I tell myself it doesn’t matter, or shouldn’t, but when an old friend tells me I look hot, I brush off the compliment and say “Thank you for being so nice,” as I immediately change the subject.
“Is it the choice of words?” he says. “Are they jarring?”
It’s not like I ran into him with wacky curlers in my hair or ten-year-old ripped leggings under an oversize shirt. I looked “normal” – jean shorts, a black t-shirt – nothing I would consider embarrassing. And I’m not embarrassed by his comment.
But I dismiss it, interpreting it as a friend’s kindness to perk me up when he knows I’m stressed.
Can You Take a Compliment?
Had this man said I was looking tired since we last bumped into each other, or if I’d noted even the remotest negative tone or remark, I would have hung on to it. I would’ve allowed it to nag at me for days.
It’s also not the first time he’s made the point that my perception of myself is askew, as it is with many women. But hey, isn’t that what old friends are for? To be our mirrors in ways that we need them, when we need them?
Besides, I was convinced he was being pleasant – and funny, as “hot” isn’t a word that’s typically in his vocabulary, and his use of the term made me chuckle.
Yet he’s a true friend, a man who is not given to hyperbole, and one who’s known me through divorce dramas, through illnesses, through worries over kids and money. He’s seen me after terrible weight loss that left me haggard and frail, and weight gain that made me feel utterly unworthy.
He’s an admirable cheering section, yet he’s always been honest.
Why Women Can’t Accept Compliments
So why can’t I accept his compliment? Why now, especially? Why didn’t I simply say “thank you” and leave it at that?
According to an article in Everyday Health, the issue of women struggling to accept compliments is commonplace. Women can’t take compliments for a variety of reasons:
… Many females are taught that they should be modest and humble… They’re worried that accepting praise could make them appear arrogant…
… many women simply believe the kudos is undeserved… [Chalk this up to] “inner body bullies” — self-destructing demons that “tell us we’re not thin enough, we’re not good enough, and not worthy enough to take the compliment.”
False Modesty, or Real Discomfort?
“Why don’t you hear what I say?” my friend asks, unwilling to drop the subject and suddenly very serious.
“It’s a compliment. I’m not being nice. I’m expressing my response to you, to your presence, to who you are, to the energy you give off. This is about me, not you. So why can’t you appreciate my impressions and consider them valid?”
He’s a smart guy. He’s got me on that last question.
This is about him, giving credence to his feelings, his reaction.
Old habits die hard, and seem to pop up during periods of stress. My inability to take a compliment has roots in childhood during which my appearance was never good enough, reinforced by a marriage in which I never felt desired, and likely, the signs of aging are pulling at me in ways I’d rather not examine.
The discomfort – and disbelief – when a remark of this sort is extended? I’m certain it’s played out tens of thousands of times a day as women deflect or downplay a genuine compliment.
Hot is in the Eye of the Beholder?
The word makes me smile.
I conjure Ryan Gosling, Sean Connery as 007, and a 60-something character actor whose name escapes me, but whose face and body are anything but stereotypically attractive. He’s sexy because of his talent – his performances are nuanced and magnetic.
I’m reminded that what is sexy is a package: one part looks and many parts voice, gesture, attitude, confidence, intelligence, humor, talent – along with the history, experience, preferences and perceptions of the person on the receiving side of the equation.
What is Sexy?
I recently caught a rerun of an episode from Sex and the City, Season 4, in which Miranda is astounded that a good-looking guy at Crunch Fitness finds her “very sexy.” She’s been running on the treadmill, she’s drenched in sweat, and as she tells Carrie on the phone, she “had on no makeup, and was wearing her Hanes three dollar sweats.”
She cannot accept that he finds her attractive, yet when they go on a second date and she puts herself together in what she thinks is hot, he’s no longer interested.
She may feel more confident in her little black dress and eyeliner than she did in workout clothes – I thought she looked great – but he didn’t respond to her in the same way. She was no longer sexy – to him.
Who We See vs. Who We Are
I will not pretend that it isn’t a challenge to look in the mirror and note signs of age. We live in a culture in which the years are used against us, to devalue us, particularly if we’re women.
It’s impossible not to be influenced in some fashion – mobilized perhaps, or demoralized, or in between.
I like to think my mind will remain sexy, my body will retain its responsiveness, my playful side will perk up if and when the stress yields its power of place in my life. I would like to think I am capable of a balance between the feedback of friends and my own more critical assessments – finding a way to see a “whole” self – not just the face or the body.
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