Why compliments don’t always equal flattery

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Why compliments don’t always equal flattery

Sophie Friedberg, Opinion Editor

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Many inherently believe that a guaranteed way to impress someone is by issuing a compliment. Whether it regards appearance, ideas or intellect, a compliment has the potential to prompt feelings of security and confidence in others.

In some cases, this may be true. Positive comments can boost self-esteem and reinforce the notion that ideas and choices matter and have been noticed.

In other cases, these compliments can make people uncomfortable — a common example being inappropriate comments on a woman’s physical features. Some men in society have become accustomed to making these tasteless comments, and disguising them as flattery.

Whether a comment is about a woman’s figure, features or their choice of clothes, it can make its recipient feel violated. Let’s not be confused, these are not compliments. These are blatant opinions containing sexual innuendos.

Even doing something so trivial as checking out at the grocery store can be a place where these instances occur.

Senior Stella Donati recalled her own experience with verbal harassment. “I was buying something from Gelson’s my sophomore year,” Donati said. “I noticed the cashier looking at me while I was waiting in line. When it was my turn to pay, he said, while looking at my chest, ‘the cut of that shirt is really flattering on you.’

“He tried to disguise it as a compliment… it honestly made me really uncomfortable. I was just a sophomore, I had no idea that guys, especially ones in their 30s and 40s, were looking at me like that.”

What follows a comment like this is suppression of emotion. Verbal harassment can be devastating to a person— a concept not widely recognized or appreciated. It’s easy to tell a girl to brush it off when she is subject to such unwelcome compliments. It seems so simple: sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.

It isn’t that simple. Words hurt. They leave lasting impacts.

Donati admits to that being “the first day I started being self-conscious about what I was wearing. I didn’t want somebody to notice me like that ever again.”

Because many see these male-to-female compliments as acceptable, another social norm of the same setting has emerged: plain opinion-based commentary.

The specific opinionated commentary that is derived from compliments is the type where someone (a man, in most cases) expresses their unwanted opinion to a woman about her figure. A slew of men stray from concealing their outbursts as compliments and overtly comment on a woman’s body, even if the comment is negative.

This mentality specifically results from these fake-compliments. The line of thinking tends to follow a kind of twisted equivocation; if a man is allowed to speak his mind about his positive perceptions of a woman’s body, why can’t he do the same with his perceived negatives?

Junior Emma Kendall recalls an instance where this kind of criticism took a toll on her friend, who was only 15 at the time.  

Kendall and her friends had been in a photo booth at a Bar Mitzvah, and, as they waited for the the timer to go off, Kendall’s friend, who “was wearing a very appropriate v-neck dress,” was verbally accosted.

“The DJ walked over to us, gestured to his own chest and told my friend to ‘cover up, [because] this is a family event,’” Kendall said.

Her friend, in shock, sat on the couch and stared blankly at the camera. Kendall’s other friend, who had watched this encounter “stood up and [asked], ‘what did you just say to her?’” Kendall says the DJ doubled down, proceeding to “tell my friend that she looked like a Kardashian.”

The line between well-intended compliments and groundless, inappropriate critique is blurred. However, due to 2018’s myriad of social justice crusades, the line is becoming clearer.

No longer is it considered acceptable to follow the ‘how-to-get-a-girl rulebook,’ the one which asserts that compliments are a sure-fire way to garner the attention of a women.

The only way that this circle of baseless censure and critique can be stopped is if the rulebook is rewritten.

With continuing developments such as Me Too and Times Up, issues that once seemed meaningless are gaining the recognition they deserve. Rewriting the rulebook may not happen overnight, and may not cumulate the support of everyone. However, the only way to ensure positive change is to keep the conversation going. Keep people talking.

Talk about the problems that were once too risquee to discuss.

Talk about the problems that are faced by suppressed groups.

Talk about the problems those in power refuse to discuss.

Talk until the rulebook puts the safety and well-being of all human beings above the egos of insecure men.

Talk until the rulebook is rewritten.