When A Compliment Is Actually Disguising An Insult

by Kimberly Tice
Originally Published: 
Pop art picture of two young women, complimenting each other while actually meaning to insult each o...
Scary Mommy and FPG/Getty

If you are not in the mood for a feisty rant, I suggest you keep scrolling.

But if a good rant sounds like it might be your jam, then buckle up, because we are about to delve into the proper way to compliment a woman. And how very sad that this even needs to be explained in the year 2019. And by the way, I’m talking to both men and women, so no gender is without fault here.

Some background on this topic:

I am a 34-year-old working mom of two great kiddos, ages four and one. Despite living on the surface of the sun, otherwise known as South Florida, I like to run marathons in the small amount of spare time I have left. And like most moms, working or not, the self-care struggle is real. I just can’t seem to make time to do it all.

Last month, on my high holy holiday, Amazon Prime Day, I purchased a heated brush for straightening hair. Now, since it’s always hot and humid AF where I live and I have the devil’s curly hair, I straighten my hair only a few times a year. Mostly because it costs a lot to get done professionally and it takes a long time to do myself. If I have a spare moment, I’d honestly rather be running or reading.

So, the other day I tried out the brush and straightened my very long hair. It looked glorious. I was feeling like Beyoncé for about two days. But then I wanted to run and so that required a hair wash and pretty soon I was no longer Becky with the good hair.

While running, I began reflecting on how many people had given me backhanded compliments about the hair. FOUR this time:

“No offense, but you look so much younger with your hair straight.”

“Why don’t you straighten it all the time?”

“Wow, I didn’t even recognize you!”

“You should really take time for you more.”

I wanted to tell these people to mind their own business. I wanted to explain that one and a half hours just for hairstyling is unrealistic for a mom of two kids under five. I wanted to mention that I’d rather have rock-hard leg muscles than pin straight hair. I wanted to tell them they insulted me. Instead, I said nothing for fear of being rude.

Upon reflection, I became more angry. I realized this always happens when I straighten my hair. In fact, I was one of the only kids with curly hair in my elementary class, and I was bullied for it. I often felt pressure when I was younger to have smoother hair so I could fit in more. So I have spent a damn lifetime being shamed because I don’t wear my hair a more socially acceptable way. Fast forward to now, and I am super comfortable with my curly hair and I don’t care what people think of it. I love it.

What I do care about is that I have a daughter who is one and a half years old and also has the devil’s curly hair. It may be unrealistic, but I want to nurture her self-esteem and confidence in this harsh world. It seems that women are more subject to these shitty opinions from both genders. I don’t want my daughter to take 20-30 years to be comfortable with her hair style options or her self image in general.

And the wild thing is that hair is only one small part of a bigger problem. It’s an appearance issue. Women, how many times have people asked you if you are sick or depressed just because you don’t have makeup on your face? This is a definite thing, and I have spoken to many others with the same experience. People also tend to get very opinionated about telling women to dress in a certain way (i.e. “You look so much better when you don’t wear so much black,” or more color, less patterns, more skin.) You get the idea! And don’t even get me started on that crap where women are told to smile more. The list goes on and on. Why do people keep saying such shitty things to women? Why aren’t women building each other up instead of tearing each other down? Because it’s socially acceptable to disguise an insult as a compliment?

This. Is. Not. Okay.

So, just some general guidelines to remember when speaking to each other about appearances:

If you want to compliment someone, do just that. Say they look nice. Tell them they look like a rockstar, or Beyonce, or anything KIND. But please do NOT:

– Ask them to look a certain way more frequently.

– Tell them how much better they look as opposed to the regular hot mess they are.

– Instruct them to do anything related to their appearance. (It is just not your right to do so!)

– Finally, if you’re not sure whether it’s rude or not, don’t say it!

Let’s practice these rules ourselves. Let’s teach them to our kids. Keep compliments kind, with no judgments on the side! Surround yourself and your family with people who do this and maybe our kids will have to deal with less BS than we did. The reality is, we cannot keep teaching our daughters to break through glass ceilings while also quietly accepting rude judgements about their appearance.

Now, excuse me while I proudly take my Mufasa-style mane out for a run.

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