When is it OK to comment on someone’s appearance? It’s come to my attention that this is apparently a subject of much confusion for people. As someone who often says the first thing that pops into my head, I understand and feel for the poor, confused mass of souls out there. “But I didn’t mean to insult them! There was nothing mean about my comments!” we protest. But alas, dear friend. Maybe it’s time to just shush.
Like many, many girls, I have had to explain this concept to the most clueless of men: my father. When I was 18, my dad and I were casually talking while at a family pool-party BBQ. “You know, I noticed that your thighs are getting a lot bigger, and so is your stomach. Are you putting on weight?” I stared at him. “I just hate to see a girl as tiny and beautiful as you let herself go for no reason.”
Through a stutter of rage and disbelief I attempted to explain that comments like that are not something you say to your teenage daughter when she’s walking around in her bikini. Or to anyone in general. Ever. There are very few situations out there that give you license to comment—unsolicited—on someone’s body. “I’m just concerned,” he said, truly baffled as to where he had gone wrong. Because his intentions were good, he couldn’t fathom where the trouble was. But the trouble was that I spent the rest of the pool party in a t-shirt and jeans, and went out the next day to buy a one-piece bathing suit.
Although I am now much older and much less inclined to give a shit about what people say to me, comments like this are still fucked up. And they should never fly. Ever. So to help those poor confused souls, I’ve developed a nifty cheat sheet to help you figure out when it is or is not okay to comment on someone’s appearance and body.
YOU SHOULD SAY SOMETHING WHEN:
– Your friend’s mascara/lipstick is smudged all over her face.
But you say it on the D.L. Because women shouldn’t let other women walk around with accidental clown makeup.
– They look like they’re about to vomit/pass out/ spontaneously combust.
But don’t ever say “You look tired.” Maybe a “Hey, you’ve been working really hard, do you want to take a break?” or even a “You sound tired, are you OK?” could work. Because there is always the chance that they aren’t sick or tired, and now you’ve just accidentally insulted them, despite meaning well.
– They directly ask you about an aspect of their appearance.
I don’t believe in the stereotype that you have to lie when a woman asks you if she looks OK. If I’m asking someone a question about my appearance, I genuinely want a real answer. If I go outside looking like an idiot because you lied to me, that is your fault, friend. And I will be angry. If your opinion is solicited, tell the truth. Nicely.
– You’re willing to address your own flaws as well.
While most of the time there is no need to talk about someone’s appearance, sometimes these comments are truly born out of concern. Weight, for example, is a touchy subject. Chances are that if someone is struggling with their weight, they already know it. They don’t need you to remind them. If you’re super concerned, try this handy rule: Don’t point out flaws without being willing to accept your own. If you’re worried about your friend’s weight, try saying, “I’ve been feeling really unhealthy lately, and I think I’m going to start working out. Want to be my workout buddy?”
YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY NOT SAY ANYTHING WHEN:
– You are speaking to a pubescent or teenage girl.
It sounds harsh and stereotypical, but honestly girls face so much backlash and pressure to undermine their own confidence, they don’t need any help from you. So much so that I’m singling this out because somehow people still forget that young girls need to be encouraged to find themselves beautiful and unleash their inner #bossbitch.
– You have to qualify a compliment.
Why would you even do this?! “You look so much prettier with your hair up,” or “I never wanted to tell you, but your old look was not working,” to “Those dresses only work on people with bigger body shapes, you would look great in it.” My personal favorite is the, “Oh my God, you cut your hair! It looks so, so much better now.” THANKS FOR THAT, FRIEND. GLAD TO KNOW I WAS LIKE A HIDEOUS TROLL BEFORE I CHANGED EVERY ASPECT OF MY APPEARANCE. THANKS.
– You’re in the other 99 percent of situations.
Just shut up. Look at yourself and pick out your own issues and flaws. You have no authority or right to talk about anyone else’s. So do everyone a favor and just zipper your mouth right up. Just stop. Please.
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