“You’re beautiful.” These are two of the most powerful words that a person can hear, especially for women. Even more so for girls. It’s a phrase that gushes forward from a slew of yoga studios, fitness blogs, and screams at you from graphic tees. At first blush, it seems like an obvious compliment and a step in the right direction when it comes to embracing the good stuff. You’re beautiful! What’s wrong with that? A lot, as it turns out.
The recipient may hear, “You’re beautiful. Thank God. Because, as a woman, what you look like is the most important thing about you.” Youthful beauty changes and fades. That’s natural. If a person believes their most valuable asset, or even their only asset, is their beauty, what’s next? What about when they get older and may no longer meet our manipulated ideas of what beauty is? What if they gain or lose “too much” weight? What if they move to a region where their aesthetics are no longer considered by the majority to be beautiful? What if they’re in an accident that permanently changes their looks? What if they develop a condition or contract a disease that alters those precarious and completely unimportant features that made someone call them beautiful?
Let’s forget that glorified drug use in pop culture from music videos to Instagram feeds are saying that destroying your body is the ticket to beauty. Let’s look away from the addiction epidemic of the country because girls are still after all these decades being told that to fit in, they need to alter their minds and bodies with dangerous substances. Let’s forget the fact that “beautiful” is perhaps the most subjective adjective there is. You will not find or create a single image that the entire world agrees is “beautiful.” You can’t even find or create one that a local group of 100 people will likely agree with!
Try to make a conscious effort to craft compliments to do the best possible good. There are so many other ways to compliment people that are so much more important than looks. Remarking on how strong a woman is when she goes up in free weights for her squats, how powerful she is when she finishes her first 10k, or how much you admire her endurance when she powers through her first spin class are all ways of complimenting both her aesthetics and her inner self in ways that can’t be read negatively.
Spreading the Love
Obviously, there are much deeper compliments you can give. About a person’s mind, their heart, their empathy, and their kindness. Those are the ones we should focus on more, especially with teenage girls who are particularly good at looking outside for validation, but it’s hard! They’re not always so obvious. You’ve got to really pay attention to be able to suss those out. They’re nearly impossible to pinpoint with strangers because you don’t know the person yet. Instead, we use compliments as social lube to get people to like us. To make small talk. And those compliments are largely about our looks because that’s what we first see when we meet someone. It would be pretty weird if you walked up to a stranger and said, “Wow, I love your sense of humor!”
Think about this the next time you see a newborn of a friend’s, a little girl. Imagine all you have to go on was a photo. What can you say about a newborn, especially when you don’t even have a clue about her personality? You’re staring at the photo, and the parents are staring at you expectantly. “She’s beautiful.” It’s what you’re supposed to say. What else can you say?
“She looks just like you!” And they’ll smile.
Girls are more than their looks and their perceived beauty. But sometimes it doesn’t feel that way, especially for the women and girls who count those two words as making up the vast majority of compliments they’ve ever received. What a terribly shaky and scary foundation to build your sense of self-worth on.
Make your compliments count. Make them deep, and make them matter. Your words may have a bigger impact than you will ever know.