller than him”. Thanks. We know. It’s good. We’re incredibly happy. So to diffuse the tension (he feels attacked a lot because of his height.) I’ll say something really racy just to shock the other party – like ‘short men have better leverage’ or worse (usually to do with his prowess in the sack) … It’s usually the last that we will hear about our height (Plus, it’s true!) ha ha ha!

        • Yeah, I don’t like to stereotype genders usually… BUT I really do thing that short guys and tall girls have it worse than tall guys and short girls because people pick on them so much more, which is obviously stupid. There are all sorts of things that make a couple compatible, and I don’t understand it when height is a deal breaker for some people.

      • I get this ENDLESSLY. I’m 4’10”, and people always always always comment on it. My fiance is 6’2″, so when we are together, the remarks are even more frequent (“Oh, you’re so tiny next to him!!”). My go-to response is now just, “That’s how we roll in the Shire.”

        • It sounds like the height disparity between you and your fiance is about the same as me and my 6’4″ husband. Sometimes it actually IS funny to talk about- like how I have a step stool in the kitchen to reach things he puts on high shelves. And how when one of us misplaces something in the house, we have to search on different planes to find it. But when people directly ask us about if it’s weird to kiss or …other stuff… with the difference in heights, it’s weird. Unless they are very, very, VERY close friends.

  16. I have a question for you all:

    What do you do if you see someone and they say “you look so great!” first? I would feel rude just saying “thank you!” and that’s it. I suppose you could compliment a piece of their clothing, house decor, et cetera, but is that also a bit odd? As if you’re avoiding telling them they look good too, because you don’t think they do? I could perhaps be over thinking it, but I’d love input!

    • I think a quick, “Thanks, you too!” is usually going to be fine.

      I’d probably say, “Thank you! You too!” and then follow up with something else non-body-focussed like “It’s so great to see you / Those earrings really suit you / Thanks for picking such a great cafe to meet in, I’ve not been here before!”

      If you’re more comfortable with non-body-related compliments, you can definitely take the convo there without sounding weird.

  17. I really like the “radiant” “glowing” type compliments. When you really are noticing someone’s appearance but more of what they exude than the physical components.

  18. I appreciate this question so much, and am really enjoying this list! It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot in the last months.

    With kids:
    I often compliment curiosity, their favorite hobbies, happiness: What great questions you ask! That’s a fabulous butterfly picture you just drew! When you laugh and smile, that makes me happy too! (Have to be careful with that last one, of course; I don’t want to discourage them from expressing sadness or disappointment when appropriate)

    With adults: Well, whatever it is I truly appreciate about them. Their supportiveness, their kindness, their energy, their generosity. I know that this “you look great” thing is also a part of greeting conventions sometimes; I try to head it off with comments about how happy I am to see them, how much I’ve been looking forward to the meeting. It isn’t that I mind generic “you look great” compliments that might not be about my body, but it isn’t the culture I want to promote, either. Or maybe more importantly – when I’m fitting a few social moments into my crazy busy day, I’m hoping for more meaningful communication.

  19. Firs time commenter because I just HAD to!

    As a big lady and big sister to a little large lady I have put a lot of thought into positively complimenting her |looks| without making it about her body. My favorites below.

    You look so healthy! Gosh your skin is luminous and your eyes are all sparkly! (this one was followed by an “I’M JEALOUS” because I was sick when the comment was first made, but has continued to be an ongoing compliment when she looks particularly healthy!)

    Bizzare mythological being reference-
    (used to have INCREDIBLE curly hair she was embarrassed about that moved with a life of it’s own) Your hair is just powerful, you could be a fury just burning things to the ground with that hair. It is a FORCE
    (dyed hair red/whenever the color is refreshed) God you could just be a super awesome vampire on one of these shows they’re always doing, you just look like such a badass.

    Prominent feature comments-
    (when she shaved her head) You know, I love short hair on everyone, but you have a PARTICULARLY fabulous head shape to just go all the way. Bravo babydoll!
    (hazel/changing eyes) I love how that shirt makes your eyes looks super green! It’s crazy they are always to different. Especially compared to last week when they were all stunning and deep looking.

    Hopefully this helps, I went body positive for her and in the last 2 years that I have been constantly commenting on how stunning she is in her own way she has really gone from a shy risk averse young woman to a vibrant and creative one who just owns her look.

    • Haha, I would feel amazing if I got a compliment like this! But I’m not sure how I would be able to respond other than a sputtery, blushing “thanks”.

    • These compliments alone paint me a picture of the fiercest, reddest-headed awesome gorgeous woman that I can’t WAIT to meet!! If just your written words can do that for me, I have absolutely no doubt that your sister feels fucking amazing when she’s around you.

  20. When I compliment someone on something physical/visible, it usually takes the form of complimenting their clothes, which, presumably, are something they chose. So, in a way, I’m complimenting their taste, which is more of an internal thing than an external one. I find that it’s usually really well received by both adults and kids. For adults, I think it helps them feel confident about their appearance as well as proud of the choice they made in clothing. For kids, I think it makes them feel that I’ve noticed THEM and something they like, not just “oh look, another cute kid.”

  21. The past few years, I’ve started complimenting people more and more on their energy. For example “You just radiate positive energy” or “Your energy draws every one around you in”. It shows that you really see someone, not just their appearance. It makes them glow even more, which makes me glow as well.

    • These are such great compliments to give, I kind of feel like a jerk because I get compliments like this at work all the time, and they always baffle me, because I am actually a HUGELY cantankerous bitch and am pretty much in a bad mood 100% of the time I’m here (long story.) But I guess I can still take it as a compliment- I’m REALLY good at being fake-polite. :-p

  22. I really like these, and I think that we’re overthinking it a bit. I mean, a compliment is not required – it is something that is a positive recognition. So if it’s great to see someone, say “it’s great to see you!” If someone looks well, say “you look well!” If someone has a cool hat, say “that’s a cool hat!” If you don’t feel particularly complementary, say “hello, how are you doing?”

    I think it’s totally possible to avoid complimenting exclusively on appearance, and even easier to avoid complimenting on weight. But if you think that someone looks great, tell them they look great! In fact, that is one of my generic “you’ve lost weight/changed your hair/are wearing make-up/got out of yoga pants” compliments.

  23. Hi there, I wanted to add something regarding complimenting children. My sister in law was telling me recent books (she reads up on this a lot) suggest it’s best to comment on a child’s efforts. For example ‘you tried very hard there’ or ‘you’ve done you’re best’ are better than ‘you’re really smart’. I’m not an expert but I can see the logic.

    • Absolutely. This is such a good thing to do. “You worked really hard on that” can tell kids that they are determined, capable beings. Saying “You’re really smart” can tell kids that they have some intrinsic quality that maybe they don’t have much control over. So then what happens when something doesn’t come as easily for them? Do they still feel capable to try hard, or feel that trying their best will be rewarded? Maybe, but maybe not. My boyfriend and I have been talking lots lately about how telling kids they are “smart” can affect their work ethic – he was often told he was “smart” and after a while, stopped trying as hard in school because he figured he didn’t have to because he was “smart.” Perhaps being praised for working hard, trying new things, being creative, or persevering wouldn’t have had the same affect.

Read more comments

Join the Conversation