Every day when I walk into the office she tells me, "You're always so pretty!" or some other variation. Now, don't get me wrong, like most other humans, it feels good to have other humans appreciate my appearance. At first I didn't understand why my co-workers compliments bothered me so much. However, after a year, I'm starting to understand.
First, her compliments are not "free." I soon learned that she expects me to reciprocate, to tell her just as often that she looks beautiful. I resent being forced into a compliment that didn't come naturally. If I notice something, I'll share it. Feeling like I have to come up with something on command makes me feel insincere.
The second thing that bothers me about this situation is that she needs a generic statement of approval to feel good. I like to choose more genuine compliments. I'd rather compliment a specific trait or behavior that I appreciate and I prefer when other people do the same for me. I feel much better when people take the time to really notice who I am than when they throw out a blanket compliment.
Most importantly, though, the thing that bothers me the most is the idea that my worth is defined by my appearance. There is so much more I value about myself than just my appearance and I wish others would recognize those things as well. I'm not "gorgeous" and that should be OK. I shouldn't have to be told I'm beautiful everyday. I shouldn't have to feel beautiful everyday. I am smart, I am loyal, I am loving and tender, I believe in people and care deeply about them. I'm a good listener, a good organizer, a quick learner.
There is an overwhelming amount of information on the web about beauty. How to be more beautiful, how to make yourself believe you are beautiful, how to not care about being beautiful. Some of these ideas are hurtful to women, some are empowering and there is everything in between. In an effort to improve the messages we send to women and help them feel good about their selves, there is a movement to expand the definition of beauty. You've seen the memes:
"Strong is beautiful."
"Curves are beautiful"
"Wrinkles are beautiful."
"Confidence is beautiful."
I wish we could all stop worrying so much about expanding the definition of beauty. I wish we could take all these attributes and instead of giving them value by placing them under the umbrella of beauty we could give them their own and rightful place as being worthy in and of themselves. Laurie Penny the journalist/activist/feminist explains exactly how I feel:
After all this, I still have to go into work everyday. But now I do it with a different attitude. I'm a grown up and I can smile back at my coworker when she says, "You're always so beautiful," and say, "Thank you, you're sweet for saying that!" I've realized I can take her compliment at face value. I can choose to not feel pressured to reciprocate if it feels inauthentic and to not be offended if her words seem shallow. I can choose to compliment her in a way that seems genuine and meaningful. Most of all, I can choose to see my value in a different light.