Beauty

I Don’t Look Good For My Age. I Look Good.

complimentsIt’s strange how one of the greatest compliments a woman is given in our culture is a comment based on someone else’s appearance.

“You look so young for your age!”

I have heard 20 year old women say this to other 20 year old women.

There’s nothing wrong with complimenting a woman’s appearance. Many people like such compliments. I like it, but when someone tells me I am pretty, I start to think about how it’s kind of not my doing.

Feel free to talk to Yoko's 75 year old hand in this picture about how young she looks. Photo: lastfm.com

Feel free to talk to Yoko’s 75 year old hand about how young she looks. Photo: lastfm.com

I tend to give compliments on appearance too, but something I have begun to strive to do is make the compliment unconditional.

Perhaps some people  like conditional and/or back-handed compliments. A person never has to give another a compliment, and even a conditional one requires effort.

What prejudices drive conditional compliments, though? Do those prejudices weaken them?

Whether the responses of pleasure compliments on my appearance bring out in me are biological or a product of my upbringing, I don’t know.  There are, of course, other compliments I and many other women prefer to receive: those concerning intelligence, creativity, style, work ethic, dedication to community, talent and skill, for example. All that aside, I like to be told I look good. It’s pleasant. What I dislike is to be told I look good “for,” which really means “in spite of.”

Why is putting a condition on a compliment common or necessary?

backhanded complimentA conditional compliment is like a gift with purchase. It’s a gift with a stipulation.  A conditional compliment is one such as you have such a pretty face for a big girl, or, you’ll be so pretty when you lose the rest of your weight, or, at least you mostly gain weight in your boobs and ass.

I got a lot of conditional compliments during the seven years after the birth of my child. It took me that long to take off the 80 pounds I put onto my five foot one inch frame during gestation.

I got used to conditional compliments, thinking they might go away when I lost my baby weight. I was wrong. I heard a lot of statements like, “Wow. You look great. Do you have stretch marks, though?” and “Wow. You look good for a mom.”

Why do so many compliments, both to men and women, come equipped with isms? In general, conditional compliments tend to be sizist, racist, sexist and/or ageist.

Any compliment that includes the word if, or for, is a conditional compliment, also known as a back-handed compliment. If that’s the best you got, folks, go ahead and be quiet.

A conditional compliment assumes that the person being complimented does not value the aspect of their personhood being excepted. Examples include,

  • You have such a pretty face, can you imagine what you’d look like if you lost a little weight?
  • Wow, you’re only 5’1′? You seem so tall.
  • She’s pretty for a Latina. 
  • You’re very mature for someone who is only 21.
  • You look good for your age.
  • You don’t look 50! I thought you were 35!
  • You move so gracefully for a tall woman.
  • I hope I look as good as you when I am your age!

    Ernestine Shephard, the world's oldest professional bodybuilder - 74 years old. She just looks good.  Photo: ernestineshephard.net

    Ernestine Shepherd, the world’s oldest professional bodybuilder – 74 years old. She just looks good.
    Photo: ernestineshepherd.net

The “for your age” one is the one I get the most these days. I want to say, “Bish, please. I don’t look good for my age. I just look good.”

Do you give back-handed compliments? In order to praise someone different from you, must you condescend to that person by pointing out what makes him or her different from you? Why?

I suggest you write down your answers to these questions:

Is beauty defined only by symmetry, a dress size, youth, and possibility?

Is it only skin deep? Is it tangible?

Does beauty define achievements gained only by  experience or lack of experience?

Is the definition of beauty based only on what you are?

Is human beauty even solely physical?

Are talent and intelligence based only on age? Is there a valid reason to refer to the age of the person you are complimenting?

Scenario: You are at a party. You are a young, white, thin and attractive fashionable female. You see an older, heavier-than-you, attractive and fashionable Asian woman in a vintage dress.

Would a good compliment be, “You always look so great for an older, fatter

Beth Ditto wants a kiss on her pretty cheek - photo: manboobz.com

Beth Ditto wants a kiss on her pretty cheek – photo: manboobz.com

Chinese woman who buys her clothes at second-hand stores?”  No. So why is it okay to say, “You look so good for your age,” or, “I hope I look as good as you when I am old?”

Say the woman is younger than you and you like her writing. Is it okay to say, “You write so well for your age?”

It’s not.

Do talent and physicality depend solely on a set age to thrive? Does pretty have to look like you in order to be relevant? No. Pretty is as pretty does. You are and will always be beautiful. You always have been. So have I.

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